Castlevania Legends (GB) Review

clegendsboxThe Short

Pros

– Another handheld Castlevania game! Yay?

– Stars the first solo female protagonist in Castlevania history. And her hair is awesome!

– Magic system (replacing subweapons) is a pretty decent idea

– More control over jumps makes platforming a lot easier

– Has an easy (“Light”) mode for those who suck

– Actually has…a plot? Whaaaaaaaaaa

– Attempts to mimic Symphony of the Night with its expansive levels

Cons

– “Expansive levels” is code for “lots of dead ends”

– Graphics look bad, especially character/enemy sprites

– Music also ranges from “just ok” to “my ears, my ears!”

– Auto-grabbing ropes is gone (why…?)

– Enemies frequently seem to have only the most basic of AI (walk off cliffs or target in on you and never leave)

– Entire plot was retconned out of Castlevania canon, because having the Belmonts be descended from Alucard and Sonia was a little too weird.

– Is like…$60 on eBay. WAY OVERPRICED.

Is it legend-wait for it....-dary?

Is it legend-wait for it….-dary?

The Long

So far we’ve had a catastrophic failure GB Castlevania game and a pretty damn good GB Castlevania game. So for the third installment, Konami regulated the game to a side-team, KCEN, who were also responsible for the (cancelled) Sega Saturn port of Symphony of the Night. That should be an unfortunate indication of where this review is heading already.

It’s also worth pointing out that Castlevania: Legends was released after Symphony of the Night, which meant my comment in my review of Castlevania: Bloodlines (saying it was the last linear Castlevania game that wasn’t a remake or a re-release) was wrong. So much for research, but I’m just gonna keep it that way. Why? Because Bloodlines is awesome and Legends is bad.

Whoops, getting ahead of myself. Let’s break this down, shall we?

Sonia Belmont, retconned out of history.

Sonia Belmont, retconned out of history.

The plot follows Sonia Belmont, and was meant to be a prequel to the series. She wields the first Vampire Killer whip (the one passed down the Belmont lineage for generations), and due to some weird plot things later, it is implied that all the Belmonts are descended from Sonia and Alucard (?!). But that isn’t super important. What is important is vampires need killing, and Sonia is the most badass person around so she gets the job done. She’s also the first solo female protagonist in a Castlevania game (where Castlevania III: Drac’s Back, Jack had Sypha and Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin had Charlotte, and also Rondo of Blood let you play as Maria with some unlocks), which is a pretty neat idea! I think it would be cool to have more badass female vampire killers in the Castlevania series, especially if their hair was as rad as Sonia’s.

It’s unfortunate, therefore, that the game she’s in is pretty damn bad.

SPOOKY GHOST SPOOKY

SPOOKY GHOST SPOOKY

Ok, “bad” might be a little much. “Bland and mediocre” might be more appropriate.

Castlevania: Legends looks at everything done in the previous Game Boy game (Belmont’s Revenge) and says, “Eh, what? Auto-climbing ropes? Tight controls? Single-room challenges? Enemies that actually have patterns that make sense? Who neeeeeeeeds em?” and then proceeds to make a bloated mess of a Castlevania game. It is clear that they played Symphony of the Night and wanted to incorporate some of the “open world” style decision making in their level designs. But while this sort of worked in the linear game, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse Hearse, here it’s just an unmitigated disaster.

Levels have next to no thought put into them. Frequently, these “branching paths” will simply lead to dead ends, resulting in unnecessary backtracking. Further exacerbating this is the constant, reckless respawn time of enemies. Often an enemy will appear, you’ll back up to land an attack and kill it, only to have it instantly respawn when continuing right. This happens constantly. 

And don’t even get me started about the traps. Because I’m about to talk about the traps.

Pictured: Aforementioned "traps"

Pictured: Aforementioned “traps”

Sometimes (often at random but rarely as part of the “plot”), you’ll whip a candle and instead of getting a delicious heart or coin, the floor will disappear beneath you. You’ll then be trapped in a room with enemies you are forced to kill in waves (yes, wave based murder in a 2D platformer) until the room frees you. You get no reward for this, just the ability to continue your adventure. It’s about as absurdly frustrating as it sounds.

Sophia controls decently. You don’t downgrade your weapon ever (even when getting hit) which is nice, and she has the projectile-whip that Christopher had in the other Game Boy games. What’s appreciated is you do have a slight bit of in-air control with the jumps this time around, though the game doesn’t use this to make platforming any more interesting. In fact, most of the platforming is delightfully bland, making Simon’s Quest‘s layouts look inspired. This is coupled with enemies (bats and ghosts in particular) who just straight up ram into you over and over with no escape. Imagine getting hit again and again by a crappy bat, whipping and trying to hit it but missing because it’s sprite is literally on top of you. This is the enemy AI in Castlevania: Legends. Frustrating.

You also got this big doofus.

You’ve also got this big doofus.

Which is interesting, because most of the bosses are cakewalks. Well, to a point. You see that “B” beneath your lifebar? What do you think that is? Well, if you’ve played any other 2D Castlevania ever made, you’ll say “the stage boss’s health bar.”

Wrong. You IDIOT. 

The stage boss has no health bar. That’s right, a Castlevania game with no boss health bar. You just kind of whip all over and hope he dies before you do. Great strategy.

Luckily, Sofia has this totally badass “light myself on fire so Ninjas can’t get me” powerup that she can use once per stage. It makes her invincible and doubles her damage for a brief moment (you activate it by pressing all the buttons at once, thank me later). It’s a cool idea, but pretty much you’ll only use it for bosses, which makes an already easy boss fight even more simple.

Ceiling worms are the worst of her problems.

Ceiling worms are the worst of her problems.

Lastly, subweapons are gone. Well, sort of. You can’t get the traditional ones (well, you can find them, but they’re just collectibles. Yeah, I don’t know either. I picked up an axe and then couldn’t use it. Really intuitive). Instead, after beating a stage you get a magic, which you can then switch to as it is added to your arsenal. This is actually a decent idea (allowing you to switch up magics on the fly), but it means the first few levels are super-boring as you only have one (or none) subabilities. Cool in concept, bad in execution, like the majority of this game.

All together, the gameplay in Legends is a massive letdown after Belmont’s Revenge. I appreciate the attempt to add more branching pathways and change the subweapon system, but everything just seems like a misstep. Tacked onto boring enemy placement, levels that have dead ends and backtracking, and super easy bosses, and you’re looking at a subpar Castlevania experience.

Plus...the graphics. Just...ugh.

Plus…the graphics. Just…ugh.

Castlevania: Legends looks bad. I honestly think it looks worse than The Adventure, which is the nicest thing The Adventure has had said about it since it was released. Everything is super thin but with a black outline, which leaves little room for any detail. Enemies have awful animations (especially after how good they were in Belmont’s Revenge) and next to no detail. The backgrounds are sparse, especially when compared to the previous Game Boy games, with mostly just plain white rather than any detail. I realize I used the word “detail” three times in the past three sentences, but if Legends ain’t bringing it, I gotta bring it, ya dig?! With the exception of the status bar on the bottom (where the slightly shaded health bar actually looks nice), Legends looks atrocious.

It also sounds really bad. While I appreciate some of the classic tunes showing up here, they seem bit-crunched to death when translated to the Game Boy’s hardware. While Belmont’s Revenge and even The Adventure managed to make do with the system’s limitations, Legends seems like they just didn’t care and shoved the songs in without even listening to them themselves.

I got Bloody Tears just listening to this. Ha ha ha! Urrrrgh…

I am now faced with a once-in-a-lifetime extremely difficult decision, a reverse Sophie’s Choice if you will. I’ve been wrestling with this for a few days now, and I feel no closer to reaching a conclusion. Basically, the question is this: is Castlevania Legends worse than Castlevania: The Adventure, the same, or a little better? Believe it or not, this is actually where we’re at right now. At least Castlevania: The Adventure isn’t rare, so eBay carts are in the sub $10 range. Legends is now a “collector’s item,” which means you’d have to pay $60+ to get an actual Game Boy cartridge. That’s just…insult to injury right there.

All in all, I’d probably give Castlevania: Legends a one and a half star rating, but we don’t do half stars here. So because I liked the cutscenes (and the gameplay was too easy rather than Game Boy-throwing furious [with the exception of the trap rooms]), I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and round up. I still highly, highly suggest avoiding it unless you are some sort of collector. Besides, the entire plot of this game got removed from the canon when Castlevania: Lament of Innocence came out on the PS2, making what little relevance Legacy had evaporate. You could say its Legacy was…not having a legacy.

Yeah, that joke could have probably used some work (much like Legends! Ha! Ok, I’ll stop).

Two out of five stars. 

Sorry Sofia, your good Castlevania game is in another castle.

Sorry Sofia, your good Castlevania game is in another castle.

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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