I often claim that I enjoy innovative failures more than trite successes. I choose to believe that I am the kind of person that sees past a product’s flaws, and finds “what they were trying to do” beneath the muck, and, hey, there’s a gem of a great game here, it just needs a little polishing. I really like to think that about myself.
I also know that I’m a pathological liar.
I know what I want. I would forsake steak once a week if it meant I’d get a hot pocket every day. I’ll watch 40 hours of some insipid sitcom because I know “prestige dramas” only produce ten episodes every six years. And, yes, I’d burn the entire videogame industry down if it meant I’d get a mostly new Mega Man title every six months or so. I know that I might regret my decision sometime in 2024 when I’m busting Man Man for the fortieth time, but, yeah, I know I’ll take “the same old with slight changes” over and over again without complaint.
Castlevania: The Adventure for the Gameboy is a Castlevania game that seems like it tried to be original. It is also completely terrible.
C:TA is the third Castlevania game ever released. Well, I guess that gets a little murky when you include arcade titles and whatnot, but the point is that C:TA was released before Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse. That’s important! This means that the game occupies that same unusual space as Super Mario Land. SML and C:TA were both released at times in their franchises’ histories when what would become “standard” hadn’t yet been completely codified. Yes, we had Castlevania (1) and Super Mario Bros. (1), but both games also had sequels that featured vegetable flinging and ferryman bribing. Where do you go from there with a portable sequel? Do you look to the first game for inspiration, bang your head on Deborah Cliff, or create something wholly original?
Castlevania: The Adventure went with the final choice. Okay, yes, C:TA is not completely unique. We’ve got a Belmont (this time Simon’s ancestor, Chris), and the poor guy has the trademark Belmont osteoporosis, so he moves about as nimbly as some redwoods. He’s also got a whip, and he’s hunting down Dracula, and there are some generally “horror-ish” things going on. But… that’s about it. Medusa Heads are missing. Eagles are more numerous than bats. Death has taken a holiday. Even Dracula’s “normal” teleportation pattern is forsaken for something that allows you to… whip his body and not head? Oh, why I never!
What’s been used to fill in the gaps of the Castlevania formula is… interesting. There are no staircases, just climbable ropes that are much more akin to the ladders of other platformers. It’s strange how this gives the game an entirely different feel, as it’s easy to discount how much Castlevania’s “obliquing” movement for vertical areas impacts its (normal) gameplay. Now we’ve just got a series of flat hallways connected by “ladders”, which is much more like a Mega Man game… albeit a fairly boring one.
Then there’s the powerup system. Your typical dagger, axe, and holy water are all missing, and now Christopher has the ability to shoot fireballs from his Vampire Killer. That’s good! But you lose that essential powerup after a single hit. That’s bad! And, after another hit, your whip will decrease further into “absolutely useless mode”. Good luck finding another whip powerup before the next far-too-mobile minion. Basically, this adds “The Gradius Problem” to Castlevania: All is well as long as you can avoid getting hit, but the minute that happens, you’re pretty much doomed. Here’s a fun fact: we never needed another reason to be doomed in a Castlevania game. Can we get just one Konami game that you’re not completely screwed after one mistake? Gradius, Contra, Legend of the Mystical Ninja…
But it’s all new and interesting, right? This isn’t some Castlevania 1 portable remake, it’s a whole new animal. It has some problems… but there’s a good hunk of game here, right? A few touchups and…
No. This game is crap. It was passable as a portable Castlevania in 1989, but it’s practically unplayable today. The second level boss is a group of moles. That’s unforgivable.
Then we have Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth. C:TAR was the final “ReBirth” game designed by M2 after Gradius ReBirth and Contra ReBirth. While it is technically a “remake” of Castlevania: The Adventure, it’s almost entirely its own game. And by “own game”, I mean “it’s an old school Castlevania game”. You’ve got bats, mermen, and giant skulls haunting an enormous castle and trolling for Belmonts to ruin. You’ve got daggers, axes, crosses, and holy water to lob at legions of skeletons. Death even decided to come back and toss that scythe around. It’s a Castlevania game! And, what’s more, this was the first “classic” Castlevania game in years, after untold ages of metroidvanias and the occasional bit of 3-D nonsense. I think the record will show that I’ll take a metroidvania over “traditional” any day, but it’s nice to visit with an old friend on occasion.
And C:TAR even seemed to maintain the more interesting aspects of its Gameboy ancestor. You can power your whip to flame-throwing levels, but now it’s limited by a timer, and not the gentle tap of a zombie. Rolling eyeballs are all over the place, and they’re slightly less deadly when you have jumping prowess beyond that of a slug (also an enemy). And the areas you explore are… kinda the same? I mean, how many different ways can you make a dungeon, m’I right, ladies?
But for all the changes and interesting concepts in C:TAR (did I mention the jumping across extending spike traps? That was neat), it’s still just a Castlevania game. It’s a good Castlevania game, likely better than Dracula X or Castlevania (1), and it’s a fun experience, but it’s still something we’ve seen before a number of times. The stage design reclaims the obliques of “regular” Castlevania, and there’s tremendously less tension when you know that one hit isn’t that big of a deal. Everything that was truly original about Castlevania: The Adventure is gone, and Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth may as well be Castlevania: Rebirth and have no ties to its portable ancestor.
I like Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth sooooo much more than the “Gameboy version”. It’s night and day, and Castlevania: The Adventure is the horrible night to have a curse. That thing is more original, but it’s also more painful. C:TAR is unmistakably the better game, and I’d find it impossible for anyone to see it differently.
So, yeah, when push comes to shove, I’ll take good ‘n predictable over innovative and crappy any day. I want to support inventiveness, but… man, there are only so many hours in the day. Slaying vampires doesn’t need originality.
FGC #170 Castlevania: The Adventure (+/- ReBirth)
- System: Gameboy for the original, WiiWare for the wiibirth. Sure would be nice if someone ported that to a portable…
- Number of players: One Belmont against the forces of the undead.
- Favorite Boss (Adventure): They make you fight a series of moles! Moles! There is nothing scary about moles until you’re over forty!
- Favorite Boss (Adventure Rebirth): Meanwhile, the boss of this Stage 2 is an ersatz Incredible Hulk, and no one can tell me otherwise. He gets my vote.
- What’s in a name? The original American release of Castlevania Adventure misidentified Christopher Belmont as Simon Belmont. It doesn’t impact a single thing (as the game has no plot beyond “kill vampire now”), but it was officially retconned by Castlevania Adventure 2, when Chris had some family issues that never impacted single Simon.
- Family Matters: Also, Christopher was mentioned as one of Simon’s ancestors in the Japanese instruction manual for Castlevania (1). Castlevania had a surprisingly complex mythology starting back from the NES days, which is a far cry from games like Zelda (he’s… I don’t know… some kid with a sword? Wait… she?).
- Did you know: There was also a comic book series based on Christopher Belmont’s exploits. It was released in 2005 by IDW, and it made no impact on anyone whatsoever. Why didn’t it feature Simon, Trevor, or even Alucard? Meh, probably just too many vampire books at that company for anyone to really notice.
- Would I play again? Castlevania: The Adventure is a definite no. Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth would be a maybe… if it wasn’t available on the same system as Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse. Guess which one I’m more likely to play?
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… B.O.B. for the Super Nintendo! Aw, ROB, I didn’t know you cared… oh… wait… it’s just the name of a game? Lame. But there is a robot involved, I suppose. Please look forward to it!