I know they're a bit dated now, but mode 7 and raster effects were pretty impressive effects in the 16-bit era. Most of the time all a game had to do was have a generic mode 7 effect and suddenly it become 500 times more awesome. Many games did this well, but the one I remember most vividly was Super Castlevania 4. If you really have no idea what I'm talking about, you could just skip over the article and view the stage here
Yes, I'm referring to the infamous Stage 4. Look, up to this point, you already had some impressive environments absolutely dripping in atmosphere and ambience. Everything from the enemies to the music to the sound effects to the subtle, little touches like vines growing over stuff, skulls all over the place in the backgrounds, various water effects, and so on just added more and more to the already incredible environments.
And while each stage had something like that going for it one way or the other, the one that to this day I still come back to is Stage 4. I've gone over this stage time and time again...and I'm going to yet again! It starts out simply enough. You have a couple of standard enemies, classic Castlevania platforming in the forms of flipping platforms, moving platforms, enemies coming out of walls...then you have a giant skull that you have to fight until you completely chip away at it...then shit gets crazy.
You enter a seemingly harmless and somewhat generic room, go up the stairs, hang on a bathook...THEN REALIZE YOU'RE HANGING ON FOR DEAR LIFE AS THE ROOM SLOWLY BEGINS TO ROTATE. You have to drop down at one point to fight some medusa heads who will, I assure you, thrust you into spikes if you're not quick and accurate with them, then more hanging on for your dear life.
It's at this point you realize you're hanging over a pit of spikes with nowhere to go. When I first played this section, I didn't know what to do next, so I tried to swing off into the great unknown. BIG MISTAKE. Eventually platforms stretch out to you as if to say "Ha ha, well, it's over now. The next area's normal, I promise." THEN THE GAME TOTALLY TROLLS YOU. The next room is constantly rotating, but in a different direction that is highly disorienting with skeletons flying out of the walls at you!
And does it end there? As if you had to ask. The floor suddenly starts rising in different areas trying to thrust you into the ceiling. You have to have quick and good platforming skills to make it through to another, that's right, ANOTHER boss. Now to be fair, the skull boss and this one, a golem that throws blocks and makes blocks rain down, are fairly easy. Really, it's the stage that's a treat.
You know, almost every stage in Super Castlevania 4 has great memories attached to it. I think the reason I keep coming back to this one, though, is it kind of defines both what Castlevania was and also what the Super Nintendo was capable of. Yeah, you see games like Star Fox that have that super FX chip thingy or Chrono Trigger that have incredible graphics, an incredible story, great characters, and so on...but this, right here, is what I think of when I think SNES.
It has great music, great graphics, makes full utilization of the controller features, shows off the mode 7 effects, and is easily recognizable. Seriously, all I had to do to find this on youtube was type in "castlevania 4 stage 4." That doesn't seem too impressive until you realize most of the time when you do that on youtube you find a complete stage list or redundancy because 4 was listed twice or maybe you find the wrong game or whatever.
Really, the only two things I'd have to criticize the stage on would be I would have liked for it to be a little longer, especially in the first mode 7 room, and the second would be that the first mode 7 room is a bit lacking. I mean, you have an off white background, just the one stair case, no true platforming elements, just the one bathook, and a mini-swarm of enemies. That's about it. The room isn't hard to figure out, it's only fun the first time you do it, and while it does show off the mode 7 effects, the next room is much more impressive.
Even still, for someone that hasn't played the game before, this stage totally takes you off guard and is an absolute treat. For anyone that HAS played the game, admit it, this stage is fun as hell to come back to every so often. My stepbrothers and I used to play this game every Christmas. We would play it until we beat it and often replay it again right after. It's not the hardest Castlevania by a long shot, but it's easily one of the most fun and impressive ones.
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