Castlevania: The Adventure – Retro Games Review

Disclaimer – This review is part of an 9 part series of reviews for the the Castlevania Anniversary Collection for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC. Due to a full review of the collection coming soon, I will not be mentioning everything the collection brings – only mentioning those that pertain to Castlevania: The Adventure.

Once more the forces of darkness are stirring. Once more the Dark Lord Dracula rises. Once more a young Belmont takes up the mantle of Hunter and boldy strides towards Castlevania. Vampire Killer in hand, he intends to put an end to the vilest machinations Dracula has to offer, before ending the beasts life once more. The is Castlevania: The Adventure.

Castlevania: The Adventure (Adventure from now on) was Konami’s first attempt to bring the highly popular and beloved Castlevania series to Nintendo’s premiere handheld of the time – the Gameboy. How does this initial foray into handheld gaming hold up today? Let’s find out.

Unlike previous entries in the series, Adventure starts with very little fanfare. Gone are the usual opening cutscenes that present the story, gone is the Castle shot – you are thrown straight into the thick of it. Heck, they even went and removed the initial empty corridor that has been in every Castlevania up until this point. Whilst it is certainly disappointing that these things have been omitted, the atmosphere taking a bit of a hit as a result, the Gameboy had its limitations, so this is to be expected.

With all the atmospheric fluff cut out, Adevnture starts you out boldly strutting towards Castlevania like any good Belmont should. Within seconds of play, you will assaulted by how good Adventure looks. Christopher has a decently large and detailed sprite, backgrounds are detailed and have multiple layers, enemies are mostly recognisable and candles are sufficiently lit. Animations are pretty solid too, with Christopher retaining the Belmont swagger and the enemies death flames are some of the best the series has produced up until this point. A surprisingly impressive visual treat.

Whipping enemies feels fantastic too. The delay is back, giving a sense of wind up and anticipation. The sound of the whip is satisfyingly sharp, and the aforementioned death flames really sell the impact. The problems really start to arise once you get past that initial hype though. As good as the whip feels, you are incredibly limited in how you can attack as we are back to 2 directional whipping. This isn’t necessarily a negative in and of itself, however Adventure felt the need to remove Subweapons from the formula leaving you with nothing but the whip.

This is somewhat ramified by the new upgrade system however, which allows Christopher to launch fireballs from his whip when he attains max level. Unfortunately taking any damage, from any enemy, will remove this ability. This wouldn’t be too bad if the enemies were designed around these limitations, but they most certainly are not. Enemies will come at you from all directions and Christophers purely horizontal attack repetoire leaves you more or less helpless in far too many situations. The best bet is to boldy run away and hope they die off screen.

Then there is the unusual focus on platforming. From the get go Adventure forces you to do some pretty tedious pixel-perfect platforming. Castlevania has always been an action-platformer, but the emphasis was never really on platforming precision. When it did venture into those realms, the controls were forgiving enough as to not be frustrating. Not here. The Adventure has incredibly sluggish controls, that are borderline unresponsive at times. I fell to my death countless times due to Christopher refusing to jump. Christopher is also a tank to move. Every conceivable movement feels like it is taking longer than it should, the game of course suffers as a result. Castlevania was always very deliberate, but Adventure misses that mark and lands squarely on snail-like. 

Then we have the level design, which is passable at best and tediously infuriating at worst. Despite only having 4 levels long, Adventure feels agonisingly drawn out. Levels go on for longer than they should, with set set peices over staying their welcome everytime they crop up. To make matters worse, some levels are infuriatingly difficult due to a focus on rapid fire precision platforming, whilst being chased by a wall of death. With everything else wrong with the game piled on top, Adventure is just a slog to play through.

Thank goodness for the games absolutely rocking soundtrack. For all of Adventures numerous flaws, Konami truly knocked this out of the park. From the moment you jump into Stage 1 up until you finally put Dracula down in Stage 4 the music absolutely carries the game. I would even go as far as saying this is some of the best music the series has managed to conjure up. It is almost worth playing just to listen to it…almost.

Overall Castlevania: The Adventure is a incredibly flawed game. It gives a wonderful initial impression that quickly fades away as the games numerous missteps become apparent. There is very little reason to go back this game other than nostalgia. I would however definitely recommend fans of the series give this game a look, even if it is to see how far the series has come.

A game truly saved from the depths of hell by its cracking score. It is unlikely I will ever boot up this game again, but I don’t regret playing through to completion this one time. What are your thoughts on The Adventure? Did you play this back in ’91? Let me know in the comments below!