Review by Captain_N77
"The Legend Liveth On!"
Castlevania Legends is the third and final Castlevania game released for Nintendo's GameBoy. Hitting North American shelves in 1998, Legends, like many games released at the end of a system's life span, was not as widely played as the previous two GameBoy entries. Though it may have gone largely unnoticed(for a Castlevania game) and has a bit of a negative reputation, that doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't plenty of fun to be had in this short, sweet game. It should also be mentioned that, at the time of this review in 2012, Legends has been removed from the official timeline of the series. Bummer. Now, lets talk more about the game itself.
The storyline is simple, as is to be expected of a Castlevania game. The heroine, a first for the series, is Sonia Belmont. Sonia is a teenage girl who has shown uncommon powers since birth and has been trained by her grandfather in the use of his powerful whip. As you might expect, the creatures of the night attack Sonia's home and she sets out to stop Dracula and his minions.
Making your way through the adventure, things unfold in the traditional Castlevania manner. There are six sidescrolling stages Sonia must make her way through. You will mostly find yourself moving left-to-right/right-to-left, though quite often you must move up and down via ropes, rather than stairs as in many of the Castlevania games. The stages themselves are not exactly short, at least not as short as I was expecting. However, thanks to unlimited continues and the fact that you are not sent back to the beginning of a level when you die, it shouldn't take you too long to plow your way through to the end.
As far as controls go, Legends is simple and precise. Every strike of the whip and every jump feels quick and responsive. At first I had some issues hopping onto the ropes, as I thought you had to press up on the D-pad once you were aligned with the rope. Legends makes it easy for us: simply keep holding the direction you are jumping on the pad and Sonia automatically latches onto the rope. Thankfully, in Legends you don't have to worry about control limitations or imprecision masquerading as game difficulty.
Sprinkled throughout each of the stages are the usual assortment of creepy crawlies, such as bats, spiders, armored knights, zombies, and mermen. Most enemies can be defeated with one or two strikes from Sonia's trusty whip. However, some enemies, such as the knights, are tougher and require a bit of strategy to defeat.
Each level has a main boss character, and sometimes a sub-boss as well. These characters are some of the better looking points of the game, as they are well drawn and have nice detail for a GameBoy game. The boss characters have a menacing look and can be very large, though they may not be quite as fearsome as they may appear.
At various points in each level, you may be faced with a choice of which direction to go. Some paths lead to special items like a 1-up or a healing item, some take you to the end of the stage, while some will lead you to a special item, such as the axe or cross. Unlike many Castlevania games, these items cannot be used as sub-weapons to attack enemies. Instead, they are simply collected in your inventory and reward you with a special ending should you collect all of them and finish the game. Though these traditional sub-weapons do not serve their usual purpose, Legends does have a secondary feature that fills their void.
After beating each boss at the end of the level, you collect an orb as you might expect. Each orb grants you the ability to use it's inherent magic. The "ammo" for these abilities, as you might have guessed, are the hearts you collect from candles along the way. Most of these magical abilities can be used to attack, though one freezes time much like the stopwatch in older games, while the other will completely refill your health bar for a mere 20 hearts! All of these abilities are useful, though I found it best to save and spend my hearts on the time-stopping and healing abilities. Stopping time is especially useful as it can freeze those pesky bats as you are trying to move through precarious platforming sections or climbing the ropes. Interestingly enough, these magical abilities are not the only change to the classic Castlevania formula.
"Burning Mode" is a useful feature that can really help you out of a tight situation. Once per section(and life), you may press both the A and B buttons to activate this fearsome change. Sonia will be surround by flames and is invincible for a short time. Not only that, but she moves much faster and her attack power increases dramatically. This is especially useful against boss characters when you are running low on health. This feature makes many of the bosses a cakewalk, which ties into something about Legends that you may not care for.
Unlike many of the older Castlevania games, Legends is pretty light on difficulty. If you are looking for a challenge, Legends is not the place to find it. Not only are many of the bosses a breeze, but "Burning Mode" will make them laughably easy. The platforming and combat is normally very straightforward and only mildly challenging, so the magical abilities and "Burning Mode" features can often be used to plow through the trickier sections with relative ease. All of this, combined with the unlimited continues and not being sent to the beginning of a level when you die, makes Legends the least challenging Castlevania game I have ever played.
Graphically, Legends represents itself fairly well on the GameBoy. Sonia and the enemy characters are well displayed and distinct. I never had an issue with enemies being lost against the platforms or background due to the limited color palette. However, I did play the game on a GameBoy Advance which gives the game a nice, colorful boost in the graphics department. The boss characters are the true highpoint of the visuals. Each boss is detailed and has a fierce look about them, as opposed to some other enemies, such as the ghosts, which have a slight comical look to them. The background imagery in the game is sparse, but nice and well done where present. Being a GameBoy game, Legends won't have any of the grand, detailed levels you are used to from other Castlevania games. Despite these limitations, the game still manages to retain that distinct look and feel that is so important for Castlevania fans.
The music is not especially memorable, but that is not to say it is bad in any way. Being a GameBoy game, there are certain limitations that can be expected from just about any game on the system, and music is one of them. However, you might find yourself humming along to a familiar theme or two along the way. I found the music pleasant and enjoyable, with just the right amount of melancholy to set the mood.
All things considered, Legends is a fun and enjoyable experience. The graphics and music are clean and a bit simple, which is a good thing for a GameBoy game. Thankfully, Konami did not try to do too much with the game and designed a fun and solid journey within the constraints of the GameBoy. The controls are surprisingly precise and on point, which I think has a little bit to do with how easy the game is. A game doesn't need to be challenging to be fun for me, so I had a good time hopping platforms and whipping away at the enemies and really enjoyed the experience. If you are a classic Castlevania fan, or a fan of old school hack-n-slash platformers, Legends will be right up your alley.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/30/12
Game Release: Castlevania Legends (US, 03/11/98)
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