– An actual new, linear Castlevania game. In 2009. Whaaaa
– Graphics look appropriately 16-32 bit with some fantastic pixel art
– Gameplay feels shockingly familiar to Rondo of Blood/Bloodlines era of the series
– Multiple paths through levels encourage replaying
– Difficulty and continue settings make the game accessible
– A “classic” mode adds old jump controls (vs in-air control) and locks non-traditional sub-weapons
– Music is kick-ass and sounds exactly like it would if the Genesis and SNES had a love child
– Picking up a subweapon on accident doesn’t give you the option to retrieve the old one. Come on!
– Game gets pretty damn hard starting on Level 3
– Only five stages and the final boss “stage”
– Split paths are cool but don’t unlock anything like they do in Rondo of Blood
– Is tied in name to Castlevania: The Adventure, which was a really stupid thing to associate ones-self with
So, this game was supposed to be awful. It really was. It was a few months before Lords of Shadow came out, “rebooting” the franchise and ultimately killing it. Konami decides to release a Wiiware exclusive Castlevania game (maybe to make up for the fact that Lords of Shadow wasn’t coming to Wii), and based on the title it sounds like a remake of Castlevania: The Adventure. You know? The worst Castlevania game ever made? Yeah. That one.
I only even gave this game a shot because I wanted my Castlevania review binge to be complete, and figured even a remake of The Adventure couldn’t be any worse than the original. Well, I was right. It isn’t worse. In fact, it’s one of the best Castlevania games. No, really. I’m as shocked as you are. Maybe even more, actually. Because I’m pretty damn shocked.
Anyway, let’s talk about this.
First thing to point out: this isn’t actually a remake of Castlevania: The Adventure. In fact, the only thing that carries over is the eyeballs (but they don’t explode anymore) and the fact that you can get a whip that shoots projectiles. Hell, they even cut the remixed song from Castlevania: The Adventure from the game (which sucks, frankly, because that song is awesome). Oh, and it’s the same Belmont (Christopher), in what little story it presents.
Aside from that, Rebirth is a whole different beast. And thank god for that, because Rebirth is a phenomenal Castlevania game.
This is a linear Castlevania game. Unlike all the Game Boy Advance and DS titles, Rebirth is sticking with the basics, making this the first linear Castlevania game since Castlevania Chronicles on the PS1 (which was a remake of Castlevania 1). And as such, you traverse stages in a semi-linear fashion, gathering power-ups, hunting for wall-chicken to refill your health, and wishing the stairs were all gone (though they aren’t as bad this time around). You gather orbs to power up your whip, and while getting a second orb grants you a ranged attack (like the Game Boy games), it is only temporary. I imagine this is in response to having sub-weapons in the game, but still provides a cool throwback to it’s Adventure source. I like it.
Despite being released in 2009, I’m pleased to say Konami didn’t skimp on the difficulty. While the game does have branching paths (the trickier they are to find, usually the easier they are to traverse), there is some mad difficult platforming and level design in this game. While it isn’t perfect (the difficulty seems to fluctuate a bit, espeically considering how hard Stage 3 is), this sure feels a lot like old-school Castlevania. Not Castlevania III: Drac in the Box hard, mind you, but on par with Rondo of Blood or Bloodlines at the very least. I’m a huge fan.
If you aren’t a huge fan (or were raised on the more lenient Metroid-vania offerings of the series), the game does have difficulty settings as well as life settings (up to 9, with unlimited continues). Easy isn’t quite a cakewalk (since most of the later stages [stage 3, again] have more platforming challenges than enemy challenges), but it’s certainly simpler than old-school linear ‘vania‘s. Normal feels like a great fit, and there’s even a Hard setting if you thought Castlevania III: This Joke is Getting Old was too easy. You masochist.
The game plays great. The whip has appropriate wind-up, sub-weapons are essential (though, as always, the cross is the best). Item-crash or acrobatics (from Rondo) aren’t here, and neither is multi-dimensional whipping (from Super). This is just a very by-the-numbers Castlevania experience, similar to Bloodlines. And ya’ll know how I feel about Bloodlines.
One big difference is you initially have in-air control over your jumps, rather than the unalterable arch. Those who read these reviews probably know how I feel about that (I like my jumps like I like my significant others: dedicated yet uncontrollable), but after beating just one stage unlocks “Classic” mode. This returns the engagement-ring style of jumping, as well as removes all sub-weapons except the bottle and the cross (the only two you need, so no biggie). Brilliant touch, Konami. Those who like their Castlevanias this way can enable it should they desire, while everybody else can have their wamby-pamby, easy-mode in-air modern platformer jumping controls. WHO NEEDS IT?!
Stages are well built throughout is the point, and it can feel as classic or modern (or anywhere in-between) as you want. While Rebirth doesn’t really do anything too crazy or that hasn’t been done before, it just does it all so…well. I’d claim they were pandering to me if this wasn’t exactly how I’ve wanted to be pandered to as they released game after game of Metroid-vania titles. Between the tricky platforming, familiar enemies (and some new ones!), obnoxious stair-climbing, and monkey skeletons on ropes (which you, sadly, can’t climb anymore), this is about as Castlevania as it gets. I love it.
The only thing that feels under-utilized is the branching paths. While I appreciate them (obviously a nod to Rondo of Blood), in Rondo they often were more than just another route. Frequently they’d unlock entirely new stages, new bosses, or even new characters (Maria). This is not the case here: split paths are just for funsies, some harder and others easier than the “standard” route. It would’ve been cool to offer unlocks or something by going down these paths (like a Simon skin for Christopher, etc.), but alas, it was not to be.
Final gripe: picking up a subweapon doesn’t let you change your mind and pick up the other one (i.e. you don’t drop it, it just vanishes into space). This is especially obnoxious if you pick up the key before a boss (which does jack all ) and now…tough luck, nerd! Good job trying to key Dracula’s car to death!
Oh, and the game is pretty short. I said the last gripe was my final one, but too bad. To be fair, the stages themselves are pretty freaking long (each with a mid-level boss as well as the final one), but the fact there’s only five of them and a “final boss” stage is too bad.
I’m in love with this game’s graphics. While it isn’t the best pixel art around the board (some of the enemies look a little…bad, like the mermen), nearly every enemy has original sprite art (we finally aren’t using the Medusa Head sprite from Rondo anymore! It only took seven freaking games!), and the game even tosses in a few brand-new enemies (and bosses) to test your mettle. Everything is hand-pixelated, without any of the pseudo-3D cheap tricks people like to sneak into their 2D (or 2.5D) platformers these days. Even when things are falling apart (like the bridge in the pic up there), the way it breaks into chunks looks very SNES/Genesis style of sprite manipulation. I love all of it; it all looks fantastic. If Shovel Knight was meant to emulate a NES, Rebirth perfectly emulates the 16-bit era.
Music is also on-point in so many ways. Every song is a remix, which I am all about. Even better, they chose to remix a few lesser known songs (the opening level is a Bloodlines remix, which means instant 10/10, perfect game). The midi mix they used sounds like a weird hybrid between the SNES and Genesis sound chips (though more of the latter) and I love it. I love all of it. They even remixed the best song from Belmont’s Revenge, which I thought Konami forgot existed. Like, I’m gushing now, but this soundtrack is boss hog.
This is my kind of Castlevania.
So color me completely surprised or whatever, but Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth is a damned fine Castlevania game, a wholly original linear Castlevania experience, and one that came out in freaking 2009. I’m still having difficultly fathoming this.
It has great gameplay, varying levels of difficulty to appeal to newcomers and hardcore fans alike, the graphics and music are phenomenal, and the levels are built smartly and are equal parts punishing and fun. It’s a great Castlevania game.
If I had to force a gripe on it (aside from the small points I’ve mentioned already), it’s that Rebirth, while solid, never quite reaches the heights found in the best of the linear Castlevanias. Maybe I’m rose-tinting here, but there’s a tightness in Castlevania 1 and Bloodlines that this game is lacking. Barely. Also it doesn’t really try anything new (aside from a handful of original enemies) or steal anything from previous games that might have been too controversial (Richtor’s moveset, Bloodline‘s whip-swing, etc.). It’s as basic as it can get.
And I’m totally ok with this. For a $10 downloadable WiiWare title, this game seems like a bloody miracle that it even exists. If you have any affinity for the linear Castlevania games, you must get Rebirth. I can’t believe I’m recommending something associated (if only a little) with Castlevania: The Adventure, but there you go. Get it. Right now.
Four out of five stars.
Also, shame on you Konami for not using this song! Shame, shame, shame!