– A Castlevania game! On the Game Boy! Wooooow
– Music is pretty decent
– First and second levels are decent amalgamation of the most basic core Castlevania concepts
– It has giant exploding, never-ending, rolling eyeballs.
– The cover art is super badass
– Everything else
– No subweapons
– Platforming controls are somehow even more ridged than the original Castlevania
– Getting hit loses whip power-ups, in the worst design idea in the history of the series
– Four stages. That’s it.
– Cheap deaths and beginners traps galore
– Level design and enemies are thoroughly uninspired
– Quite possibly the worst Castlevania game in the entire series
I’m a Castlevania nut, it’s no big secret. I rue the day I passed up Dracula X on the SNES at a local game store, and cringe every time I realize my DS Castlevania collection is not complete. There are few things in life I enjoy more than whipping things, specifically whipping things good. And yes, I know I’ve made that Devo joke multiple times before, but I ain’t gonna stop now.
Castlevania: The Adventure (though the title screen looks like “The Castlevania TM Adventure“) is famous for being the first and only Castlevania game that Konami hired a highly-trained team of spider monkeys to code. As a sort of an emulation of a Castlevania game it kind of works, being that on surface level one would confuse this game for a good game when looking at static images in Nintendo Power. But upon playing it the horrible truth becomes evident: this game is a disaster.
As stated before, on the surface this appears to be standard Castlevania fare. You have a jump arch you can’t cancel, all well and good. You have a whip you power up. You have a host of monster-style enemies. And the music is actually pretty decent. But other than that, everything about this game is bad. Everything.
You’ll notice it in the first level. “Why is my character moving so…sluggish?” you wonder. “He was slow in Castlevania, but here it seems even more stunted.” Then you spot the brown poop-goos dripping from the ceiling. “Why is there ceiling poo?” you think to yourself. “And why is it forming the shape of a…ooooh. Is that…an enemy?”
Yes. One of the five different enemies in the game (not even kidding), the first one is a dripping sky-turd creature. A great sign of things to come.
The first two stages are exceptionally tedious. Enemy placement is a joke, so much so it makes Simon’s Quest seem inspired. The real frustration comes from the sluggish jumping and whip controls. Whereas before they added to the challenge, here they just feel tacked on to make you furious. Birds, which thankfully only appear in the first stage, are difficult to kill. Bats, which appear more often, are even more aggravating, with random zig-zag patterns that are randomized even with Save States. Yes, I used an emulator to replay this game, how do you expect I got screen shots? The Game Boy Printer?
Boss number one is a dude who just stabs at your crotch the entire time. If you have managed to keep your whip powered up, he goes down in a few hits. Boss number two is an even bigger joke; he’s a collection of one-hit kill enemies that pop out of holes in the wall in a pattern. Should you have the third whip upgrade (which grants each attack a projectile), you’ll off them easy.
Let’s talk about your weapons for a second. Subweapons – you know, the core gameplay element in the original series that diversified enemy placement and helped alleviate the intentionally-frustrating jump and delayed-whip controls? – aren’t in this game at all. Your whip, like most Castlevania games, has three stages of power up: base (which sucks), second (which is a little longer and does double damage) and third (where you get a weak projectile with every strike). Sounds decent, but every time you get hit you downgrade a single step backwards. Yep, getting hit twice from full power leaves you craptasticly weak. Whoever thought of this should probably have been fired.
This is only exacerbated by bad enemy placement (and the poor controls). In Castlevania (the good ones), getting hit was your own fault. Every challenge felt like if you took it slowly and timed things right, you could defeat it. Enemies didn’t randomly appear, and if they did (like Medusa heads), you had fair warning to react.
This is not the case in The Adventure. In fact, the game is designed to be a massive beginner’s trap. Enemies fire some projectiles that you can destroy, others you can’t (the sickle-men). Towers fire randomly bouncing giant death balls that randomize even with Save States (yep) and never disappear, meaning at one point half my screen was full of bouncing suicide balls. Stage 3 has an area where it teaches you that platforms with enemies on them are the right way to go. But the final platform with an enemy on it is a trick, and by the time you realize it it’s too late; you’ve died instantly. The whole game is like this.
Of the four stages, you’ll be lucky to make it past 3, and even luckier if you attempt 4. Stage 3 has insta-death spikes appearing from both the floor and later the right hand side, meaning a single misstep and you’re a good ways back (plus it has beginner’s traps, as mentioned before). Stage 4 is even worse, with tons of platforming throughout with a controls that aren’t well adapted for platforming…well, to be fair they aren’t good for much of anything, but platforming especially. Learn fast that Christopher doesn’t jump off ropes when you hit the jump button, he just sort of falls off of them. And considering gravity physics in this game literally fluctuates (you fall much faster when stepping off a ledge vs jumping off), mastering it is almost impossible.
So this doesn’t turn just into an angry rant, I’ll leave gameplay at that. While it has a decent (if boring) first impression, the first half of the game (it’s only four stages long) is do-able by most. However, the second half takes the frustrating portions of the first half and cranks it up to eleven. It’s bad game design in its purest form.
Graphics are fairly mediocre, but it’s an early Game Boy game so I can’t fault it too much. It manages to avoid trying to have a lot of “darkness,” which was a problem for a few early Game Boy games in terms of screen visibility (something the later Circle of the Moon on GBA had problems with). Backgrounds are faded and it’s easy to tell platforms from background objects. Animations are fairly bad, but I found if you tap to move Simon instead of holding forward it never triggers the two-frame “stepping” animation, meaning you can play the whole game having him slide along like he’s on roller skates. So that was pretty great.
The music is the only good thing about the game, aside graphical clarity. It isn’t exceptional, by any means, but it maintains the spirit of the series on the Game Boy’s tinny speakers. I didn’t hate it.
For the Game Boy’s first Castlevania outing, The Adventure is a disaster. Stripping the series of the core elements that made it good, it leaves only a flaky husk behind. While first impressions might lead some to believe this game is decent, extended platforming segments and unfair level design takes its toll fairly quickly. This is, hands down, the worst Castlevania game I’ve ever played. Yes, even worse than the Castlevania PC port and Castlevania 64.
And this is coming from somebody who enjoys bad games (and actively seeks them out). One out of five stars.
Bonus: somehow this game ended up on the 3DS eShop, and even got a remake. But that’s a conversation for another time.