Review by SethBlizzard
"Not all change is for the better"
Castlevania Legends was released in 1998. I know, I didn't know they were still making games for the original Game Boy then, either. Symphony of the Night came out the year before, changing the face of the series forever. This makes the Game Boy's last, dying gasp for another stellar Castlevania game a somewhat mixed pleasure, and that impression only gains ground once you start the game.
Castlevania Legends starts off on a decidedly mixed note. The first stage goes on forever, and ever. And ever. This was the first Castlevania level I had ever tackled where I was worried about the timer running out. Not only is this outside opening level (that brings back horrible memories from Castlevania the Adventure) long, it's long and boring. The scenery barely changes much, and the enemies just do not stop.
Speaking of enemies, the enemy roster in Castlevania Legends is, to be blunt, sad. There are no skeletons and very few armoured knights. There are lots of bats, though. But not small bats; no, remember those big bats in Belmont's Revenge that you would always try to snuff before they woke up? Castlevania Legends is full of those beasts, and they move in irregular patterns that's a pain in the behind to confront. And yes, Konami went way overboard with the bats. There is hardly a screen without them! And they always come at you from the most awkward angles. But the game's worst enemy are hula-dancing spectres. There are way too many of these ridiculous foes.
You will often come across forks in the road. But these are the total opposite of the forks you will find at every turn in Symphony of the Night. One fork is the way to go, while the other will lead to a dead end. Usually these dead ends contain items like axes, one-ups or slices of meat. But the truly sadistic ones, and ironically the ones that are hardest to get to, will punish you for it. Yeah, also when you strike all-white candles, you are taken to a torture room where you must slay all the enemies until you are put back where you are. This is total bogus. The game punishes you for exploring! And because every enemy respawns the nanomillimetre you leave the screen, horrible memories from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from the NES are brought back. In vertical scrolling levels, where the danger of falling down is ever present, the respawning only makes the enemies even more annoying than they already are.
All is not well under the sun in Castlevania so far, but fortunately, there is also a heads side to this coin. The hero of the story, Sonia Belmont, is much more dexterous than Simon, Trevor or Christopher Belmont ever were. If she jumps and realizes mid-jump that she's not gonna make it, she can change directions and turn back. It's unfortunate that this ability doesn't come handy more often in terms of puzzles. Rather, the levels are usually just crammed with the aforementioned annoying enemies.
Sonia Belmont doesn't have subweapons to speak of, either. You may again think of Castlevania the Adventure and you'd have right, but persevere through the first level (which is undoubtedly the game's worst) and you will get an orb. Not only does the orb look different from the ones you're used to collecting after every Castlevania level, these orbs actually aid you. They are called Spirit Weapons and you can select between them (annoyingly by pressing Select and going to a subscreen where you must select between them). The first one will stop the time at any given time, and another refills your energy meter. That's right, provided you have at least 20 hearts, you can refill your life whenever things get hairy. If that's not a game-breaker, I don't know what is.
It's not like life is hard to come by. Sonia Belmont doesn't have to chip the walls in search for food or even the odd one-up. Just whipping regular candles will more than suffice for her. So even when you're saving up hearts to be able to heal yourself, you'll usually be fine thanks to the numerous pieces of meat in each level.
There is a dark side to the Spirit Weapons instead of subweapons, though. You always have a Spirit Weapon equipped, and thus, in levels where you're constantly climbing on ropes as per the stable of the Game Boy Castlevanias, it's very easy to accidentally use a Spirit Weapon and waste precious hearts without even trying. And this isn't like accidentally throwing an axe; each Spirit Weapon uses multiple hearts, so you may find yourself running out of hearts just trying to clear one section full of climbing. As you can imagine, the Clock Tower level is a particular nightmare in this regard. All things considered, because of the constant onslaught of enemies, I'd rather have an axe to pellet at the bats instead of healing myself. I'd rather spend less hearts to avoid damage than a lot of hearts to make up for it.
All of the aforementioned is very frustrating and off-putting, and I would write off Castlevania Legends because of them if it weren't for a saving grace that makes you want to put up with the game's flaws; its bosses. The bosses in Castlevania Legends are inspired, and very enjoyable foes to battle. Only in the second level, there is a huge dragon. In the next level, you start getting mini-bosses too, such as Medusas and werewolves! My favourite boss is a Minotaur that jumps around the screen. These battles are like an oasis in the desert, where you don't just find a pool of water but a banquet where you can dine in style. They make you want to put up with the bats and spectres, just like you putting up with a lot of advertisements before getting to watch a great film in the cinema.
I also like where this game was trying to go with its story. Sonia Belmont is, according to Castlevania Legends, the first of the Belmont clan to fight the Prince of Darkness. And guess who she meets along the way; Alucard. The game's best ending, only accessible if you find all of the game's hidden items (one of which is the axe, but these are not usable as weapons, only keys), reveals something between Sonia and Alucard that Konami have tried to erase by bumping Castlevania Legends off the official timeline in favour of Lament of Innocence. It's a shame, because think about this; the Belmonts are known for having superhuman strength and other uncanny abilities to fight the forces of evil. What better explanation than vampiric blood running through their veins?
Castlevania Legends is a hit-and-miss platformer, make no mistake, but it has some excellent touches about it to make you forgive it for its shortcomings, mainly the bosses. But it feels a lot like getting your homework over with so you can watch your favourite cartoon. Not even the music is very memorable apart, again, from the boss tunes. The mini-boss tune has great urgency and atmosphere about it. In the end, though, due to frustrating game mechanics and an overbarrage of poor enemies, Castlevania Legends is a reminder that the times had changed, and would only change more, for the series. Following Belmont's Revenge, it's only for the biggest Castlevania fans, who can see the diamond at the centre.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 05/16/13, Updated 07/08/13
Game Release: Castlevania Legends (EU, 12/31/98)
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