Released: May 2019
Originally Released: July 1991
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
So far, since I started working my way through the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, I’ve realised two things: first, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (ibid, 1987) was easily the worst of the Castlevania titles released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and, second, Castlevania: The Adventure (ibid, 1989) was a disappointingly frustrating debut for the series on the Game Boy.
Yet, despite this, Konami returned to everyone’s favourite monochrome handheld in 1991, just a few months before the release of the fantastic Super Castlevania IV (ibid, 1991). By this time, the Game Boy had finally made the jump to colour and developers were actually able to put its limited capabilities to good use, even as its lifecycle began to wind down, but does Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge manage to outperform it’s handheld predecessor or is it more of the same, exasperating gameplay?
Fifteen years after defeating Count Dracula in Castlevania: The Adventure, Christopher Belmont, of the renowned Belmont family of vampire hunters, is forced to take up his legendary whip, the Vampire Killer, and confront Dracula once again after the Count’s evil spirit corrupts both Christopher’s son, Soleil, and erects four castles to consolidate his power once more.
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer in which players once again take control of Trevor and Simon’s ancestor, Christopher Belmont. Luckily, age has actually improved Christopher’s performance rather than slowing him down as, while he still limps along in the trademark Belmont shuffle, his jumping mechanics are vastly improved over those seen in Castlevania: The Adventure. Now, when you jump, you no longer plummet like a stone or feel as though you’re constantly fighting against gravity in a losing battle; he still jumps backwards (often to his death) when hit and platforming can still be a tricky business, but it’s far better than in the last game, finally bringing the controls back on par with…the first Castlevania (ibid, 1986).
Christopher once again battles with his whip, the Vampire Killer, which can again be upgraded to be both longer and to shoot fireballs as in the last game. Unfortunately, he can still only attack in the direction he is facing, meaning you’ll have to jump or use ledges to dispose of airborne enemies…or make use of the game’s sub-weapons. Yep, conspicuous by their absence in their last game, sub-weapons return here and, while we only get two of them, they’re the two I’ve used the most in the series thus far (the Holy Water and the axe).
As always, you can whip candles to collect hearts, which once again act as the ammo for your sub-weapon due to the debut of meat into the Game Boy series; however, in my playthrough, I never actually found a single piece of health-restoring meat and had to settle for cheesing save states and having my health bar refilled after besting each of the game’s bosses. Like in the last game, you can also grab coins to increase your score and 1Ups to earn extra lives, and this game also features the debut of the traditional door transitions from one area to another, again bringing it more in-line with its NES counterparts.
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a notable return to form for the Castlevania series in that, of the two Game Boy titles, it is the one that most closely replicates its NES counterparts. Yet, like its predecessor, the game is still short on stages; you’ll visit four castles (Cloud, Rock, Crystal, and Plant), each of which can be selected in any order from the main menu. While it doesn’t really matter which order you take on the castles, each has different enemies and gameplay mechanics to overcome.
Take on the Plant and Crystal castles, for example, and you’ll be tasked with travelled from the right-side of the screen to the left, which goes against almost every instinct in my body. I found Rock Castle to be the best one to start with as it has the easiest boss, enemies, and level layout, while Cloud Castle was one of the hardest takes to the inclusion of the Night Stalker enemy. Regardless, once you’ve cleared the four castles, a fifth, Dracula’s Castle, rises up and presents the game’s toughest challenge.
Like its predecessor, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is an extremely vertically-orientated videogame; Christopher clambers up and down ropes, rather than taking staircases, to reach higher and lower areas of each castle. Luckily, as he’s often once again faced with walls of spikes looking to impale him, he can now quickly slip down a rope to quickly clear these obstacles, but he’ll also be tasked with jumping from one rope to another, which can be a tricky task. The biggest hindrance to this is that Christopher won’t jump from his rope if he doesn’t have a clear path so you’ll have to make sure to manoeuvre Christopher beyond the edge of the stage or risk taking damage.
As part of this, Christopher can now use spider webs to clear gaps; spiders will descend and ascend down a web line and you’ll have to use your weapons to kill them, leaving yourself a series of lines to jump to. As with all Castlevania games, the enemies respawn, so, if you mess up, you can just respawn the spiders by walking a little off-screen so you can try again. The breaking and collapsing platforms of Castlevania: The Adventure also make a return; you’ll again have to contend with Big Eye’s exploding and destroying bridges though, for the most part, you’ll simply drop to a marshy layer below. While this does slow your forward momentum, it’s still preferable to dropping to your immediate death. Rather than hopping from one collapsing platform to another, as in the last game, Christopher is now faced with blocks of crystal; when he lands on them, the block starts to crack; wait too long to make your move and the block will shatter, dropping Christopher to his death, meaning it’s best to plan ahead a bit and hop to safety as soon as possible.
Thankfully, the auto-scrolling sections and abundance of instant-death spikes of Castlevania: The Adventure have been ditched; you’re still asked to make some difficult jumps, will have to contend with spiked platforms, and you’ll have to frantically slide away from some spiked walls but it’s nothing like in the last game. Instead, you’ll now be faced with massive weighted spikes that must have their central column destroyed in order for you to pass by safely; a similar mechanic was present in Castlevania: The Adventure but its far more prevalent here and you’ll have to risk taking some damage to use the weight’s height to reach a rope before the weight drops too low.
Plant Castle also uses a blackout feature at one point; whenever you destroy a candlestick in this section, the entire background and foreground will go pitch-black, meaning it’s usually best to avoid destroying the candlesticks unless you’re confident of where you’re walking and/or jumping. Cloud Castle tweaks the rope-based mechanics of the title by having gears turn the ropes up and down in intervals; since touching the gears is liable to drain your health quite quickly, it’s best to jump from rope to rope as quickly as possible. You’ll also jump to ropes weighed down by spiked balls; as you jump to these, the weights will shift and you’ll also be at risk of taking damage from spikes or the gears unless you jump to safety.
All of these gameplay mechanics and obstacles are ramped up to eleven by the time you reach Dracula’s Castle, fitting as this is the game’s most difficult level by far. However, despite some tricky platforming and the presence of some truly annoying enemies, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is far less merciless than its predecessor. Since Christopher no longer drops like a stone every single time he tries to clear even the smallest gap, it’s far easier to navigate through the game’s handful of castles which, while still limited compared to other Castlevania titles, are also much bigger than in the last game.
Graphics and Sound:
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is still a Game Boy title so you can’t expect too much here but, unlike the last game, this title actually features a decent level of detail in each of its environments. Crystal Castle features a Greco-Roman aesthetic in the background and an abundance of semi-transparent crystal platforms and blocks, Rock Castle is dotted with cracks and holes for rats to leap out at you and resembles a cave-like dungeon, Plant Castle seems coated in moss and/or slime and features a quagmire-like swamp beneath its destructible bridges, and Cloud Castle (fittingly) has mountains in the background and is full of gears and pulleys.
Dracula’s Castle begins with a fairly elaborate gated courtyard filled with statues, progresses to a rock-like dungeon, and culminates with a stained-glass throne room lined with chandeliers, portraits, and large paned windows. It’s all very elaborate and nicely detailed, giving each area is own unique look and feel, yet not being so detailed that you can’t see the sprites. Speaking of which, both Christopher and his enemies look pretty much the same as in the last game; classic, blocky little 8-bit sprites are the order of the day but, thanks to the game better balancing its limited colour palette and backgrounds, it’s much easier to see where Christopher is at any time…except when you’re forced to travel right to left, which always confuses my line of sight. Similar to Castlevania: The Adventure, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection only offers a black-and-white, monochrome, or colour filter rather than the more detailed gradients offered by the original Game Boy Color version but, despite this, the game is noticeably faster and suffers from less (if any) sprite flickering.
Unlike its predecessor, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge also features a few limited cutscenes; after clearing the four castles, Dracula’s abode dramatically rises on the map screen and, each time you visit a castle or an area of Dracula’s Castle, you’ll be treated to an animation of Christopher heading there. Additionally, after defeating later bosses, you’ll actually get some dialogue boxes pop up that give some context to the game’s events, which was a nice (and surprising) touch. Similarly, the game features a fairly decent and catchy soundtrack; not only does each castle have its own theme, when you progress far enough into the castle the music will switch to a more ominous tune to help keep things interesting as you play.
Enemies and Bosses:
Every enemy from Castlevania: The Adventure makes a return in this sequel, meaning you’ll still be going up against giant eyeballs, sloppy Mud Men, annoying crows, and pizza-spitting globby monsters. The Under Mole boss from the last game is recycled as the regular rat enemies, which leap out at you from holes just like that boss did, and the last game’s worst enemy, the Night Stalker, returns more frustrating than ever as it is nigh-impossible to dodge his flying sickles without taking damage.
There are some new enemies on offer here as well, though; there’s a giant bat that, when destroyed, results in two smaller, regular bats buzzing around you until you take them out as well; skeletons make their Game Boy debut, here clambering up and down and jumping to and from ropes erratically whilst throwing bones at you, and you’ll also have to contend with jellyfish-like enemies who soak up damage like a sponge and drain your hearts when touched.
Perhaps the most interesting new enemy is the Cave Snail; these are dormant until you make the lights go out in Planet Castle, when they’ll unfurl and plod towards you. They’re not the most difficult, exciting, or sexy enemy but it’s an interesting gameplay mechanic, if nothing else. Aside from the Night Stalker, you may also have difficulty whenever you face off with the dagger-throwing Lizard Men but, once you learn their pattern, it’s pretty easy to safely avoid them as they hop around chucking daggers at you.
Bosses in Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge are a step up from the last game in terms of their size, variety, and threat; while the armoured Iron Doll, statue-like Twin Trident, and teleporting wizard Dark Side aren’t too much of a challenge, you’ll also face the two-headed Angel Mummy, which is a skeletal creature that has fused to a wall, takes up the entire right-side of the screen, and launches both boomerang-like energy waves and fireballs at you, making it perhaps the most difficult of the regular bosses. The Bone Dragon can be a bit of a bastard as well; this is where the auto-scrolling comes back with a vengeance and you’ll be forced to lumber ahead so that you can avoid the dragon’s bony body, spiked tail, and land a few hits to its big ugly head.
Once you reach Dracula’s Castle, you’ll have to battle Christopher’s son, Soleil, who has been possessed by Dracula’s corrupting influence. The toughest boss of the game so far, Soleil not only throws daggers across the screen that can rain down on you, he attacks with his own whip and can absorb a great deal of punishment. Luckily, his pattern is quite easy to predict so you can pre-emptively toss Holy Water at him to damage him when he’s standing still and get a few hits in with your whip at the same time.
After freeing Soleil, Christopher goes on to battle Count Dracula once more in an area strikingly similar to the one they fought in in Castlevania: The Adventure (another nice call-back). While Dracula only has the one form this time around, he’s far tougher than before as, this time, he surrounds and protects himself with a series of spheres, blasting them out in a spiral pattern as he teleports around the spiked-lined arena. As always, you can only damage his head and, due to the nature of his teleportation animation and the aforementioned spheres, you have a very limited window to land a hit and get to safety. As a result, the axe is a must-have item for this boss as it allows you to get into a safe position and still hit Dracula without risking the jump to a higher platform but, even then, this was one of the hardest of the 8-bit Dracula boss battles for me.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Everything for the last game makes a return here, meaning the Christopher can still throw fireballs out of his whip once it’s fully powered up. These do feel slightly nerfed than in Castlevania: The Adventure, though, as they’re slower and can’t be thrown successively (this, however, does seem to have improved the game’s sprite flickering and performance). You also get the axe and the Holy Water as sub-weapons, which is a welcome return, and, while you could complain about the lack of other Castlevania sub-weapons, they’re not needed thanks to the versatility of Christopher’s whip.
Like pretty much every Castlevania videogame, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge features a “Hard Mode” that, as the name suggests, offers a greater challenge. Unlike its predecessors, though, the only way to play the game’s Hard Mode is by inputting a password as beating the game simply leaves you in the “The End” graphic. Passwords can also be used to jump to the game’s various stages and bosses and grant extra lives, but don’t offer any other benefits; there’s no way to play as Soleil, for example, which is a bit of a shame.
Furthermore, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection bestows upon you an Achievement after you clear the game, allows you to make liberal use of the save state feature, and apply different frames and display options to customise the game’s appearance to your liking.
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a dramatic step up from its predecessor; featuring far more detailed and varied environments, the return of classic Castlevania tropes like the doors to new areas and sub-weapons, and proving that the Game Boy is more than capable of producing a worthy counterpart to its NES cousins. Honestly, this is the Castlevania Game Boy title we should have gotten in the first place as, rather than being a frustrating, subpar experience, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is actually relatively decent to play simply due to the fact that you don’t plummet to your death every time you jump.
With far larger and layered stages, more visually striking and challenging boss battles, and a difficulty curve that is based on your level of skill and ability rather than simply (literally) weighing you down with slowdown, sprite flickering, and sloppy physics, it’s still far from surpassing its NES equivalents but Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is a decent enough Castlevania title, especially for a Game Boy game.
What did you think about Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge? Do you agree that it showed that Castlevania: The Adventure was capable of so much more or do you still rank it low on the totem pole of Castlevania titles? What was your favourite Game Boy title? Whatever your thoughts about Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, or Castlevania, in general, drop a comment below and pop back next Saturday for my review of the next Castlevania title in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection.