Castlevania 64

Castlevania 64 & The Terrors of the Garden Maze Chase

Castlevania 64 was an interesting take on bringing the series into 3D. The game’s vampires were downright horrifying with their animalistic looks. They were pretty quick on their feet, too. Something about seeing skeletons, lizardmen, and other monsters in three dimensions made them more frightening. Doubly so when combined with the surreal look of early 3D. None of these are more terrifying than the chase through the game’s garden maze. Where you’re pursued by wolves. And Frankenstein’s monster. Who has a chainsaw hand.

The shift to 3D felt a bit strange when I first played this game. Whipping monsters is pretty easy in two dimensions. In three? A bit harder, since you now have to aim the whip if you’re playing as Reinhardt, our new vampire hunter for this game. You have a lock-on feature to make things a bit easier, thankfully. You have an even better tool if you play as Carrie, the magician, as her basic spell is a homing shot. Makes a huge difference when you’re running from something while fighting it. You can choose which character to play as, depending on which weapon you prefer to use. Plus, certain characters have levels unique to them.

Every character has to do the Garden Maze, though. Here, Castlevania 64 puts you in a large hedge maze and tasks you with making your way out. However, there is a pair of wolves that will chase you the entire time you’re exploring. These persistent foes can be taken down with a few hits of your regular or special weapons (like Holy Water, a staple of the series). They refuse to stay down, though, and will resume the chase after a few moments. They also look monstrous, with hardened flesh instead of fur. At least, that’s the impression I got from their early N64 appearances.

It’s a frightening chase with just the wolves. You’re in a maze, so you have no idea where you’re going. There’s also a child, Malus, who you’ve just met who’s screaming for help. The wolves are snarling right at your heels. You want to keep up with this fleeing kid, so you’re always rushing ahead. Does the child know how to get out? You won’t be sure, and the more twists and turns you make, the easier it is to get lost. It’s hard not to let panic settle in. Especially when you keep seeing the wolves’ heads pop out from the bottom of your screen, only inches away.   

Castlevania 64 adds even more to this chase, though. You will eventually hear the buzzing roar of a chainsaw coming from somewhere in the maze. At first, you’re left to wonder where the sound is coming from. The game doesn’t give you a cutscene to show you who’s revving the chainsaw. Instead, you will stumble across the chainsaw-wielding Frankenstein’s Monster at some point. Which is a real treat. Suddenly, you have someone trying to cleave your head off. Usually while the wolves snap at you, all three of them working together to trip you up and trap you.

The group is exceptionally good at splitting up and working together. You might feel that you can dodge them once and then do your best to stay ahead of them. However, the wolves and Frankenstein’s Monster seem to be everywhere in the maze. You might get away from them in one tight spot, but find them coming after you again moments later. I’ve never been sure if it’s the winding nature of the maze or if the game is just cheating, but they will keep finding you. You can’t get rid of them. Can’t do more than stun them even if you try to fight them, either.

Castlevania 64

Because of the confusing nature of the maze, it feels like these foes are always about to pounce on you. Or they’re always right around the next corner. Castlevania 64 feels like it refuses to let up. The panic never quite dissipates, and your heart rate never slows. Every time I turned around, I could see a wolf snarling behind me. Then, Frankentstein’s Monster would probably come rushing from around a corner. All the while, I somehow had to figure out the layout of the maze while my mind kept racing. It’s an extremely difficult feat when being chased so persistently. My hands shake every time I play this section.

If the gameplay elements aren’t enough, the sound gets under your skin. There’s an energetic, bleak track that loans this section a doomed energy. The pace of the song feels designed to get your heart rate up. The wolf sound effects are almost deafening in this segment as well. It feels like they’re snarling right into your ears, making them feel close all the time. While the wolves growl, you suddenly catch the sound of a chainsaw’s roar. You know he has to be close. All the while, the child’s cries for help get quieter. Maybe they go silent. The sound alone makes this a stressful, frightening experience.

The best part? Once you feel like you’ve escaped for a few minutes, Castlevania 64 makes you run through the whole maze again. At night, this time. Not that it makes much difference for visibility, but it’s still taxing on the heart and mind. The game let you feel like you were free of this section. No more terrifying chase. After a few minutes, it throws you right back into it again. At least the child is out of the picture by this point.

The Garden Maze stage is a chase that will leave you trembling. Dodging unkillable, fast wolves while they chase you through a complex maze is exhausting and frightening. Making you fearful for the well-being of a child as you try to find the right path makes it even more difficult to endure. When you combine all that with a massive, intelligent monster with a chainsaw, and then have all of those sounds filling your ears, it creates one of the most memorable moments in Castlevania 64. And also one of the best chases I’ve ever played in a horror game.