The Castlevania Adventure
Based on: A ghostly pale imitation of the undead, unworthy of its own budding legacy.
By Nicola Nomali | May 25, 2009
In 1989, Castlevania wasn't the storied franchise it is today. The 1986 Nintendo Entertainment System original was an instant classic, but as so often happened in that era, its sequels and spin-offs observed no obligation to adhere to its structure -- not unlike Mario's situation. While they retained a similar graphical style and identical jumping and whipping mechanics, Castlevania's follow-ups tended to range far afield in terms of structure and overall design. Vampire Killer for MSX took the stages from the NES game and broke them into three independently-looping sections that transformed the adventure into a semi-non-linear key hunt. Simon's Quest was a free-roaming adventure across the Romanian countryside, where progress depended just as much on interpreting the advice of insane townspeople as it did on reflexes and skill. Haunted Castle seemed to aspire to apply the series' platforming to a straightforward take on the arcade beat'em-up genre. Game Boy titles are often marked by a divergence from their console cousins, but when The Castlevania Adventure was developed, the fact was there still wasn't a clear rule as to what a Castlevania game actually had to be.
So, it's little surprise that this game has no clock tower stage, no battle with Death, and sees the hero climbing ropes rather than stairs. Yet for all its differences, The Castlevania Adventure was the first sequel in the series that followed the original game as closely as it did, with small sprites, linear design, and abundant platforming. Sadly, though, this resemblance only serves to emphasize where the whole thing goes so horribly wrong.
For starters, the lack of sub-weapons is a glaring omission, an ill-considered departure from what little tradition the series observed to that point; despite their variances, even the aforementioned sequels featured an array of secondary arms to add much-needed versatility to the player's defenses. And while The Castlevania Adventure removes these, it retains its predecessors' harrowing difficulty. The result is a frustrating imbalance of agile enemies whose assault you are forever helpless to match. The game's staff might have hoped to ameliorate this by adding a projectile to your main attack in its ultimate form, but then they "balanced" their charity by causing so much as a brush with an enemy to knock the whip down a level, similar to Jason's weapon in Blaster Master. Consider that our hero Christopher walks like he's wading through neck-high asphalt and seems to have a hitbox larger than his actual sprite (in addition to being without sub-weapons), and it's easy to see why you'll spend nearly the entire game trying to stave off Dracula's hordes with your impotent stub of a level-one whip.
When you're not being assailed from all sides by bats, the game still demonstrates a deep misunderstanding of what makes "good" difficulty. The level design is characterized by mocking chasms that can only be spanned by pixel-perfect leaps of faith from ill-defined ledges, and needless to say, Christopher's awkward mobility absolutely extends to jumping. The addition of an incessant gauntlet of spike traps in the game's latter half is insult upon injury. Even when invincibility items are dispensed like candy in Stage 1, it's because an unending stream of explosive eyeballs is blocking the only way out of a room.
Even Dracula seems to be embarrassed of the whole affair, having left his lofty keep to hide out in a cramped spider hole. In 1991, Konami would more than make up for this debacle with Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge -- but at the time of the first game's release, they would have been just as right to take a cue from their favorite nemesis and hide in disgrace as well.