Released: May 2019
Originally Released: October 1989
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, PC, and PlayStation 4
Understandably, it seemed like Nintendo had a rule of sorts back in the day: If a title was successful on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) then it was getting a port, or some kind of sister release, on the Game Boy…and Castlevania (Konami, 1986) was no different. Back then, of course, Nintendo’s Game Boy was quite the popular bit of kit; even after SEGA released their technically superior Game Gear in 1990, the Game Boy was still the go-to handheld gaming device. However, Castlevania: The Adventure (not The Castlevania Adventure, as the title seems to suggest) was an early Game Boy title and, as such, is largely subpar even compared to the NES Castlevania but is it still capable of telling a halfway decent Castlevania story or does it crash and burn in all its monochrome glory?
A century before Simon Belmont’s adventures in Castlevania, his ancestor, Christopher Belmont, took up the legendary whip, the Vampire Killer, and went on his own journey to confront the dreaded Count Dracula.
Castlevania: The Adventure, despite its title, is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which players take control of Christopher Belmont. However, just like Trevor and Simon in the series’ NES titles, Christopher is a clunky, heavy lump of meat; he trudges forwards as if walking through soggy mud, has very slow reaction times, jumps backwards upon taking damage, and has some of the most awkward jumping mechanics I’ve ever seen, to say nothing of in the Castlevania series.
When you press the jump button, Christopher does a pitiful little hop; holding it allows him to jump higher and, when combined with a direction, theoretically allows him to clear gaps…but he has a hell of a hard time doing this. Generally, when you try and clear a gap, Christopher prefers to drop like a stone to his death, meaning you can burn through your limited lives quite easily just trying to jump across a small gap. Like his counterparts, Christopher wields the Vampire Killer, a whip that you can upgrade to first make it longer and then, revolutionarily, spit out a fireball. Each time Christopher takes damage, he loses a portion of health and his whip downgrades one level, meaning you may struggle with later enemies and bosses if you take too much damage.
Due to the limited power of the Game Boy, Christopher cannot pick up sub-weapons in this game, meaning that you’re heavily reliant upon the whip’s fireball mechanic. This also means that, for the first time in the series, picking up a heart actually replenishes your health! Whipping candles also allows you to pick up coins for extra points (being granted an extra life upon every 10,000 points) and, on the rare occasion, a 1Up that gives you an extra life. And you’ll definitely need to grab these when you see them as Castlevania: The Adventure is one tough cookie, probably the most difficult of the 8-bit Castlevania’s so far. This is primarily due to three prominent gameplay mechanics: the first is the game’s use of breakable and falling platforms. In one particular area, you can destroy Big Eye’s, which explode upon being attacked and take out a section of a bridge. In many other areas, Christopher must jump from one platform to another but, upon landing, the platforms will almost immediately drop, meaning you have to have pitch-perfect timing to even attempt a clumsy jump to the next platform. The second is the game’s use of looping sections; at times, you’ll be faced with the choice of taking a higher or lower path, usually using a rope. Castlevania: The Adventure loves to have you climbing up and down ropes, for some reason, rather than climbing stairs, making for the most vertically-orientated Castlevania title thus far. Sometimes, though, you’ll simply loop around again and again because you’re supposed to take the other route; this isn’t so bad but it’s compounded by the game’s timer, which continually counts down at the top of the screen, and, of course, the fact that the game’s enemies respawn when you leave an area.
The third and most annoying element is the game’s use of auto-scrolling sections. The game only has four stages so, to make the third stage more difficult and annoying (and, no doubt, to pad the game out by sapping you of all your lives), the stage sees Christopher being inexorably chased by a wall of spikes. You have to climb up ropes and make tricky jumps across gaps (and on to falling platforms) to escape the rising spikes and then rush to the left past enemies and jumping from rope to rope as the spikes chase you from the right. It’s a tense, frustrating section of the game that pretty much lasts for the entirety of the third stage; the fourth and final stage might be lined with instant death spikes but at least they don’t force you to plod along as fast as Christopher’s heavy ass can take him (which is not very fast at all). Unlike every other 8-bit Castlevania title, Castlevania: The Adventure is a cruel, mercilessly cheap little platformer; no matter how good your skills are, the game’s plodding pace and insistence on having Christopher drop like a stone every time you press the jump button means that you are, more often than not, going to die at least once per stage when playing this game. Perhaps this is the reason why the game doesn’t have many enemies (well, that and the Game Boy’s lack of processing power…) and is quite generous with its health and 1Ups because the moment you try and hop across a gap, you’re probably going to plummet to your doom regardless of your skill level.
Graphics and Sound:
As a Game Boy title (and a very early Game Boy title at that), Castlevania: The Adventure is, understandably, quite bland. Each of the game’s four stages is unique in its presentation, which is honestly surprising as it would have been so much easier for the developers to have the entire game take place inside Dracula’s Castle. Instead, you’ll journey through a gloomy graveyard, a haunted forest, and different areas of the Count’s spike-filled castle, which helps keep the game visually interesting stage by stage.
As for the game’s sprites, Castlevania: The Adventure actually does a pretty decent job of replicating the aesthetics of its 8-bit counterpart; unfortunately, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection only offers the original, black-and-white version of the title, which is a shame as the Game Boy Color version is much easier on the eyes. Even with the Collection’s colour filter, Christopher struggles to stand out from his surroundings and enemies and the game suffers from slowdown and blurriness, which leads to some noticeable sprite flickering, all of which only makes the difficult platforming even more frustrating. Surprisingly, the game has quite a decent little soundtrack; each area has its own catchy themes (with the first stage’s “Battle of the Holy” being a standout track), which, again, is surprising as I would have understood if the developers had just used one or two tracks throughout the game.
Enemies and Bosses:
Castlevania: The Adventure manages to separate itself from its 8-bit counterparts by featuring a few different enemies; sure, you’ll still have to contend with bats and variations of the crows and fireball-spitting bone pillars, but, rather than being faced with waves of skeletons, zombies, and axe-throwing knights, you’re faced with some unique foes. Christopher battles giant eyes that explode on contact, the shuffling Creeper, variations of the mud men (who don’t split into pieces and are more like the old zombie enemies), annoying little worms that can curl into balls to attack you, and perhaps the game’s most annoying enemy, the Night Stalker. Like the axe knights, the Night Stalker tosses a projectile at you (in this case a sickle) either up high or down low; what makes this guy so annoying, though, is that the sickle will circle around and you’ll have to either awkwardly try and jump over it or desperately try to duck under it in time, meaning the fireball whip is highly recommended against these guys.
As the game only features four stages, you’ll only have to battle four bosses, none of which are particularly difficult. The game throws a wrench in the works by having Gobanz, the armour-clad boss of the first stage who can repel your fireballs (they won’t hurt you though) and wields a retractable spear, pop up as a regular enemy in the final stage but, as long as you attack his head from a distance, he’s not much of a threat. The game even cheaps out a bit by having the Under Mole simply be a gauntlet against a near-endless wave of the creatures but it’s pretty simple to stay completely safe from danger and destroy them as their pattern is pitifully predictable.
The game’s most difficult bosses are easily the Death Bat and the two-stage finale against Dracula. After you destroy Dracula’s human form, he’ll transform into a giant bat and send three smaller bats out to damage you; this battle also takes place over a pit of spikes but, for the most part, its pretty simple to camp out on a platform for both bosses and deal some decent damage before dodging or switching your position, meaning their actual threat is minimal, at best.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Whip at candlesticks and you may produce an orb; collect one to make the Vampire Killer longer and another to have it shoot fireballs. You can also grab a Cross to receive a generous invincibility but that’s about it for power-ups. Collect coins for points; you’ll get an extra life for every 10,000 points and, the more enemies you destroy, coins you collect, and faster you beat a stage, the more points you’ll receive as a bonus. Otherwise, that’s pretty much all there is.
As is a tradition in the Castlevania series, once you defeat Dracula and sit through the game’s credits, you’ll be deposited back into the first stage only, this time, you’ll be playing in “Hard Mode”. Every time you beat the game, you replay it again and again, with the enemy’s dishing out greater and greater damage each time for an added challenge. Unfortunately, there is no password system for this title, though you are given an infinite number of continues if (well, when) you run out of lives. As with all titles in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, you can earn an Achievement for clearing the game, use save states to cheese the game’s difficulty save your progress, and apply different frames and display options (but, sadly, there’s no colour option).
Castlevania: The Adventure does a decent enough job of recreating the look and feel of the first Castlevania while doing just enough (literally the bare minimum) to stand out as its own title. However, most of the features that make this game unique are the most frustrating parts of the game; omitting the sub-weapons makes the game so much tougher as you really need the fireball whip but you’ll lose it the moment you take damage and the game’s janky controls and insistence on making jumping as difficult as possible means it’s very difficult to jump and whip and clear a gap while collecting an item that much harder. With only four stages, a handful of bland enemies, and four of the franchise’s easiest boss encounters, Castlevania: The Adventure clearly struggles to get the most out of the Game Boy. As an early release, though, it was clearly hampered by the fact that other developers hadn’t yet found ways to working around the handheld’s limited capabilities and, as we have seen, the Game Boy is perfectly capable of producing decent 2D sidescrolling titles so it stands to reason that Castlevania: The Adventure could have been so much more than a slow, clunky title with a penchant for having you plummet to your death at every press of the jump button.
Did you ever play Castlevania: The Adventure on the Game Boy? Do you give the game a pass (or, at least, some slack) because it was a Game Boy title or did you think Nintendo’s handheld was capable of producing a much better Castlevania title? What was your favourite Game Boy game back in the day? Whatever you think about the game, or Castlevania, in general, leave a comment below and check out my other Castlevania reviews.