Review by Red Lobstar

"Somebody at Konami sure loves their bats... and I will eternally hate them for it."


Story & Characters
As the last Castlevania to appear on the original Game Boy Legends takes the honor of bringing many firsts to the series. This game is a prequel which, at the time of its release, was touted as being the first in the series chronologically. Of course now that Lament of Innocence has graced the PS2, this no longer holds true. Legends is also the first, and to date only, Castlevania to feature a female Belmont as the lead. Sonia is a devilishly sexy vampire hunter who, at the tender age of 17, sets out to destroy Dracula. On the surface the story seems superficial, rivaled in simplicity only by the original Castlevania which debuted the series in the late 1980s. However being released shortly after Symphony of the Night Konami took strides to add a continuity here by revealing more of Alucard's past, in this, his “first” appearance in the series. While his role in this game is minor, the story implications that spring about because of it are seen by many as being somewhat controversial. Perhaps as a result of this some of the series' producers at Konami have chosen to strike this tale from the “official” series timeline. So depending upon who you ask this game may or may not play a crucial role in the overall plot. Regardless, Sonia provides a refreshing change of pace and adds a much needed feminine presence which had hitherto been lacking in the series.

New Features
Unlike most Castlevania games, Sonia has no need for the use of the sub-weapons we as players have grown so accustomed. Though the familiar items of axes, stopwatches, and holy water (among others) do make an appearance in this title, they cannot be used in battle. Instead their only relevance is to provide for additional endings should all five items be found. This shouldn't seem a daunting task, but one artifact is hidden in each level, requiring a minimal degree of exploration to discover.

So, you may ask, what is the purpose of hearts? Instead of using found hearts to use sub-weapons Sonia instead can gather “soul powers” during her journey that she can activate should she have the required number of hearts. One soul power is granted at the end of each level upon the defeat of the boss. In total five can be gained, and as they are accumulated Sonia can switch between those found to use as situations dictate. Thankfully the most useful ones are acquired within the beginning stages of the game. Such powers can be used to stop enemy movement, damage all onscreen enemies in a blast of light, and perhaps most useful, recover all strength (though at the heavy price of 20 hearts).

Lastly, Sonia is the only Belmont to have learned a technique dubbed “Burning Mode” in which she can literally make herself invincible for a limited amount of time. During this period her speed is increased and she can damage enemies without incurring any herself. A meter at the bottom of the screen displays how much longer Sonia can remain in this form. Be warned: once activated the Burning Mode meter cannot be stopped, nor can it be recharged! As a result this skill can only be used once per level so as not to fall victim to player abuse. As a result one will not want to waste the technique on run of the mill enemies; the power is best utilized if it is conserved until the end of the level whereupon it can be unleashed upon the boss. If this is done Sonia will prevail, likely having incurred no damage herself.

Difficulty
So far things seem pretty sweet but this next section may change your mind. At the start of the game the player can select a difficulty of normal or “light” - either way it will be hard as hell! While the game is not difficult per say, it is extremely frustrating at many points. The reason for this being, of course, Konami's obsession with bats. You can't have a vampire game without bats, but Konami exceeded the standard quota and jam-packed this game full of bats. The problem with these animals is that they hang upside down, usually out of whip range, and proceed to attack Sonia when she nears, as a good bat should. However, these bats seem to want to roost on Sonia's head. Yes, oftentimes they will approach at a very strange angle in a very erratic pattern in which they cannot be struck down. They repeatedly bombard Sonia in the face because Konami did not program her to be able to strike vertically with her weapon. Lord help you if you find yourself caught amidst a swarm of these pesky suckers.

Unfortunately the bats are the least of your problems. Ghosts, which I mistook for flying geckos (if you've ever seen the t-shirts from the early ‘90s you'll know what I mean), appear from off screen and approach in an awkward zig-zag pattern making them equally hard to hit. As bad as this sounds, the problem escalates in Stage 3, the ever so familiar Clocktower area that has become a symbol of Castlevania. Sonia must climb chains and leap vertically from gears, all while avoiding these flying menaces. The dilemma here is that enemies in this game re-spawn at an alarming rate. Should Sonia fall even a few pixels, the foes above her will re-appear, making for a very arduous ascent. This also has a nasty habit of happening in the side-scrolling stages too. Let's run through a quick scenario:

- Sonia leaps onto a gear and rides it upward to the next stone outcropping
- here two ghost geckos simultaneously descend upon the poor girl
- she whips them out of existence, but not before taking a hit and being thrown from the platform
- landing at the base, Sonia once again leaps onto the gear and rides it upward to the stone outcropping
- here two ghost geckos simultaneously descend upon the poor girl
- she whips them out of exis-- okay, let's stop there. The point has been made.

Play through the above situation a couple times and Sonia will quickly meet her maker. Fortunately the game grants unlimited continues and a password system should you not have the tolerance to play the game in its entirety in one sitting.

On a final note, yes, I am bitter toward the bats, and the ghosts… and the ghost bats. But aside from these vermin the other enemies do little more than to slow Sonia down. Most just stand around waiting to be whacked, or at worst case scenario, march back and forth on a ledge. Earlier I described the ease at dispatching bosses with the Burning Mode, so should one have the persistence to evade the flying foes this game won't pose a great challenge.

Replay value
Castlevania Legends is not terribly long. It's comprised of five stages along with one hidden stage. All of them are fairly short and very straight forward, so there is no chance of becoming lost within the walls of the castle. I was able to complete the journey in a little under two hours in one sitting, and unlike other Castlevania titles there are no extra features to be unlocked upon completion. The main reason one would play this game a second time is either that he is a bat fanatic, or more likely, to locate all five hidden artifacts to see the best ending.

Final Thoughts
In the end this Castlevania isn't terribly innovative. Burning Mode was a nice addition, but its primary use is solely to aide in the boss battles should you be unable to succeed normally. The removal of sub-weapons seems almost unforgivable and causes the game to take a hit (God what I wouldn't give to axe those bats…), but being able to choose a soul power as needed somewhat relieves this disappointment. The addition of Alucard had potential, but did little to further the story, making me wonder the reason behind his inclusion at all. In the end this game is nice just to see what it is like, but isn't groundbreaking. Final score: 5/10.


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 08/16/04


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