The Castlevania series: One that is well loved, especially its portable titles. However, have you heard of Castlevania’s original Game Boy titles? These three titles (and one spin-off) seem to always go forgotten, where most anyone would give you a blank stare should you mention them, then follow up with, “Oh, you mean Circle of the Moon?”
Well, I’m here to show you the (candle) light. Join me to learn about the black-and-white iterations of the beloved vampire ridden franchise… and see if they truly deserve to be swept under Dracula’s carpet for good.
The Castlevania Adventure (1989)
The Castlevania Adventure came out only a few months after the launch of the Game Boy, which was in August of the same year in the US. As such, Konami was still experimenting with new material when they were making their first portable Castlevania game. Unfortunately, their attempt, while not terrible, certainly has not aged well, and many people will find this Castlevania game nigh unplayable.
In The Castlevania Adventure, you control Christopher Belmont, who (as you might suspect) is out to take care of Dracula. To put this game in perspective of the Castlevania timeline, the game takes place in 1576, over one hundred years before the events of the original Castlevania. Why not exactly one hundred, like the canon tries to dictate? That’ll be explained in the next Game Boy Castlevania… Christopher is also stated as being Simon Belmont’s grandfather, which is a bit of a stretch to think about, considering the time period and how long people tended to live during that time… but video games don’t always have to make sense, do they?
Anyway, you take Christopher through four stages of platforming, falling, and painfully climbing up those same ropes for ten minutes straight. Control is the worst issue in this game; I’m sure your grandfather could walk far faster that Chris does throughout this game. In addition, jumping and whipping is a chore; it’s almost as if there is a delay between pressing the buttons and the actions executing.
It doesn’t make it any better that this Castlevania focuses more on platforming than anything else. Trying to dodge bats, run away from spike walls, and simply jumping to another platform all become a tedious mess. While it may sound like I’m over-reacting, only a video could show how bad it really is:
However, another thing you can tell from the video is how awesome the music sounds. Instead of remixing the NES Castlevania tracks, The Castlevania Adventure has new tracks for its outing, and they are certainly worthwhile tracks. If there’s any reason to play the first Game Boy Castlevania it’s for its music. Thankfully, videos and soundtracks can alleviate the problem of actually playing the game to hear the tracks.
Interestingly enough, The Castlevania Adventure got a re-make in Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth, a title for WiiWare. Well… sort of. While the game is supposed to be based off of Christopher’s first adventure, the six stages are completely new and features a more conventional (and refined) Castlevania style of gameplay. All that’s really similar between the games are the name of the Belmont you’re playing as, and some of the more unique enemies from The Castlevania Adventure making an appearance. Whether or not it’s a worthwhile substitute to the Game Boy original is up to the player.
Also, there was a licensed comic series based mainly off of The Castlevania Adventure. Called Castlevania: The Belmont Legacy, it added a bit more… depth than a Game Boy game at the time could offer, and gives Christopher a little more personality, in addition to adding some side-characters who have no real importance on the storyline.
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (1991)
A few years later, a new Game Boy Castlevania came out. Fans were still hurt and skeptical with the relative failure of the first title, but thankfully Konami learned its lessons and created a game that a sequel should always strive to be… one that fixes what’s wrong with the first game, while keeping everything that’s right, and even improving upon that.
Sixteen years have passed since the events of The Castlevania Adventure. Christopher’s son, Soleiyu, is about to be named the next Vampire Hunter, but right before his sixteenth birthday, Dracula possesses and kidnaps him. It’s up to Christopher to one again bring down Dracula. Belmont’s Revenge takes place in the year 1591, making it exactly one hundred years before the original NES Castlevania. Timeline continuity has been saved!
Thankfully, the gameplay has been much improved from The Castlevania Adventure. Christopher has taken a few shots of adrenaline, and moves faster. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still slow, but it’s more manageable now. The rest of the controls are more responsive, as well. Subweapons (which were missing from the first GB game) make a return as well, though you only have access to the Holy Water and Axe (Cross in the Japanese version).
An interesting aspect is that you can visit the first four stages in any order; however, which of the four castles you go to first has no real impact, since you don’t get any helpful items or skills to help you through another stage. After you beat those four stages, Dracula’s castle finally opens up, and you’re presented two more stages to take down the evil vampire. Overall, the game is considered on the easy side, except for the boss battles against Soleiyu and Dracula himself.
Belmont’s Revenge, much like The Castlevania Adventure, has a great soundtrack full of original tunes. In addition, the graphics look a lot better, and more detailed. All in all, this is a good sequel to a pretty bad game, and worth checking out.
Castlevania Legends (1998)
Seven years passed without a (real) Castlevania game gracing the gray brick. However, in 1997 in Japan, 1998 in other regions, Castlevania Legends was released for the Game Boy. The game came out a few months after the wildly popular Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the PS1. Despite this, Legends kept the same original level-based format of its portable and console ancestors, which help leads to the mixed views fans have about the game.
Castlevania Legends stars who was supposed to be the first Belmont, Sonia. A girl born in 1450 (about four hundred years after the first actual Belmont/Dracula battle) with strong spiritual powers and taught to use a whip as a weapon, she sets off to defeat Dracula… for some reason or another. After all the timeline talk, and revamp after revamp, Castlevania Legends is the only Castlevania game that has remained retconned. Why? The most obvious reason would be that Sonia is not the first Belmont to fight Dracula: That honor belongs to Leon Belmont, all the way in 1094, who received the Vampire Killer and defeated Dracula, beginning the two’s conflict. However, something like that could be written off easily, much like they wrote off the problems of games like Circle of the Moon and Castlevania 64, whose main characters seemed in no way related to the Belmonts. There might be another reason for that, and that’s…
This. If you collect all of the sub-weapons (they are only collectibles, you can’t even use them!), you get the true ending, which is basically just Sonia holding a baby and showing the continuation of the Belmont name. However… near the end of the game, you run into Alucard, who tests Sonia’s skills to ensure she can really beat Dracula. However, from the conversation…
It’s pretty obvious that they knew each other before this encounter, and after the fight, have a romantic relationship. Which makes it pretty likely she’s holding Alucard’s kid. Essentially, Dracula’s grandson is a Belmont. Yeah, that’s not too good for explaining for the rest of the series, so better to retcon it than try to explain that plot twist!
…Anyway, on to the gameplay. Sonia moves faster than Christopher ever did, which is a good plus. However, Sonia cannot use subweapons, only collect them, as mentioned above. Instead, you get ‘soul powers’, which are essentially magic spells with helpful purposes, such as freezing enemies or healing Sonia’s wounds. In addition, one per level or life, Sonia can enter ‘Burning Mode’, which you saw abused in the video above. In Burning Mode, Sonia is invincible, moves even faster, and has more powerful attacks. In addition to being a boss decimator, it’s good to use to get out of tight situations. However, these spells and the Burning Mode make the game a bit on the easy side, if you know how to use it all correctly.
The graphics of this game, for the most part, look worse than Belmont’s Revenge did. The graphics aren’t as detailed, and although it features more Castlevania like enemies and locales, simply look boring. In addition, the music mainly consists of remixed tracks from earlier console Castlevania games. While it isn’t bad, it’s a bit of a disappointment after the awesome original tracks The Castlevania Adventure and Belmont’s Revenge had.
Is Castlevania Legends worth your time? Probably not. It’s interesting that it’s still retconned, but it’s not a very fun game from a gameplay standpoint. It’s up to you whether you want to see for yourself!
Kid Dracula (1994)
“What are you doing!?”, you cry, “Kid Dracula clearly came out before Castlevania Legends, why didn’t you put it first!?” While I don’t actually expect anyone to act like that, the reason is that Kid Dracula isn’t technically a Castlevania game: It’s simply a very cutesy platformer that’s a bit of a love letter to Castlevania fans. Add to the fact that the game in Japan still holds the “Akumajou Dracula” moniker that the main Castlevania has, it’s a little hard to ignore as being at least somewhat related to the series.
Kid Dracula is actually a ‘remixed’ version of an NES game (which is pictured below). However, the NES game ever left America, yet the west received the Game Boy version. It might feel as if we got shafted, but the Game Boy version ends up being every bit as good as the console version.
In Kid Dracula, you play is a kid version of Dracula (or Dracula’s son, or Alucard, it’s never really clear), who is on a quest to take down the evil Galamoth, whom challenged him in some fashion or another. In this case, the story doesn’t really matter at all, and the gameplay takes the cake here.
Instead of a more typical Castlevania style, Kid Dracula plays like an action platformer, a la Mega Man. You run, jump, and shoot fireballs like any little vampire would, and after the end of each stage you’ll get a new power to play with, such as the ability to fly. You’ll also get to fight cute, yet hard, bosses, like the Jason parody. The game gets pretty hard near the end, which is odd since the game is pretty clearly aimed towards children, with its cutesy graphics and story.
In any kind of fanservice game, Kid Dracula makes quite a few nods to the Castlevania series. Some of the stages have remixed versions of other Castlevania songs, and the entire clock tower stage is in clear homage to the series. Interestingly enough, the game’s antagonist, Galamoth, makes another appearance is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night as non-cutesy boss.
Kid Dracula ends up being a pretty good game; it’s easily the best of the Castlevania Game Boy games… which is a little sad, considering that the game isn’t a true Castlevania game.
That sums up the Castlevania games that were released for the long-lived grey brick. Do they deserve to be forgotten, lost in the flow of time? It’s really hard to say. Not all of the games can be considered good, and the one true Castlevania game that ends up good is still a bit dated. Since the Castlevania series has moved on to a Metroid exploration type of gameplay, not everyone will appreciate the series’ action level-oriented roots. However, whether or not they are the best, you’re now armed with the knowledge of the monochrome Castlevania games, and it’s up to you whether you want to sweep them back under the carpet.