Before Resident Evil, there was Castlevania. It was certainly a darker game than we were used to at the time, but it spawned a ton of sequels and a franchise that is still going to this day – 30 years later. Here are some thoughts on the original NES game.
The power ups never did make much sense. Why would a cross boomerang, holy water, or axes be in a candle? How exactly does upgrading your whip to a ball and chain work? Is it magic? Why would anyone want to eat a ham that has been hidden in a wall for who knows how long? How do hearts translate to more ammunition for your weapons? But it fit thematically. There was never much of an emphasis on story in the first few games.
Who cares, anyway? The game was fun, which was the most important thing.
The controls were fine for what it was, and it was not too much of an obstacle to the game. That said, it could have been better. You are knocked back anytime you are hit, which makes it too easy to fall into a cheap pit trap. This is a game that really could have benefited from a third button for the extra weapons. Later versions on other consoles did take advantage of this.
The bosses were a tour-de-force of horror icons. Frankenstein’s monster, Medusa, a mummy, a giant bat and that blasted Grim Reaper himself had to be defeated before you got to Dracula. Castlevania was unusual for its time in that it featured a villain that changed forms and came after you again once he was defeated, as Dracula transformed into a demon. This would become common as games progressed, but was groundbreaking in the middle of the 1980’s.
I never beat the original Castlevania. The second, third and fourth game had a password feature (and later games would allow the player to save his progress) but this is a game you had to finish in one go. I did get as far as the Grim Reaper several times, but was never able to defeat that very cheap boss. Eventually, I just gave up. The save states of later versions (like the NES Mini) would make the game easier to play. For the 1980’s, it was a real gem and while I have not played it in 25 years, I am sure it still holds up today.