More on Castlevania

I’m very sorry, but I still have a few more things to write about Castlevania. You may slam your computer angrily, if it makes you feel better.

Specifically, I want to mention what might be the most interesting items in the game: The weapon multipliers. The concept of a power-up was in itself nothing particularly new by the time Castlevania rolled around; that mechanic was deeply entrenched in the medium by that point. What made Castlevania’s multiplier power-ups interesting, however, is that they had no value on their own but rather deepened the complexity and utility of other weapons.

The double and triple multipliers allow Simon Belmont to have two or three subweapons on-screen simultaneously. By default, he can only chuck one item at a time, which makes them somewhat useful but rarely superior to simply whipping the crap out of things. With a multiplier, however, certain subweapons become incredibly valuable, especially in specific situations (read: Facing off against bosses). Holy water becomes overlapping curtains of blue fire that can stun most foes. Boomerangs fill the screen. Even the miserable dagger is somewhat useful with a multiplier! The only weapon that doesn’t benefit from it is the stopwatch, because its function is fairly binary and absolute.

The thing that makes multipliers interesting is that, with only a few exceptions, you only get them by attacking foes with a subweapon. You have to use your weapons to power them up (an idea the SaGa series would take to heart a few years later). Because you have to spend hearts — a sort of collectible currency — in order to use subweapons, the multipliers create a value proposition. Do you expend the hearts necessary to upgrade a weapon, potentially leaving yourself with a shortage of hearts to spend once the multipliers drop? Or do you take a more frugal approach, conserving ammunition but potentially leaving yourself with insufficient firepower to win the day? It’s an interesting question, especially in the run-up to certain bosses where you have the opportunity to collect a very finite number of hearts.

The multipliers concept isn’t without its flaws, though. It suffers the same drawback as Gradius‘ power-up system, though to a lesser degree: Once you die, you lose your cool weapon and its added firepower, leaving you potentially screwed in certain situations (this becomes especially troublesome in Stage 12 and the crummy arsenal it offers as you fight your way back to The Creature and Igor). On the other hand, you lose multipliers simply by collecting an alternate weapon, so you could argue that the designers wove this power-reset mechanic into the fabric of the game from the beginning. In any case, multiplayers remain one of the most creative and unique concepts in Castlevania. Well done, video game.

6 thoughts on “More on Castlevania

  1. One of the most frustrating things about the game (aside from the fight with Frankenstein, and those accursed Igors) is when a candle randomly coughs up a multiplier tablet… and you don’t have a weapon to go along with it. Thanks lumps, game.

    No, wait… having a crappy dagger dropped in your lap after you’ve collected the boomerang and the triple tablet is the game’s cruelest thumb in the eye. Usually you can anticipate it, but if you race through the stage and jump through a candle while you whip it, you could be stuck with Castlevania’s booby prize. Thank goodness Symphony of the Night finally addressed this problem by leaving the old weapon on the screen for a few seconds. It took ’em ten years, but better late than never, right?

    • Actually, Rondo of Blood debuted that particular innovation.

      The “useless multiplier” phenomenon is a weird artifact of the way the system works. If you kill a bunch of enemies with a subweapon, the game says, “Oh, I’d better give him a multiplier,” and that choice sticks in memory until the multiplier drops or you grab a new subweapon. It does not, however, clear out if you die… which means you have no subweapon when your next life starts, but the game drops a multiplier anyway. Thankfully that is a relatively rare occurrence.

  2. To be somewhat exact as to when the multipliers drop, it’s every ten hits with a subweapon. so if you were to throw an axe and it hits a medusa head, a candle, and then an axe knight, that’s going to count as three hits.

    This especially comes into play at a few specific times, too, perhaps most notably if you die at Death and want to easily build up the boomerang triple shot. Depending on how the red skeletons spawn, you can throw a boomerang that can hit one or two skeletons, the bone pillar, and possibly a candle. Since hearts are at a premium if you’re in this already disadvantaged position, this is going to pretty much be your best friend. Aside from, you know, killing yourself to start over and then not losing your holy water from the first block.

    Speaking of holy water- despite the fact that this series of articles made me replay the entire game after the second set of levels were posted here, I can’t recall whether the burn of the holy water counts as individual hits. I’m pretty sure it does, though.

  3. Small correction, but the holy water flames were actually red in the NES Castlevania. It’s the more 16-bit games that went the blue (and sometimes green) route. Besides NES censorship, I can see why they called it the fire bomb in the manual.

    But back on topic, I always look forward to those multipliers, even though they’re easier to lose than gain. Triple water’s how I killed Death and stun locked Dracula’s second form.

  4. I always found multipliers int he exact same candles and breakable blocks. I didn’t even realize you could predict when they would drop from enemies. This game just keeps giving and giving. ^_^

    • Yeah, some breakable blocks have preset multipliers that always appear in that location, but otherwise multipliers drop like whip upgrades and spawn when the conditions are met from candles that would normally drop single hearts.

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