I’m sorry to say it, but the fourth area of Castlevania is easily the game’s low point, both literally and metaphorically.
After spending the entirety of stages 07 through 09 making a precarious walk over high, crumbling bridges and desperately trying to avoid allowing Simon to be knocked to his death by falling, you begin Stage 10 by… falling from the mummies’ lair all the way down to a subterranean lake. It’s never clear if Simon leapt or fell into a trapdoor, but there you go.
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The lake is by far the most frustrating portion of the game so far — lots of open holes in which Simon can drown, moving platforms gliding back and forth on the water’s surface, fish men leaping to harass you, bats drifting along in their lazy parabolas. The sticky spot by far is the pair of platforms that drift beneath a low-hanging ceiling, forcing Simon to duck lest he be scraped to a watery grave. Unfortunately the design of the graphics here drops the ball a bit — the first time you play this sequence, you’re not likely to realize that the stalactites are interactive due to both their design (visually, they don’t completely occupy the space of the “grid” they’re located in) and precedent (similar-looking background elements comprise the platforms that come before the overhang, and you can easily walk “through” those background tiles and fall to your death), so when the stalactites push you off the platform you’ll doubtlessly find yourself a bit bewildered at the untelegraphed suddenness of it.
The bats are at their most dangerous here, since riding the platforms leaves you large immobilized, but not immobile, making it tough to time your attacks. The one upside of the low ceiling portions is that taking a hit beneath them probably won’t be fatal, since the ceiling obstructs the arc of your attack recoil. Small favors?
Once you reach the end of the lake area, you climb to a plain of broken columns that seems to exist outside the castle grounds. This is by far the most boring portion of the game. Stage 11 consists of a flat expanse of uninterrupted plain. The only enemies until the end are eagles that fly overhead and drop flea men at you. The time it takes the flea men to drop gives you enough time to come into their range, duck, and take them out as soon as they land, preventing any real danger except in the rare event that a bird flies in low or two of them overlap.
The one element of real interest here is that the exit to Stage 12 is guarded by a skeleton dragon — not the cannons of the past two levels, but the undulating, serpentine skeleton of a dragon whose head (its only vulnerable point) drifts up and down, occasionally breathing fireballs at Simon. It’s a new challenge in the game, one that requires careful attention and persistence since it can soak up a fair amount of punishment before going down.
Stage 12 may be the single most-repeated level of the game throughout its history.
This narrow tunnel contains few threats — just another pair of skeleton dragons that have to be defeated with less room to maneuver than you had for the first. They can be a bit tough, but the real challenge isn’t to get past them so much as to get past them without taking damage. That’s because you need every scrap of health to overcome Frankenstein’s monster and Igor, quite possibly the most difficult bosses in the game.
The Creature itself isn’t too tough. It just wanders back and forth and soaks up damage. You can hop up on the two lower platforms and lay into it, no problem. The real danger is Igor, a modified fleaman that can leap clear across the room and toss fireballs at you. Igor can’t be killed, only stunned momentarily. It doesn’t matter how much damage Igor takes; only damage to the Creature whittles away the BOSS life bar that wins the day. It’s a maddening fight, but a clever act of diversion: Do you deal with the threat, or focus on the target? The real kick in the pants is that the only subweapon that drops in Stage 12 is a dagger, which is practically useless against the duo. If you’re lucky enough to hang onto holy water from Stage 10, you can pretty much take them down without breaking a sweat: The Creature will carry Igor right into the flames, allowing you to stunlock Igor and literally burn through the Creature’s health. If not? Well, you’ll get really good at fighting through Stage 12.