Castlevania: The Adventure review
The exoskeleton of a vampire
Castlevania's first outing on a console was fantastic. It was pretty much everything you could've asked for at that time in a game; a dark atmosphere with challenging gameplay (sometimes, overbearing) and a kickass soundtrack. Castlevania's first handheld outing, on the other hand, was fairly mediocre. I won't trash it like other reviewers normally would, but I'm not going to praise it much, mostly because it feels like it was scaled down way too much to be a good title. I can understand trying to fit within the limitations of the original Game Boy, but it just goes to show that the original Game Boy hasn't aged as well as I'd like to think it did.
Story: Christopher Belmont, who is Simon Belmont's ancestor, has to travel to Dracula's castle to kill him off. That's all there is to it, just like the first Castlevania for the NES. It's simple, but it's effective in the way it just gives you a purpose to play through.
Gameplay: Just like any other Castlevania game, you'll be required to go from Point A to Point B while whipping the undead back to hell, and you'll be required to defeat a boss at the end. However, due to the Game Boy's limitations, there are missing elements and a bit of a change to make up for lost ground.
The biggest upset, by far, is the loss of sub weapons. You won't be able to rely on the cross boomerang, throwing axes or holy water to get you out of a jam. Instead, you'll be relying on your whip. Thankfully, your whip can fire a projectile upon getting its second upgrade from inside a floating candle. Unfortunately, it doesn't make up for the fact that because of this handicap, the game feels less interesting. With the subweapons, you can form strategies against bosses. Here, as long as you have the chain whip (let's just say that with the leather whip, you'll be there all day, whipping the boss until your thumb is raw and bloody), all you need to do is dodge and, well, that's it. Some could say it makes it more challenging, but I say nay. It just makes it feel more monotonous. The bosses feel less like powerful entities of the undead, and more like stronger enemies. Even Dracula, the king of darkness himself, is just an enemy with more health. No ambition to kill him more than there was to kill that first enemy on the first screen of the game. Nothing.
And maybe the feeling of monotony is why people consider this game OMG IMPOSSIBLE!! I mean, the game isn't really that hard. So you die a few times... whoopee. That's how you eventually figure out how to conquer an obstacle, and it only takes, at the most, a few deaths before you figure it out. Maybe it's because Chris is slower than molasses, meaning that he's an easy target for enemies. In that case, well... it's all in memorization. Remember where you screw up, and there you go. There aren't any Medusa Heads, so at least this isn't overly frustrating, though pits will quickly become your mortal enemy as you progress, especially if you can't get the jumping down. But again, it only takes a couple of deaths before you can get the hang of it. If you want hard, give Dracula's Curse a shot - lots of precision jumping, and lots of tough enemies. This is kid's stuff in comparison.
The game is only four levels long, though they loop continuously as you complete the game, just harder. The designs for each level will take you by surprise. The first level is utterly generic, as it's just some straight paths, a few ropes, and some precision jumping - which always seems to be a nightmare in the earlier Castlevania games. First impressions would point out "yeah, these levels are going to be lame and boring", but then you hit the second level, and things start to get more interesting. You're given trickier (though thankfully, shorter amounts of) precision jumping parts, branching paths, and some other traps that will surprise you and force you to memorize patterns. In a sense, the first level is just a tutorial level of sorts, which explains why it's lame in comparison. However, as you have to loop through all four levels, you'll be forced to go through the boring first level before being able to flex your pecs in the other three levels. Kind of lame, hey...
Controls: Here's the funny thing - in the older Castlevania games, the only control issue was the jumping. It was pretty stiff, and having to deal with precision jumping really made this a flaw. Now, imagine this, with a slight reaction delay, and slow movement on top of that. Chris doesn't control as well as NES Simon or Trevor, since at least Simon and Trevor can move at a reasonable pace and respond to your commands immediately, whereas Chris takes about half a second to actually perform the action. In other words, the controls here are serviceable, but that's about it.
Graphics: Okay, this is going to be tricky rating the graphics and audio departments, since the Game Boy is not quite as powerful as the NES when it comes to development. I can't exactly expect anything at the level of Dracula's Curse or Simon's Quest on something that only processes black and lime. Regardless, the backgrounds have some detail, with tombstones and whatnot to set the mood (given the limitations), and to add to it, they're outlined in a lighter shade of black than the foreground objects we walk on, and the sprites, as if it's trying to really creep us out. The enemies also have a degree of deformity to add to whatever atmosphere can be given, with some creative designs and whatnot to give us a bit of a fright. As for Chris, he looks like a black and white Simon/Trevor Belmont - decent looking, save for the 2/3 frames of walking animation... Oh well.
Audio: I feel very tempted to say that the soundtrack can be a bit of an ear sore unless you keep the volume down a bit until you get used to it, but... well, when you get used to it, it actually sounds kind of haunting. The first stage has the lamest level design, but it makes up for that with its kickass tune. Probably the best in the game, though that's not to say that the other tunes are slouches, as they sound pretty good, too, and definitely keep up the atmosphere; just not at the same momentum, that's all, but then again, maybe it's the improved level designs that are doing us in.
Replay Value: The most replay value this game can muster is the fact that you can repeat the four stages over and over again, but at a higher difficulty... this is probably why save states were invented on emulators, because when you turn off the Game Boy, your progress is right down the drain, and you'll need to start again. No passwords, either, so... yeah, that sucks. Due to how Chris is controlled and how frustrating and limiting it can be, it's got nothing that'll keep you coming for more. Add on the fact that each run can take a good half hour and how each minute doesn't feel as interesting as it should - given that the level designs are mostly actually pretty good - and I doubt you'll be playing this after finishing the first time.
Overall: Castlevania: The Adventure is an experiment in trying to fit within the limitations of then-new technology. It got rid of most of the best bits of the NES games and left us with a rather mediocre game that did not age too well. If you're a fan, I'd say give it a shot, but don't expect anything as good as the first Castlevania and Dracula's Curse.
Replay Value: 3/10
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