It had to happen. Castlevania finally went 3d in 1999 on the Nintendo 64. Looking back Symphony of the Night is a bit of an anomaly. At a time where every major series went 2d Konami turned their noses and created one of the greatest 2d adventures of all time. But as much as we would have like for that to continue the switch to 3d was an eventuality. With a protracted development schedule Castlevania 64 finally hit the market to mixed reviews. There are aspects of the game that are pretty good. But there is also plenty of early 3d jank that ruins the experience.
In the 1800s Dracula has risen once more thanks to mankind’s wickedness. Two heroes sense his arrival and depart to put him down once more. Reinhardt Schneider, heir to the Belmont clan and Carrie Fernandez, both with their reasons for wanting him dead.
You have a choice between Reinhardt and Carrie and both play differently. Reinhardt is your traditional Belmont, packing a whip that locks on to the closest enemy and also a knife for close range attacks. Carrie uses homing balls of magic and rings. Both protagonists use the standard secondary weapons of the series, this time powered by jewels. While many of the levels are shared between the two each has their own campaign with exclusive stages and NPCs. Its nice incentive to play through it twice; whether you’ll have the patience to do so is a different story.
Castlevania was an ambitious project, with four characters planned and each with their own separate campaign. With the troubles of learning 3d while also creating a sprawling adventure the game suffered numerous delays. The decision was made to cut two characters and focus on the remaining pair, enabling the game to finally release. The two that were excised, Cornell and Henry would take center stage in the sequel, Legacy of Darkness. I wish I could say it was for the better but Castlevania has glaring problems that keep it from being the decent game it could have been.
Castlevania 64 is a weird hybrid between the platform style gameplay of the classics and the freeform exploration introduced in Symphony of the Night. It is level based but within each stage you can freely explore to your heart’s content. For the most part every level is simply a matter of reaching the exit. However getting to that point is what matters. Although you aren’t gaining experience points there are other RPG style mechanics. Gold can be used to purchase restorative items and there is a day/night cycle. While these mostly govern when certain doors open certain events in specific levels only occur at set times. It’s a cool mechanic although it is largely abandoned by the game’s second half.
The level design runs hot and cold. Early on the stages are massive as you explore set locations within the castle. Unfortunately due to cartridge limits entire areas are copy and pasted wholesale, creating a confusing mess. There aren’t any maps either so you can expect to become hopelessly lost. This gradually disappears as the levels become shorter and more focused on platforming. And therein lies the problem.
As much as I like aspects of Castlevania 64 it is almost completely ruined by its atrocious camera. It truly has one of the worst cameras I’ve ever experienced. It can be set to one of three modes but regardless of setting it will actively fight you at every turn. Walking through corridors is fine but any time you lock onto an enemy the camera will spaz out trying to put them in focus. Seeing as you can’t manually target specific enemies this is incredibly frustrating. It becomes even worse whenever platforming is involved. In most cases the camera will switch to a fixed angle that is almost always terrible. This almost ruins the game’s second half as nearly every level focuses on platforming. Camera control was a particular problem in that generation and this game is one of the worst offenders in that regard.
And even with that in mind the game is still compelling. Castlevania is at its best when it is creative. Leading Malus out of the garden maze while a crazed chainsaw wielding Frankenstein chases you is genuinely terrifying. The Castle Center contains a section where you must avoid jumping or taking a hit lest the nitro you are carrying explodes. It can be annoying but is also incredibly fun. The few boss battles are also pretty exciting, especially fighting Death. Unfortunately you’ll have to tolerate a lot of jank to see its good points.
Coming off of the Symphony of the Night’s fantastic production values Castlevania 64 is a disappointment. The game is a blurry, repetitive mess that only occasionally shows off good texture work. Where the graphics are ugly the soundtrack is fantastic. It is a far cry from the classical symphony of its predecessor but is still far better than it has any right to be.
There are occasional bright spots but overall Castlevania 64 is simply not worth pursuing. This was a hard sell back when it was released and its flaws are that much worse now. There are better 3d Castlevanias out there.