Review by Tarrun

"Castlevania: The Adventure is the video game equivalent of cutting yourself."

There's a common misconception that video game developers create games for the good of humanity, and this is simply not the case. Games are created for the sole purpose of making money, and this idea was never more evident than in the early days of the original Game Boy. As a portable version of the NES, developers saw the opportunity to take a pre-existing game, water it down, and repackage it for the grainy black and white screen of the Game Boy. Not surprisingly, far too many of these games were terrible, although occasionally a game like Super Mario Land 2 or The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening would manage to maintain the quality of the series.

Not wanting to pass up on easy money, Konami jumped on the Game Boy bandwagon and released rehashed versions of their own games, including Castlevania. Unfortunately for fans of the series, the transition from the NES to the Game Boy resulted in the worst Castlevania game in the series to date.

Released roughly a year after Castlevania II: Simon's Quest in December of 1989, Castlevania: The Adventure revolves around Christopher Belmont, the great-grandfather of the vampire hunter from the previous two games, Simon Belmont. Despite the flimsy attempt in Simon's Quest to inject a story into the Castlevania series, that concept is quickly abandoned, as nothing is revealed about Christopher. In the instruction manual, we're told that we're in the “midsty midst” of Dracula's lair, and the only thing to do is to proceed “‘dead' ahead”. There are plenty of other cheap puns forced into the remaining pages, but in the end, we're left to assume that Christopher, who isn't even named until the Game Boy sequel, Belmont's Revenge, is another generic Belmont destined to destroy Dracula. Though certainly uninspiring, the plot – or lack of one, in this case – is the very last complaint you'll have after sitting down with Adventure for more than a few minutes.

Similar to the story, the graphics are equally as terrible. For a series that's known for putting genuine effort into making their games look aesthetically pleasing, Adventure doesn't put up much of a fight to keep that tradition alive. You'll find that each area has a single background to it, though occasionally your character will change scenes part of the way through a level, providing an unimaginable two or even three backgrounds to a given level. All of the areas are empty and boring, so there's nothing to look at besides the occasional platform or trap. Christopher himself is designed well, but unfortunately this only applies if he stands still. The character design is similar to the original Simon sprite, though skinnier and more polished than the pixelated Simon. This is actually pretty impressive, until you take a step forward and realize Christopher has all of four sprites – two for walking, one for whipping, and one shared for jumping and crouching. The end result is Christopher awkwardly shuffling across the levels to the point where it's distracting and forces you to forget the decent character design.

However, it seems that the only developers at Konami that weren't asleep during the production of Adventure worked in the sound department, because the music is one of the game's few saving graces – and that still isn't saying much. Of the three or four songs in the game, Battle of the Holy, the first level track, is actually pretty good, and I'm surprised it hasn't been remixed for another game in the series. Beyond that, the game begins to slip back into mediocrity, as it's difficult to imagine anyone remembering another track beyond that one. The sound effect befall the same fate, as they're present and not abhorrible, which is more than I can say about the rest of the game. When you're desperately searching for anything positive to take away from a game like Adventure, though, sometimes mediocrity is the best you can find.

Whenever I've felt particularly masochistic and decided to play Adventure, I've always pictured the developers sitting around a cauldron poking a voodoo doll version of myself with pins, because being endlessly stabbed is pretty much the equivalent of playing the game for any length of time. You'd think that a game based from a series that's able to be entertaining with simplistic game would be impossible to ruin, and yet somehow Adventure manages to achieve this with flying colors.

The first thing you'll notice about the game is that Christopher walks incredibly slowly, and with the agility of a retired sumo wrestler. Most of the Belmonts in the early games were less than graceful, but Christopher appears to be wearing lead boots. This means that through the game's four stages, you laboriously drudge through the various traps and jumping puzzles on top of fighting the monsters scattered throughout.

The rest of the gameplay is more of the same arduous, painstaking garbage. Everything that's familiar with Castlevania is either absent or has been thrown up on to the point where it's unrecognizable. You begin with your leather whip, which can be upgraded to a chain whip and a chain whip that releases fireballs, but even that can't be left alone. If at any point you're hit by a monster, which is inevitable because of how slow Christopher is, your whip is immediately downgraded. This wouldn't be a terrible problem, except for the fact that the whip upgrade crystals are such a rarity that you'll be lucky to ever reach a boss with anything other than your wimpy leather whip. Likewise, sub-weapons are mysteriously absent from the game entirely, so you aren't even able to use an alternate weapon to make up for your weak whip.

Yet all of that in consideration, fighting monsters may actually be the least of your worries. Adventure, as a platformer, is full of jumping puzzles, and it's this aspect of the game that will drive the casual gamer insane. Christopher doesn't jump extremely far, and the gaps you have to pass over require you to make a pixel-perfect jump or fall to a grisly death. Not only is it possible to lose a countless number of lives over a simple jump, it's very likely to happen. Now throw in a level where Christopher is chased by spikes and forces you to make dozens of perfect jumps, and you'll begin to get an idea of what the game is all about.

The end result, of course, is that Castlevania: The Adventure is impossibly difficult. The stages aren't terribly long, but they're long enough that you'll have plenty of trouble trying to make it to the end of one. To add to this, the game takes the phrase “Game Over” to its literal meaning. You have three lives – that's it. If you lose those three lives, you get to start completely over from the beginning. Sure, you get an extra life for every twenty thousand points you score, but it's unlikely that they'll be of very much help to you.

If you overlook the abominable gameplay, the poor graphics, and the fact that it's next to impossible, Castlevania: The Adventure is a great game. For the rest of us that can't help but focus on those subtle aspects of a video game, you'll quickly grow to hate the game with a passion. There's just absolutely nothing going for this game – you'll be hard pressed to find any sort of familiarity or a novel idea that actually works, and in the rare occurrence that there is a good idea, the game quickly makes up for it by tearing out your heart and stomping on it. Castlevania: The Adventure is the kind of game that only die-hard Castlevania fans will want to buy – buy, but not play. After all, you may never be able to finish the game, but then again, you probably won't want to.

Reviewer's Rating:   0.5 - Unplayable

Originally Posted: 12/06/03, Updated 02/19/08

Game Release: Castlevania: The Adventure (US, 12/31/89)

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