Halloween is the time of year when the adults run and hide from the kids


Super Castlevania IV (1992)

Yourself and myself most probably have a rather different idea of what Halloween is all about. You may see it as an opportunity to have fun in fancy dress, maybe admire other people’s costumes, sit inside watching Hocus Pocus and a few more Halloween films besides… You can even score a whole shopping bag of sweets for your child, or more accurately yourself, having hit fifty different houses that night and sometimes twice each (parents, I’m on to you).

For me however, Halloween signifies booze, dodging thrown fireworks and doing one’s very best to avoid getting stuck answering the door to all manner of infernal children. And in between all of this, you may or may not even get the time to work on your own costume.

Let me deal with these Halloween facets in turn. First and foremost, the booze. There is that certain atmosphere around Halloween, a sort of free licence to go crazy. The police and emergency services are probably having an almighty royal rumble at some bonfire somewhere, so for that night only you are pretty much living in a lawless society.

This is ideal because drinking cans while observing a bonfire is pretty much the lowest class thing you could possibly do, apart from having a ringtone on your phone, and it pays to cut loose and leave our dignity at home every once in a while. Thrillingly, once you’ve finished your can, you can toss it at the daredevil youth currently running and jumping through the bonfire in their bid to impress all the onlookers. Brilliant.

Next, the fireworks. Noted arsonists of Dublin used to have to “go up north” to get bangers and fireworks in, and there was a time when the place would resemble Damascus on a bad Monday – you’re talking rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat every second, live bangers lying about the ground like unexploded bombs from World War 2, and your pets just hated the whole month.

The best was when you’d be in school – invariably bins would be torn to pieces by alarmingly strong fireworks. But you didn’t even have time to lament over such petty vandalism because if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Hey presto, there’s a screamer nearly on you.

Can you duck fast enough? Or will you be spitting out gunpowder and shrapnel for days, your eyebrows completely singed? It was a gauntlet every single day, and secretly I loved it. Note that I never did get tagged by fireworks, which is why even at my age I’m still able to remember it as cool and hilarious, rather than cursing the terrible bottom feeder that nailed me.

Then there’s the children who come begging for chocolate, and maybe V-Bucks. I always try to be out of the house at this time of course, loathe as I am to deal with any children. But some years you might get two or three, then other years you’ll get three creches full. What’s all that about?

The best is when you see parents actually pull up in their cars and then methodically hit all the houses in sight, the cheeky snakes. They use maps, checklists, night-vision goggles, hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, the lot. I’ve seen them at it.

So eventually you just designate a time where all the lights must go off and nobody answers the door anymore, under any circumstances. You might risk your house taking an egging, but at least you’ll have a healthy coffer of treat size Mars Bars to rifle through the next day.

And finally, the costumes. Well, I’ve seen 7-year-old Stormtroopers and Frankensteins come to my door with outfits that would shame the top cosplayers (are there any top male cosplayers?). This is a fairly far cry from my go-to costume as a young lad, which was a plastic-and-elastic Darth Vader mask. I think sometimes I brought my green Return of the Jedi lightsaber along with it, just for additional wrong points. And completing the ensemble, an Irish classic – a black sack.

Every costume back then was a black sack or a white sheet. What, were parents just complacent or something because cameras weren’t ubiquitous? I must have looked dreadful, but I was obviously no worse than the other children in my area. Actually one lad used to dress up as a donkey. So next to I, the exalted Lord Vader, he looked pretty shocking.

Now that I’ve got more money, and more accurately now that the cameras are on me, you’d think I’d make more of an effort with my costume gigs. I always have these lofty ideas of putting together a full Bane or Joker outfit or something. Really blow everyone’s socks off. But then I balk at the price, shudder and put on last year’s effort instead. Sometimes I like to dream up something different, sometimes I ask someone far more creative than I to run me up a bit of facepaint. But really, what I’m lacking in is ideas.

Good thing Super Castlevania IV is here to pump some creative juices right into me. Me and Castlevania historically never got along, although I would have to temper that by saying that Symphony of the Night is one of the best games ever made. Dawn of Sorrow for DS was good gas as well, but those are Metroidvanias.

We’re here to talk about the rough-and-ready, your-whip-and-your-wits kind of action platformer, and early doors I wasn’t much amused by Super Castlevania IV. God, does this lad move slow or what?

And he can’t wait to die – go up a stairs and try to jump back down and you’re dead, and Jesus save you on the vertically scrolling levels. Famously, getting hit by an enemy or hazard knocks you back, whether they’re a hulking Gorgon beast or a squishy little frog, and it will 95% of the time see you falling ass-backwards into yet another bottomless pit – or better, a bed of spikes.

The music was weird at first too, a sort of attention seeking 16-bit organ blared out over a lot of the pieces. Finally, the graphics were nice but not exceptional. All in all, I couldn’t see why somebody would play it over Mario.

But the more I played, the more I learned and the more I was inspired. The daunting difficulty was pretty well tempered by the fact that you have infinite continues, you can whip in 8-directions and you can use the Cross weapon to basically destroy anything.

I was still dying for fun of course, but the seasoned Castlevania wags sometimes criticise this game for being too easy by comparison. Is it really?! To me it still seems like quite a lot to handle, and I’m often to be seen clenching my teeth when I lose all my lives late on in a level and have to start it all over again.

Slowly, the dark and foreboding atmosphere of the game began to win me over, I appreciated the immersive soundtrack more, and all of the Halloween and Horror elements were presented in a great way – I took down Medusa, Gorgon, Frankenstein (ah, Frankenstein’s monster), a mummy, Fred Astaire and Paula Abdul (…), a golem, Death and finally, Dracula himself.

SCIV is a game so slow-burning, you might not realise you’re enjoying it until after it’s done. It might even take a hundred years, when the next Belmont comes along (or Castlevania V comes out, whatever’s soonest) before you appreciate this game. A tough but rewarding experience, it’ll have you popping and hissing like fireworks, gibbering like a child; it may even turn you to drink.

But when you’re all done with it, and you’re viewing the wonderful credits sequence, it’s as nice as lying back with a humongous bag full of Refresher bars and Drumstick lollies.

23 July 2018

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