After years of knowing of this game's existence, but never getting to actually play it, I tracked down a good copy on ebay, and got to town. For those who don't know, this game was released about 3 years after Super Castlevania IV, and was the only Castlevania title released on the Genesis/Mega Drive. One more fun thing to note is that while the game was given a "GA" (General Audiences) rating, this game hosted a considerable amount of blood and gore. The European and Australian versions decided to keep the rating, but also took out all of the violence in the process. This game attempted to bridge the Castlevania games together with the original Bram Stroker's Dracula novel. Needless to say, we're in for one hell of an interesting experiment here.
So what's this title actually about? Well, the plot is immediately different from past Castlevnia titles right off the bat, as this game takes place after Dracula's defeat in 1897. The game takes place during 1917, where a beautiful woman (Elizabeth Bartley) has been revived by Drolta Tzuentes, and conducted an unholy ceremony amongst the chaos of WWI, to possess human souls from Europe in order to bring about the resurrection of her uncle, Count Dracula. Que the beginning. You are given the choice to play as John Morris, descendant of the Belmont and Morris families, or Eric Lecarde, a victim of Elizabeth's ceremony who's girlfriend became a vampire after Elizabeth's revival.
Each campaign plays the same, but the two characters play slightly different from each other. John uses the whip that all Castlevania players are accustomed to. It can lunge in all directions and all abilities are pretty much the same as you remember from other entries in the series. Eric is a bit different however. He maneuvers in the same ways as John, except that instead of a whip, he uses a large spear. This spear is not as quick as the whip, but can reach a slightly greater distance and overall be a much more effective weapon. It's because of this that I feel the game is actually generally easier to play as Eric than as John, though I consider John to be the character more true to the series' roots.
The environments are also a serious departure from other entries in the Castlevnia line. The first stage still pits you in Dracula's castle in Romania, however, every other stage takes place in a different European country, such as Italy, Germany, and France. While these locations are very interesting and bring a new light to the series, some may find them a bit ridiculous. It's... kind of hard to take a game seriously when you're essentially fighting skeleton soldiers in a German weapon's factory. That said, I doubt many will complain when they see how much innovation this title really contains. The game has some excellent effects, such as reflections in the water of the Atlantis stage, and the tower of Pisa literally swaying as you navigate it. The final stage is especially of note, as parts of the level's screen literally separate, making the platforming much more difficult. There's also a section of the final stage in which you are forced to move upside-down to navigate more platforms. This reminded me of the Death Egg stage in Sonic & Knuckles, as well as parts of Sonic CD, where you were also forced to move upside-down through platforms to progress. (Interesting to note, Sonic & Knuckles came out about 7 months after this title.)
Even with the changes of environments, this is Castlevania to the core and a must-play for fans of the series. The bosses and mini-bosses are all very well-crafted and very challenging. The game even features an expert mode for those who don't think the normal mode is punishing enough. This is just as relevant and important as any other titles of the series, and something any Castlevania fan, as well as any fan of action-platformers in general can appreciate. I don't know if I'd put it above Super Castlevania IV, but this one title that should NOT be counted out.
9 out of 10 candles randomly hanging up on the wall.