TURN TO CHANNEL 3: ‘Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse’ brought the Belmonts back to franchise greatness
It is not an uncommon thing, especially in the realm of longtime video game franchises, for developers to make a change when they go from the original game to the sequel. Perhaps this is a change in characters, story, or even the overall type of game it is in comparison to the original. This can lead to a whole new direction for the game but, oftentimes, it turns a lot of loyal fans of the series away for a time, which then usually leads to developers going back to the drawing board and finding that magic that comes from combining what was great about the original game with new concepts and ideas that don’t water down the product, only add to it.
This is especially true of today’s game up for review here on Turn to Channel 3: “Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse” on the NES. With Halloween steadily approaching, I figured it would be best to take another look at the Belmonts’ finest hour on the NES, after what some deem quite the dismal sequel. How does this game hold up? Does it still hold the same appeal it did during its debut on the console? Let’s find out!
“Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse” (NES)
Despite its standing in the full canon of “Castlevania games,” this third and final NES installment suffers from a lack of acknowledgment in the soundtrack department, which is a real shame because, while it doesn’t contain those iconic “Castlevania” tunes we’ve come to know, it does have a soundtrack of some of the best music in the entire 8-bit series, so just because it isn’t “Vampire Killer” or “Bloody Tears” doesn’t mean that the music presented here isn’t good, because it is.
Part of the reason gamers come back to “Castlevania III” again and again is because, like its predecessors, the game has haunting music that both sets the mood and keeps you at its ever-increasing challenges. The sound effects, while quite similar to earlier titles, still don’t lack in the charm and style of this franchise. It’s still a blast to hear the crack of a Belmont whip or the groan of a defeated level boss. It’s also worth noting that, while the level music is great, so are those little things most gamers don’t take in, like entering your name or the moment when you must choose which path you take forward.
While “Castlevania III” sports some of the best graphics in the series, especially in the way of level design, I still had moments where I felt some enemies didn’t exactly look like what they were portraying; zombies are a prime example of that, as they looked more like rat people or people who could have worked for the Trash Heap on “Fraggle Rock.”
That being said, the bosses in the game are also well designed and, overall, “Castlevania III” stayed true to the franchise’s roots style-wise, but maybe that’s another reason why I rated this as I did, that they didn’t really take any risks for the franchise’s last romp on the NES. I’m sure many of us could say, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” but at the same time, one has to wonder what this game would look like had they pushed the NES hardware to its limits.
While “Castlevania III” may have played it safe as far as graphics, they blew the doors wide open on the gameplay aspects of this title. Yes, we are removed from what we were given in “Castlevania II,” which was a relief to many, but this game didn’t just go back to what worked in the original game, slapping a fresh coat of paint on while resting on its laurels. “Castlevania III” added the once unheard of notion of a branching storyline, in that there is no one way to beat the game and you are faced with difficult decisions, such as which road to take – some far more difficult than others – as well as the obvious focal point of the game – the addition of character selection.
As you play through the game, you are given the opportunity to bring in another character for use once you either defeat them or set them free from some curse they are under. You have Alucard, the son of Dracula, who can turn into a bat and thus get you into areas you may not originally be able to access, Sypha Belnades, a priestess who channels the elements in use of her magic, and Grant Danasty, a rebel who can climb walls and attack with a dagger. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses, but all can play a vital role in our whip-cracking protagonist reaching his goal of overthrowing Dracula and saving mankind.
“Castlevania III” was a proper sendoff for the franchise on the NES, making way for new and more exciting entries into the lush history of the Belmonts in the future, and that’s just one of the reasons this title is so beloved by fans of the series. While I don’t feel it has the most overall love in the line of NES “Castlevania” titles, with the original still holding the most appeal, it does show what happens when a developer listens to its consumers, notices a change that was made in a sequel drew the ire of fans, and then does what’s right for those fans and the franchise going forward. “Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse” took all the things we love about the series and then added necessary new elements to keep things fresh.
I hope you enjoyed this review. Next time, as we journey closer to Halloween, we take a look at the other NES title based off a horror movie franchise – “A Nightmare on Elm Street” on the NES!
Until then, I hope your DVR is filled to the brim with great fall programming, but don’t stray too far from your retro gaming systems because there’s never a bad time to game on!
Note: All ratings for Turn to Channel 3 are based on a scale of 1-10.
by Nick DeMarco
Nick DeMarco is a blogger, retro video game small business owner, and lover of all things retro. Don't get stuck on an elevator with him, unless you know who Ace Harding is and why Crystal Pepsi deserves just as big a comeback as Surge.