When you think of a hero charging into a vampire’s castle to do battle with an evil vampire lord and his minions, what comes to mind? Castlevania, right? The adventures of the Belmont clan and their generations-long war with Count Dracula is the iconic vampire killing video game franchise. What if I told you, though, that there was another hidden gem from the 16-Bit era that fit this description? That game is Nosferatu for the SNES. You know, if this article’s title didn’t give that away.
Nosferatu was a lot like Castlevania in its core concept: a lone hero fighting his way through a Vampire’s castle, battling horrific monsters along the way, but unlike Castlevania’s fast-paced action platforming approach Nosferatu played like one of the classic Prince of Persia games, with a hero who moves and jumps much more like a real person than a video game character. Another major difference between the two franchises is that Kyle, Nosferatu’s protagonist, fights with his bare hands instead of a weapon. While this could be a launching point to talk about how badass this guy is, it’s more important as a gameplay element since it turns combat into a Final Fight style beat’em up, which is something not often seen platformers or horror games. It also adds a lot of strategy to the game. You can’t keep your distance while attacking and have to optimize your timing to get in, unload a combo, and then either escape or press your attack depending on the circumstances. Kyle’s combos also improve over the course of the game, going from a simple jab-jab-hook combination to a flashier combo involving chained kicks to knock the enemy on their ass.
Nosferatu takes a very cinematic approach and, even as you’re playing can feel a lot like you’re in an action/horror film. The game makes good use of the SNES’s technical capabilities with awesome graphics and animation that gets brilliantly shown off in the game’s cutscenes. The boss fights also have some cool cinematic transitions, like the first boss who begins as a madman with a dagger but who transforms into a werewolf when the clouds in the background move to reveal the full moon (or when he takes enough damage, which is unfortunately likely to happen first).
The game isn’t perfect, of course. The lack of any sort of save or password feature adds a lot of frustration that didn’t need to be there, especially since the game is already rather difficult. The character’s walking pace is rather sluggish as well, which isn’t super problematic because you can run but you can’t unload a full combo unless you’re standing or walking. It can take some time to get used to the mix of Another World style platforming with Double Dragon style fighting, but once you get used to it it’s a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, this game is very expensive to acquire, with even loose cartridges going for around $100, but maybe Nintendo will bring it to the Virtual Console at some point. If you can get your hands on a copy of this game, though, it’s definitely worth playing.