Castlevania: The GameBoy Trilogy
by FreezingInferno

Castlevania. The name alone evokes memories in many gamers, both old-school and new-school. The old-school players will remember a (mostly) marvelous action/platformer series that remained both fun and challenging. The newer folks have their own memories, of intricate multi-room castles with all sorts of hidden items and scary creatures to battle. Whether you're old or new, the Castlevania series is recognized as a Konami mainstay, right up there with their other hits like Gradius and Contra. Now, if you mention "portable Castlevania" to someone, they will likely think of the newer-style games released in recent years for the GBA and DS, the "Metroidvanias" as they are colloquially referred to. What few remember, though, are the old-school portable Castlevania games; released on that old grey brick Game Boy that you played your Super Mario Land or Pokemon on. There were three Castlevania titles released on that old soupy green screened system, and they are somewhat worth taking a look at. Are they any good, you might ask? Well... kinda. The three games vary in quality, from godawful piece of green shit to holy fucking shit it's a real portable Castlevania. Elaboration on how good each game is, along with sports and weather, coming up at 11.



CASTLEVANIA: THE ADVENTURE

Konami's first attempt at portable Castlevania came out not long after the Legendary Brick was released; only about six months or so. The competition on Game Boy at this point consisted of simple-looking things like Super Mario Land or Tetris. Compared to those, Adventure looked pretty goddamned amazing, graphically. Gameplay-wise, this thing is a whole other story. Castlevania III wasn't out yet, so I guess all the weird vibes that went into Castlevania II were still around, because it's quite hard to imagine just why Konami would make this game the way they did. Let's get into it, then.

You're Christopher Belmont, who sits somewhere between Trevor and Simon Belmont on the canon-o-meter, and you have to kill Dracula because... well... because.. you're a Belmont and he's Dracula. It's old-school Castlevania, you don't need an overarching plot. You Belmont, you whip things dead. All you need to enjoy. Except you probably won't enjoy it because they fucked it up. Seriously. At least Castlevania II was TRYING to be different and innovative. It failed because of its own cryptic bullshit, but at least the damn thing PLAYED like a Castlevania should. Adventure's gameplay is totally crippled and frustrating, and completely ruins the game. So, how did they totally destroy fundamental Castlevania? A few reasons:

1) Almost nothing from Castlevania is in this game.

Belmont, whips, bats, birds, Dracula. These are the only things I remember in this game that have actually BEEN in Castlevania before. Like Mario Land, the developers created a whole mess of new weird monsters for the old brick. Enjoy your slugs and moles and rolling eyeballs, guys! It's not just the enemies that got changed; the items have seen an overhaul too. The invincibility jar is now an invincibility cross, and wall meat is now a heart. But wait! If hearts are now health, then what do you use to fuel your subweapons? About that. They took the subweapons out. No cross, no holy water, no axe. Nothing. Now, why would they do that? My personal theory is that it was too much for them to program on the Gameboy at the time; the system was still pretty new and they were learning the ins and outs. This is probably the reason for the second major flaw:

2) Christopher Belmont walks too goddamned slow.

Again, this one is probably due to hardware limitations. Your character simply walks like he's been in a car accident. He moves far too slow to, god forbid, get out of the way of a bat or something careening after him. It may seem like a trivial thing to complain about, but it causes quite a bit of frustration. Generally, in a platforming game that involves death-defying leaps over bottomless pits or spikes, you want the player character to have some degree of manueverability. Not the case here; instead have fun relying on pixel-perfect jumps and needless repitition. This problem rears its ugly head and makes you throw down the Game Boy with a string of curses in stage 3. There are auto-scrolling sections where you have to climb and move to avoid a spike wall coming after you, and you want nothing else besides running the hell away from the thing. Instead, you walk slow and take your goddamned time, requiring you to be a friggin' timing master to be able to get through his gauntlet with no bullshit from the enemies coming your way. We've saved the worst flaw for last. This last one right here can't possibly have anything to do with hardware limitations, and will just piss you off.

3) Your whip downgrades if you take damage.

Remember how in other Castlevanias, you start off with that weak leather whip, until you whip a couple of candles and get whip upgrades? Until you die, you'd never lose those, and even if you did die, it's just a matter of whipping candles for about 30 seconds until you get the shit back; the upgrades are pretty much guaranteed. Well, Castlevania Adventure says "fuck that fairness shit". You start with a leather whip, and can upgrade to a chain whip which does more damage, and finally a flame whip which shoots a little ball of fire. The thing is, if an enemy hits you while you have a powered-up whip, you regress back to the previous level. Flame becomes chain, chain becomes whip. "Okay," you might say, "why don't I just whip some candles and get the upgrades back?". Whip upgrade orbs are not guaranteed in this game; in fact, they're kind of hard to come by. "Well," you reply, "I shall just be careful and never get hit!". Except you can't do that because of point 2; you move so slow that it's hard as hell to evade damage. You are going to get hit, and you are going to lose that fancy whip upgrade. By themselves, these points may not seem so bad. But together, they completely destroy any semblance of fun the game may have had.

In short, this game is just awful. Castlevania II haters should be made to play this game; by Stage 3 they'd be pleading to go back and farm for hearts and kneel in front of cliffs. The combination of hardware limitations and infuriating design decisions makes this the worst Castlevania since the DOS port of the original. Avoid this thing at all costs.



CASTLEVANIA II: BELMONT'S REVENGE

Two years after the disaster that was Adventure, Konami decided for some reason that Christopher Belmont deserved a sequel game. This time, it seems that they had gotten their act together and fired or shot whoever made Adventure so godawful shitty. One could liken this to the "NES trilogy syndrome" that plagued the NES Castlevania games, as well as Mario and Zelda. Game 1 sets the groundwork for the series, Game 2 deviates and is shunned and ostracized, and Game 3 returns to roots and expands classic gameplay elements. With the Gameboy Castlevanias, they skipped over that first one. Belmont's Revenge is the Game 3 of the Gameboy Castlevanias; this is a REAL Castlevania.

This one actually does have some semblance of a plot to it. 15 years after Adventure, Christopher Belmont has settled down and has a son, Soleiyu Belmont. Dracula somehow brainwashes Soleiyu and is resurrected, and Christopher takes up the whip again to enact his revenge, both on Dracula for stealing his son and on Konami for making him star in the shittiest Castlevania game. Goddamn, did they ever fix it. All the negatives from Adventure are, for the most part, fixed. Your character actually walks at a speed that lets him not get hit by everything coming at you from a weird angle. More importantly, the whip downgrading is almost gone; only one enemy type in the game can downgrade your whip. However, whip upgrade orbs seem to be a bit more plentiful this time around, so it's somewhat balanced. As for subweapons, they make their portable debut here. You get the holy water and a unique subweapon depending on what version you're playing; the axe for America, and the cross for Japan and Europe. A bit strange that all three aren't in every version, and kind of a ripoff to America because the cross is far better in this game, but let's be glad we got the subweapons at all.

Another interesting aspect to this game is the fact that it has a Mega Man-styled "stage select". You can pick the first four stages in any order you desire, then go through Dracula's castle which is like a Dr. Wily fortress. Each level, like Mega Man, has its own little stage gimmicks that you need to get through, and they help add a little variety to the game. Unlike Mega Man, you don't get anything special in the levels that would help you beat the other levels, so there's no rock-paper-scissors order; just choose whatever level you like. Clockwise from the left, we have:



-Crystal Castle
No, not that Atari arcade game with the bear and the gems. This level has quite a few gimmicks that it throws at you, including water currents, those blocks that slowly crack and collapse when you jump on them, and spike walls that come in from the right and retreat back. Nothing that can't be managed with a little perserverance.





-Cloud Castle
This one not only has some of the better music in the game (hell, almost all the tracks in this game are fantastic), but it has the interesting gimmick of pulley conveyor belts that switch directions on you, forcing you to be creative and timely with your jumps.






-Rock Castle
Whoever added the weird Aztec-like drawings in the background of this stage gets praise. Also it has large spike-tipped poles that jut out of the walls for you to climb on, and a fun set of rooms where whipping the candles puts out the lights and leaves you in the dark, awakening nocturnal slugs.





-Plant Castle
Again this one gets a vote for consideration towards best music in the game, and features "plant" ground that slows your movement speed, as well as spiders that leave climbable threads for you to jump across. It's notable that the boss of this level is named "Kumulo and Nimbler", which is evidently a reference to cumulus and nimbus clouds.. so why the hell wasn't this guy the Cloud Castle boss? We may never know.




This game is a pretty goddamned good Castlevania. It actually plays fairly with no handicap bullshit, has great music, great stages, great everything. Anyone who's a fan of Castlevania should check it out; Konami redeemed themselves for Adventure with this glorious little package.
















CASTLEVANIA LEGENDS

The final Game Boy Castlevania game was released in 1997. By that time, the Castlevania series had undergone major revolutions. The classic style had been improved and refined throughout the 16-bit era, culminating in the revolutionary Symphony Of The Night that changed everything and added this and that and yadda yadda yadda. It's clear from playing Legends that the developers, KCE Nagoya, were trying to emulate Symphony's success as best they could with an 8-bit action/platformer. One would think that the result would be a godawful abomination like Adventure, but despite its flaws, Legends is actually pretty good.

The plot involves the very first Belmont, named Sonia, as she heads out to whip various nasty demons and stop this mean guy named Dracula from doing evil stuff. Now, you may be thinking, "A GIRL Belmont? Surely you jest!". Well, things behind the scenes are a little complex when it comes to Legends. The new producer of the series, Koji Igarashi, has struck this game out of official Castlevania canon. He then went on to make Lament of Innocence, and make Leon Belmont the first Belmont. So, technically, everything in Legends never actually happened. Was Igarashi just being sexist in de-canonizing Sonia? It's doubtful; it may have more to do with the plot. We'll get to that.

Gameplay-wise, Legends is your standard Castlevania affair on the surface. You get to choose a difficulty setting at the start; Light Mode gives you an unloseable Flame Whip right from the get-go, while in Standard Mode you have to earn it through whip upgrades. This is where all similarities to the other Castlevania games end; Legends has a wide variety of deviations, most of which lead to some interesting flaws. First up is "Burning Mode". At the bottom of the screen, under your health meter, is a meter labelled simply "B". One playing at first might assume that said meter is the boss's life bar, as seen in other Castlevania games. It's actually the meter for the Burning Mode; by pressing A and B together, you activate it, making Sonia invincible and increasing the damage her whip does to enemies. A and B again will deactivate it, and when fully drained the meter can only be refilled by either dying or completing the current stage. The problem with Burning Mode is that it breaks the game. Against 80% of the bosses, all you need to do for an easy win is turn on Burning Mode, run into their sprite, and mash attack like you're resisting Revolver Ocelot's torture. The bosses simply can't stand up to the assault, and go down without a fight. One might be clever and waste their Burning Mode in the stage itself for a challenge, but even without this gamebreaker, the bosses are simply too easy. Even Death. THEY WUSSED OUT DEATH.

Another gameplay change is something clearly inspired by Symphony Of The Night; multiple paths to take. Several levels (the Clock Tower especially) let you branch off and explore the different pathways through the stage, instead of just "go from Point A to Point B". It sounds innovate, but there's just one problem.

THERE'S ALMOST NO POINT TO TAKING THESE PATHS

Contrary to what it may seem, the stages are indeed a point A to point B affair. Just about every other way to go is a red herring, designed to waste the in-game clock and kill you by timeout. Half of the ways you can go are utterly pointless dead ends, but you'll need to explore them anyway due to another gameplay mechanic. See, this game has multiple endings. How you earn them depends on the special items you collect. Every stage (including a secret one you access by whipping a special candle in stage 5) has one of the classic subweapons hidden somewhere in it. They don't do anything and can't actually be used as weapons, but earning them all nets you the best ending. So, be prepared to either:

A) search every dead end red herring bullshit branch for the special item, or
B) use a FAQ to find out which path is not a waste of your time.

But wait! If the subweapons are just like the frigging jiggies and stars and other useless collectible crap from 3D platformers, does that imply this game has none and is shitty for it? It does not. Instead of subweapons, this game gives you "magic". You get a new spell at the end of every stage, and can use any of them at any time, provided you have enough hearts to use them. Unfortunately, the magic completely breaks this game into super-easy splinters as well. The spells:

-Soul Wind (5 hearts)
The first spell works exactly like the Stopwatch from the console Castlevania games; stops every enemy on screen for a bit, and has no effect on bosses. Standard stuff, and not too broken.

-Soul Ice (20 hearts)
This is one of the broken spells. Its effect is to heal you fully. In Castlevania, health is usually a luxury, but here's an infinite source for you. Combined with the fact that your hearts from one level carry over to the next, and you're never going to die because you have Burning Mode AND this to get you out of any tight spot, you can see just how this game is too damn easy.

-Soul Fire (5 hearts)
This one's interesting; it does one point of damage to every enemy on screen, other than bosses. Helpful against bats and crap about to knock you into a pit or something.


-Soul Saint (1 heart)
All this one does is send a projectile out across the screen. Sounds useless if you have the flame whip, but against some bosses, the flame will be blocked by something that this can penetrate.


-Soul Magic (5 hearts)
You can only get this one from beating the secret stage, and you only get to use it for the four or five screens before Dracula. Even so, this thing is fucking broken. It works kind of like the Fire spell, except.. well.. it instantly kills everything on screen. I mean, Jesus, Konami. Does that not seem a little too EASY?


So we have a game that, while better than Adventure by far, is crippled by its flawed design decisions that make it about as difficult as a game of Super Mario Bros. As for why this game is non-canonical? Well, the Stage 4 boss is none other than Alucard, which is another point in the "The designers had SOTN envy" argument. It is somewhat implied by Alucard and Sonia's conversation, as well as the best ending you get by getting all the collectibles, that Sonia and Alucard are an item. And Sonia has Alucard's baby. So all the Belmonts have a little bit of vampire in them? Yeah, I think I can see why this one isn't canon. Still, it comes reccomended over Adventure; at least you can beat this one relatively simply.


And that's about all she wrote for classic-style portable Castlevania. Other than Dracula X Chronicles, all we got on handhelds were Metroidvanias on the GBA and DS. Still, Konami hasn't forgotten about these old games; Castlevania Adventure is being remade for WiiWare. Judging from the screenshots, they actually added subweapons to a game, which is a damn good sign. If the character walks at a decent speed and we don't have that whip downgrade crap, we might have a game worth a $10 download on our hands. Fingers crossed for a Belmont's Revenge remake. As it stands, though, the Gameboy Castlevania trilogy is interesting, and varies in quality. If you're hard up on a fresh Castlevania action, well, you can't go wrong with two out of three.






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