Before I started Super Castlevania IV, I thought it would be a Metroidvania but that's not the case. While many Castlevanias are Metroidvanias, Super Castlevania IV is more of an action platformer and it's a darn hard one to boot.
Super Castlevania IV is the tenth SNES Classic game that I've completed so far (woohoo!). I also finished Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, Super Metroid, Yoshi's Island, Contra III: The Alien Wars, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Mega Man X, and Final Fantasy VI. Super Castlevania IV is kind of like Contra III or Mega Man X as you have to traverse multiple stages with a boss at the end of each. The campaign culminates in Simon Belmont's confrontation with Dracula who has resurrected after one hundred years of absence. The gameplay involves battling enemies and working through platforming segments with traps while using a whip as your main weapon. The whip can be cracked in eight directions and can also be used as a defensive option which is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I don't think Super Castlevania IV is as polished as the other games on the SNES Classic and I'll explain why.
On a positive note, each stage has its own music and the tracks are pretty great. Stage 1 features a rocking tune that also makes a return during the final Dracula fight. Other stages have you work your way through locales like a forest, a river, a cave, Dracula's library, and the infamous torture chambers as the music appropriately changes with each stage. For instance, the torture chamber stage offers an eerie soundscape while the cave is also creepy but in a less visceral way. Super Castlevania IV's visuals are decent but I really don't like the way Simon himself looks because he comes across as if he's a cardboard cut-out with only a few frames of animation.
Anyway, back to my critique of Super Castlevania IV. There are way too many sections that are downright frustrating: bats move way faster than you and require split-second reactions, spikes kill you instantly on contact (as will falling off any cliff), and coming into contact with enemies often knocks you into the nearest pit. In level 4, there are some green platforms that fall under you when you land on them and you only have a few frames to jump before falling to your death. In the middle of that level, you have to dodge medusa heads and there's a platform to the left that looks like you can jump on it but you can't. At the end of level 8, you have to go over a bunch of platforms that flicker in a strange pattern while swords hang above waiting to fall on your head. Talk about frustrating!
When you die in Super Castlevania IV, you start from the last checkpoint even if you make just one simple mistake. The stages are long so it feels exceptionally punishing to go back to the last checkpoint after one slip up. As hard as Contra III is, at least you have a few lives before you get sent back. Speaking of which, Super Castlevania IV could have been better if Konami made one change: whenever you die to anything that kills you instantly, you should lose a life then start from where you perished and it would be fine if losing all your health started you from the last checkpoint as it does now. It would still be very difficult but it would feel a lot fairer.
After a lot of struggle, I eventually beat Super Castlevania IV. I had the most trouble on stages 4, 6, 7, 8, and 11 with 8 and 11 definitely being the hardest. I especially struggled to take down the bosses when encountering them for the first time but I learned that as long as you go in with a good amount of health and practice dodging most of the attacks, you'll be able to beat them.
Super Castlevania IV has one of the most challenging successions of bosses I've ever seen. At the very end, you have to fight 4 difficult bosses in a row, ending with the battle against Dracula and there is only one checkpoint during the fight which is right before Dracula. Defeating these bosses took me a very long time and once I did it, I said something like, "Yes! I'm a master vampire hunter!"
If you like the other 2D action games on the SNES Classic, you'll probably enjoy Super Castlevania IV, too. However, it has two glaring problems: spikes and falling off cliffs. Oh yeah, and bats. I hate bats now. Thanks, Super Castlevania IV...