Review by SethBlizzard
"Atmosphere in Video Games 101"
Belmont's Revenge was the first Castlevania game that I ever played. I have now played all for the NES, but still this acclaimed Game Boy title holds perhaps the warmest spot in my heart. Why? Because I am demanding of atmosphere in a game. And this, what I have heard rightly praised as the best Castlevania game for the original Game Boy, fulfils practically my every demand, even though it's a tad too short. I just fell in love with this straightforward (and yet not) action game upon first playing.
The premise of Belmont's Revenge provides an interesting twist to the setting we're used to seeing. Cristopher Belmont, yet another member of the legendary monster-slaying family, is the star of the game. Fifteen years after the events of Castlevania Adventure, Christopher's son Solieyu is kidnapped by Dracula and turned against his father.. In order to save his son from Dracula, Christopher has to battle through four castle shrines in order to reach the resurrected fortress of Castlevania. A touching premise. So far, things are looking good.
The game is initially divided into four castles that you can visit in any order. All are very diverse and have their own unique characteristics and atmosphere; Crystal Castle, Rock Castle, Plant Castle and Cloud Castle. I am most fond of the latter two; Plant Castle is a kind of earth shrine, while Cloud Castle, as its name suggests, reaches far up into the sky. Such things have always struck a chord with me. The simple Game Boy graphics convey all of this near-flawlessly.
What I really love about this game is how thick its atmosphere is, and how it almost plays with it. The levels are divided by door passages, and each level culminates in a boss. When you pass through the last door before the boss, the music fades away, to be replaced by a tune that tells you something lies ahead. This is just one example of Belmont's Revenge's considerable atmospheric elements. The game's bosses are all very creative and intriguing. My favourite is the boss of Plant Castle, the twin Minotaur-like guardians Kumulo & Nimbler. Oddly, the game's booklet describes them as being the bosses of Cloud Castle (don't I wish that had been the case). This makes sense, seeing how their names are Latin words for clouds. Bad communication can really be annoying, can't it? On the other hand, the famous Skeleton Dragon makes an impressive appearance.
A simply breathtaking score accompanies the game. The themes for all the castles are motivating and inspiring, to say the least. My favourite is Cloud Castle's theme, possibly the most haunting piece of music I've ever heard for the Game Boy, original or no. The other themes are excellent as well, very inspiring and motivating. The second Castlevania level than has a tune that stands almost completely apart from the rest of the game's soundtrack. After its initial annoying effect wears off, it's actually pretty catchy good thing, too, as the level itself is quite tough. Such a strong soundtrack has rarely found its way into such a small package. All courtesy of "sound creator" H. Funauchi.
If there is one particular criticism I can make it's that the four castle bosses are not as challenging as they could have been. There are two bosses that consists of two separate enemies (Plant Castle, Cloud Castle), yet in both cases they share the same life meter, meaning that you can essentially beat them by focusing on one enemy. Had they had a different life meter, the challenge could have been increased. Another thing I would have liked fixed is the game's length - admittedly, its otherwise fine challenge is likely to keep you on your toes, but the game still is only 6 or 7 levels long. These two criticisms touch upon each other, as the difficulty of the first four bosses makes passing through the first four worlds in a flash really not that difficult after you've played the game a few times. Then again, the game's final two bosses have difficulty levels that are completely over the top. Fortunately, you start again halfway through the second Castlevania stage should you lose all your lives, and the game has unlimited continues. Additionally, there is a simple password system, so there are definitely no problems with user-friendliness.
With the game's strong atmosphere, it is more than fun to tackle the castles. All of them, and Castlevania itself as well, are quite challenging, largely thanks to the enemies, some of which can drain your powers. But no matter how frustrated you become, I for one never get too discouraged, as the game packs such a fascinating world. Not to mention do you actually get a choice of some sub-weapons to speak of (unlike in Castlevania Adventure). The Axe and Holy Water will make your life a lot easier a lot of times. Then in some levels, like the Plant Castle, these items can have a direct impact on the level itself. Unless you use Holy Water on eyeball-shaped enemies, they explode and often take out the bridge they're on, leave you no choice but to pummel into more dangerous terrain below it. Indeed, the enemies are a wonderfully varied bunch, ranging from bats (of course) to cloaked ghouls throwing boomerangs, and super-annoying hand-shaped enemies whose hits will cost you a whip powerup. Strangely, there are no animated skeletons, but the rest of the enemies more than make up for their absence. Asides which, the levels themselves are extremely clever and often force you to think creatively as to how get past certain challenges.
Atmosphere, inspiration, great music, intriguing worlds all that I love about video games is here and more, making up for the fluctuating challenge and short quest. I have only scraped the surface of what I feel about Belmont's Revenge. All of this is packed into a beautifully crafted game. It's nice to see how a company can make up for a disappointing title with a spectacular sequel.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/26/10, Updated 04/24/14
Game Release: Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge (EU, 11/26/92)
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