Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (GB) Review

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The Short

Pros

– A *gasp* good Game Boy Castlevania game?

– Takes elements from the craptastic previous game and makes them actually…good

– Some genuinely cool platforming ideas within the Castlevania universe

– World selection aped straight from Mega Man 

– Kick-ass music

– Looks fantastic

– Getting hit doesn’t downgrade your weapon (unless getting hit by very specific enemies)

– Not just a good Castlevania handheld game, but a good Castlevania game in general

Cons

– Calling it Castlevania II is a great way for me to think it’s Simon’s Quest

– The last three bosses can be pretty cheap

– Level design isn’t quite as good as the NES/Genesis offerings

– Password system instead of save, but that’s better than nothing

– Controls are still a bit ridged at times

Belmont is back, and he's PISSED

Belmont is back, and he’s PISSED

The Long

Holy cow guys, I don’t know if it’s like…weird gaming rebound because I just came off the worst Castlevania experience in my life or what, but Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is…good? Like…a good Game Boy Castlevania game? It exists? Whaaaaaaaa

Ok, sorry, getting a bit ahead of myself.

My expectations were pretty much dashed after playing Castlevania: The Adventure. I knew already that the Game Boy was an inferior piece of hardware compared to the NES, but I hadn’t expected the translation of a classic franchise to have gone so poorly. And if Castlevania Legends  is any indication (cough spoilers for a future review cough), making a good, Castlevania-esque platformer on Nintendo’s handheld proved a larger challenge than some expected. I went into Belmont’s Revenge fully expecting crap…or maybe even something similar to Simon’s Quest (seeing as they share a name).

Guess what? I was pleasantly surprised, so much so that I’d say Belmont’s Revenge is one of the best platformers on the system. Yeah. It’s pretty solid.

Plus it has MONKEY SKELETONS.

Plus it has MONKEY SKELETONS.

There is actual plot this time. Kind of. Christopher Belmont (the guy from the first game) is back, and his son has been nabbed by Dracula. Or joined Dracula. Or something. I’m not totally sure, there isn’t exactly a lot of text in this game. But you’re here for revenge, cause it’s in the title. So off you head to four different castles named after different…elements? Well, the manual said elements, but I don’t remember “Crystal” or “Plants” being elements.

The game here takes a page from Mega Man, allowing you to tackle any of the four castles in whatever order you choose. It doesn’t really matter (you don’t get any power-ups or anything from beating them), and after beating all four you have two final stages followed by the Dracula boss fight. Pretty standard Game Boy platformer stuff.

Insert "Rockman" pun here

Insert “Rockman” pun here

Right off the bat you’ll notice Christopher controls much better. Most annoyances from the first game have been fixed: his jump is a bit further, he auto-grabs ropes by just being near them (a fantastic addition), and gravity doesn’t fluctuate randomly. Even better, when he powers up his weapon he retains the powerups even when hit, unless hit by a very specific enemy (and it gives a sound-cue letting you know). So far, so good.

I was originally dismayed, because Belmont’s Revenge features tons of the same elements from the first game. Ropes still play a prominent part, as do vertically oriented sections. Enemies too, like the bouncy-ball spitters and sickle-throwers, have been kept over. But my dismay quickly turned to delight as I realized how much better things were this go around.

The game has been better adjusted to fit both Christopher’s gimped jump as well as the Game Boy’s capabilities. While some areas are continuous scrolling, most castles have each room be a self-contained challenge, and leaving it tosses you into another one. It’s a smart use of the screen’s limited real estate, and with better designed rooms leads to some really cool challenges.

This room would be hell in the first game. This time around, it's a blast.

This room would be hell in the first game. This time around, it’s a blast.

Belmont’s Revenge uses ropes in interesting ways. In the image above, the pairs of ropes switch directions (up vs down) every couple of seconds, leading to some interesting jumping challenges. Later it mixes it up by having these with enemies coming at you, but never enough to be impossible (no Medusa heads). The new grab and jump mechanics make this challenging but quite fun.

Another cool rope trick is spiders. Now, when spiders come from the ceiling, you can grab their threads and use them for platforms. Kill them, however, and the thread will end. You have to be smart as to which spiders to kill and which to use, again leading to some really fun platforming.

Explody Eyeball Bridge is also back, but actually fun.

Explody Eyeball Bridge is also back, but actually fun.

It isn’t just ropes, though. Something the original game had was horizontal spike stakes that would come out of the walls. You’d have to use them as platforms to escape a room, but the game gave no indication when they’d stick out or retract. It became a case of trial and error, and was exceptionally frustrating. Belmont’s Revenge fixes this with a simple design decision: the spikes flash just before they move. Such a simple thing, but it makes the room more about skill rather than dumb luck. Smart.

That isn’t to say these changes make the game easier. In fact, Belmont’s Revenge is quite tricky, though not nearly on par with Castlevania III: Dracula’s Day OutIn particular, the final three bosses are super difficult, requiring some pattern memorization as well as quick reflexes. The final fight with Dracula is also very hard, though he only has one form this time around.

Drac's back, in the same room as last time.

Drac’s back, in the same room as last time.

You may note in the screenshots, but subweapons are back! Sort of! There’s only two this time, the axe and the water, and they act exactly as they did in the rest of the series. Here’s a Nathan Protip: Use the axe, ditch the water. Axe is so, so useful throughout. The exception is the second to last boss, where the water is actually better. But I swear Dracula is impossible if you don’t have the axe, he’s so hard.

So…yeah. While it isn’t quite as tight as earlier Castlevania games, Belmont’s Revenge‘s gameplay and design work exceptionally well given the limitations of the hardware. It’s challenging, but really fun. My only major complaint is the four castles (which have branching paths, btw, which is also cool) are a bit long for a handheld experience. Nothing awful (and I’m glad for more content), they just seem to take a while. You still get ~2-3 hours of gameplay out of it, though (depending on how good you are), which is pretty dang good for a Game Boy platformer.

Like, you can beat Kirby's Dreamland in 30 minutes. Also, this boss is cheap.

Like, you can beat Kirby’s Dreamland in 30 minutes. Also, this boss is cheap.

Graphically, this game looks fantastic. The enemies have better death animations, with the eyeballs particularly having some 60 frames per second explosions that look great. The backgrounds (which were the one good thing about Castlevania: The Adventure) are even better this time around, and even though there aren’t a lot of different enemies they all look great, especially the bosses.

When I first booted up the game and played Crystal Castle, my ears nearly exploded for joy. Ok, not really, that would be excruciatingly painful. But hot damn, this game has some rocking tunes. Seriously some of the best on the system, I have no idea how they made it work given the Game Boy’s somewhat tinny sound chip. Really worthy of the series’ legacy.

 

Seriously like…holy crap. LISTEN TO IT. 

Point being: Castlevania II: Not Simon’s Quest, but Actually (Christopher) Belmont’s Revenge is a phenomenal Game Boy game, and a really solid Castlevania game. Is it as good as the greats, like the original, Super, or Bloodlines? Well…not quite. But I will say I’d rather pick it up again than, say, Castlevania III. Or The Adventure. But I’d rather take a long dive off a short pier than play The Adventure again, so that isn’t really fair.

I’m genuinely sad that I didn’t have this game when I had a Game Boy growing up. It’s a fantastic platformer and should be part of any Game Boy collector’s collection.

I’d also like to point out that Castlevania: The Adventure is available on the 3DS eShop, but Belmont’s Revenge isn’t. If that isn’t proof that Konami hates their fans, I don’t know what is.

Oh wait. Yeah…

Four out of five stars.

When I'm comin' home, son, I don't know when, but we'll kill Dracula then, son, I know we'll have a good time then.

When I’m comin’ home, son, I don’t know when, but we’ll kill Dracula then, son, I know we’ll have a good time then.

Author: Nathan Major

Spirit Shark: Hammerhead. Retro game collector, true ginger, and SNES fanatic. Goal in life is to become Karnov from the NES game Karnov.

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