In our analysis of Castlevania III, Trevor and Sypha have reached Dracula’s castle itself after a long, difficult fight over water and across the span of treacherous bridges and deadly towers (no, no, not those Deadly Towers). But wasn’t there another option somewhere along the way?
Ah, yes, the branching path in the middle of Block 3. Well, then, what if we had taken that branch instead? Besides obviously missing out on Sypha and her spectacular collection of magic spells, I mean?
For starters, we’d no longer be in Block 3. The lower route brings that block to an immediate, unceremonious end, dropping you immediately into Block 4-01. For Sypha’s route, Block 4 involved a pirate ship to transport the team across the lake. However, for the alternate route — or, more correctly, the true route — Block 4 involves trekking over slightly less wet turf on foot. The bog south of the lake is topped by broken stone paths, leaving entire areas of exposed marsh to be navigated. Naturally, this swampy ground makes for a terrible experience, pulling Trevor or Grant downward like quicksand, forcing them to jump clear or vanish fatally beneath the surface.
The enemies you face here wouldn’t be especially threatening on their own, but their erratic movements paired with the troublesome footing makes them very difficult to deal with. The giant frogs, for example, leap in bounding arcs that Trevor would normally be able to match and destroy with ease — but when he’s jumping constantly to extricate himself from muck, the frogs’ movements can be difficult to counter. Grant doesn’t have it any better, especially since you begin Block 4 with whatever health you had at the end of Block 3, since the lower route doesn’t pit you against a boss and therefore doesn’t let you collect a restorative crystal. Mechanical consistency!
Once you descend beneath the surface, the ground becomes entirely mucky and mud-men rise out of the goop to creep slowly toward you, not unlike the zombies in Block 1. Meanwhile, frogs hop aggressively in your direction, occasionally pausing to spear you with their tongues. It’s rough going, and just to rub it your face in it the level doubles back to a dead-end alcove where you can collect health-restoring meat. Great, right? Sure, if you can actually reach the meat without taking more damage than it heals. This is more easily said than done.
This is Grant’s chance to shine. He can stick to the ceilings, and not just the simple block ceilings. He can also climb along the jagged cave surfaces that hang over this cavern, safely bypassing the suffocating goo and avoiding most of the enemies, too. The frogs still pose a threat, but they’re easier to fight upside-down than on the mud’s surface since you can at least hang steadily and stab when it comes close.
Block 4-02 doesn’t change things up much; in fact, this entire block of stages has the least variety of any block we’ve seen so far. The shaft of moonlight peeking through the cave’s roof is a nice touch, though.
A few small bats begin drifting into the scene as a prelude to the boss. Block 4-03 cuts back significantly on the amount of bog to cover, giving more stable ground to travel so you don’t take as much of a beating if you have to make a second attempt at the boss.
“But the boss is a bat,” you say. “How difficult could it be?” Well, it lacks the soul-destroying difficulty of many later bosses, but Block 4-03’s leader sure beats the original Castlevania‘s bat boss hands-down. When you strike it, it splits into two smaller bats, and those bats in turn split again. It’s kind of like Asteroids if the space rocks in question didn’t obey simple laws of inertia but instead fluttered about erratically and crowded you in a corner to chip away at your health. As in Asteroids, though, the same basic tactics will serve you well: Take down one fragment at a time rather than attacking everything simultaneously and ending up overwhelmed.
When you complete this stage, you finally get your health crystal and all is right with the world again.