Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (known in Japan as Akumajou Densetsu, which loosely translates to "Devil's Castle Legends") is a 2D horror-fantasy action platformer developed and published by Konami for the Nintendo Entertainment System in Japan (on December 22, 1989), North America (on September 1, 1990), and Europe (on December 10, 1992).
A prequel to both Castlevania and its sequel, Dracula's Curse improves upon the formula of the original Castlevania (while skipping the exploration element of Castlevania II: Simon's Quest) by introducing a non-linear progression system and playable assistant characters (each with their own unique abilities and stats).
The game is set in 1476, two centuries before the events of the original Castlevania. Players take control of Trevor Belmont, vampire hunter and ancestor of the legendary Simon Belmont, as he is called by the Catholic Church back to Wallachia (after being exiled for having "super-human" powers) to defeat the vampire lord Count Dracula. Aided by his trusty Vampire Killer whip and arsenal of sub-weapons, Trevor can also recruit one of three heroes at a time (by encountering them throughout the game):
- Sypha Belnades - Sorceress of the Church of Wallachia, who begins the game captured by a cyclops and petrified into a statue. (In the original North American version, Sypha is depicted as a male warlock possibly due to her shady, ambiguous appearance)
- Grant Danasty - Former pirate captain and an agile carefree thief of Wallachia, Grant begins the game transformed into a possessed, fiendish beast by the power of Dracula.
- Alucard - A mystical dhampir and forgotten son of Dracula, who tests Trevor's strength before revealing that he opposes his father and wishes to join the fight against the dark vampire.
The game was later digitally re-released as a Virtual Console title for the Wii in 2008-2009, and for the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U in 2014. It was also included in the 2019 digital compilation Castlevania Anniversary Collection for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. The game's story also received an animated adaptation beginning in 2017, simply titled Castlevania.
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse plays like a traditional side-scrolling Castlevania game. Players guide Trevor (and his companions) through dangerous stages (referred to as "blocks") and increase their score by defeating enemies and collecting bags of money (dropped by enemies or by destroying scenery). Pressing left/right on the d-pad controls the player character's movement, while holding up/down on the d-pad near stairs causes the player character to walk up/down stairs (gaining access to higher/lower areas at the risk of being unable to jump or crouch). Pressing the A button causes the player character to jump while pressing the B button causes the player character to attack. Holding up on the d-pad and pressing the B button causes the player character to use an equipped sub-weapon or spell (known in the North American version's manual as "Warakiya War Items"), which consumes the Heart meter (replenished by finding heart-shaped tokens throughout the game).
Along with Hearts, sub-weapons and money bags, players can find unique power-ups and items which aid them on Trevor's quest. Meat can sometimes be found hidden throughout the land, replenishing the player's life gauge. Special power-up multiplier blocks (marked with the roman numerals II and III) increase the amount of projectiles used by sub-weapons (Trevor and Grant only). Special whip power-ups (shown as a dagger surrounded by a whip) increase the power and range of Trevor's whip (while increasing the power of Alucard's fireballs). Invisibility potions are rare and make the player temporarily invulnerable. Rosaries are also rare and eliminate all the enemies on the screen. A special 1UP item grants the player an extra life. Players can also be granted extra lives by achieving 20,000 points for the first life and 50,000 points for each life after.
While the original Castlevania was completely linear, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse combines it with the free-roaming exploration approach of Castlevania II: Simon's Quest to make the player's path non-linear. At certain points in the game, the player is presented with a choice between two paths. All paths lead the player closer to Dracula's castle, with the exception of the clock tower path in the first crossroad (in which the bridge to the castle collapses, forcing Trevor to backtrack down the clock tower and take the alternate path). There are three crossroads and six possible paths:
- After Stage 1 - The player may choose to go through the clock tower to confront Dracula's castle headfirst (stage 2) or through the forest to find a more discrete path (stage 3). However, if the player does go through the clock tower, the bridge to the castle collapses, forcing the player to backtrack down the tower and take the other path. (Though he would be able to recruit Grant up at the top of the tower and skip the very first part of stage 3)
- During Stage 3 - The major crossroad of the game, as stages 4 through 7 are determined by which path the player takes. Players can either take a haunted pirate ship across the water to the guard tower (while rescuing Sypha along the way) or go deeper through the swamps and caverns to find an underground path (while recruiting Alucard along the way). The sub-stages for the Alucard path is shown numerically (starting with "01") while the sub-stages for the Sypha path is shown alphabetically (starting with "0A").
- After Stage 5 (Alucard path only) - The player chooses whether to go through an underground dungeon or a flooded temple for stage 6, prior to climbing the cliffs below the castle.
Along the way, Trevor can recruit one of three companions at a time. Once he has a companion, he can freely switch between them (a concept unused until Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow) by pressing the Select button. If Trevor encounters another companion, the player must choose which one would join him. Players can also input secret names in the Name Input Screen to begin the game with one of the companions (however, Trevor will be unable to switch to another companion later in the game).
Trevor plays exactly like Simon Belmont in the previous Castlevania games. With his powerful offensive capabilities and a decent defense, Trevor is an exceptional fighter for many situations.
His primary weapon is the Vampire Killer whip (known in this game as the Mystic Whip), an upgradeable weapon with the largest range out of all primary weapons. By collecting the special whip power-ups, Trevor upgrades the whip's functionality (the first power-up increases the whip's attack power, while the second power-up increases the whip's length).
Trevor also has the most access to the sub-weapons used in the original Castlevania. He is the only character that can use the Sacred Water and Banshee Boomerang sub-weapons.
- Dagger (1 Heart) - Trevor quickly throws a single, weak dagger across the screen.
- Battle Axe (1 Heart) - Trevor throws an axe above him, travelling in a downwards arc.
- Sacred Water (1 Heart) - Known in other Castlevania games as the Holy Water, Trevor throws a vial of sacred water in front of him, causing a small burst of fire to appear.
- Banshee Boomerang (1 Heart) - Known in other Castlevania games as the Holy Cross, Trevor throws a cross-shaped object in front of him, which immediately turns to the opposite direction after some time.
- Stopwatch (5 Hearts) - Temporarily freezes all onscreen enemies (with the exception of certain bosses).
(found after defeating the possessed Grant in Stage 2-03 or by using the secret name "FUJIMOTO")
Grant is the first possible companion that can accompany Trevor. He is found by taking the upper path after Stage 1-04. Although he has a weaker offensive and defensive capabilities, he is the most agile of the four.
His short stature makes him more difficult to hit, despite taking more damage when hit. His strengths lie with his acrobatic abilities: he has the ability to control his jump mid-air (which is also higher than the other characters) and the ability to climb walls and ceilings (by holding the directional pad towards the nearest wall or ceiling).
His primary weapon is a short knife, which is weak and has limited range. (His primary weapon in the Japanese version is a throwing dagger in similar vein to the Dagger sub-weapon). Although he only has access to the Dagger (non-Japanese version), Battle Axe, and Stopwatch sub-weapons, he can use them while climbing walls and ceilings.
(found after defeating the Cyclops in Stage 3-04 or by using the secret name "URATA")
Sypha is the second possible companion that can accompany Trevor. She is found by taking the upper path after Stage 3-02. Although her primary weapon power and defense is very weak, she has the strongest sub-weapon power with her array of strong spells.
Her primary weapon is a staff, which is as weak as Grant's knife but not as restrictive in range. Other than the Stopwatch, though, Sypha has a repertoire of exclusive sub-weapons that deal powerful damage at little cost:
- Fire Magic (1 Heart) - Sypha fires a burst of flame forward, dealing massive damage.
- Ice Magic (1 Heart) - Clouds of ice crystals spreads from Sypha, which temporarily freeze enemies in blocks of ice. (Allowing them to be destroyed in one hit by another weapon)
- Lightning Magic (1 Heart) - Sypha fires three balls of lightning, which home in on vulnerable enemies.
(found after defeating Alucard in Stage 5-05 or by using the secret name "OKUDA")
Alucard is the final possible companion that can accompany Trevor. He is found by taking the lower path after Stage 3-02. Although his taller stature makes him an easier target, he has the strongest defense in the game. The only sub-weapon Alucard has access to is the Stopwatch.
His primary weapon is a spell that shoots rapidly traveling fireballs (known as Balls of Destruction) in the direction he's facing (similar to the fireball attacks of Dracula's first form in most Castlevania games). Although the fireball is weak, he can fire multiple fireballs at once by collecting special power-ups (the same power-ups as Trevor's whip power-ups).
Alucard has the special ability to transform into a vampire bat (by holding down on the d-pad and pressing the A button), allowing him to fly around and avoid troublesome areas. This ability drains the Heart meter (around 1 Heart a second), which causes him to transform back to normal when it depletes. He also transforms back to normal when he is damaged and when the player does the button combination a second time.