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 2: Belmont’s Revenge.
Christopher like many of kin before him, slew Dracula in single combat. The Dark Lord’s reign had come to an end, peace had returned to the land. Little did he know his quarry was not defeated, only weakened. Unable to take human form he remained hidden, awaiting an opportunity to strike. Fifteen years have passed and Christopher is rejoicing at the prospect of his son inheriting the title of Vampire Hunter. As the ceremony comes to an end, Dracula makes his move. Christopher helplessly witnesses Soleil turn into a demon as Dracula regains human form. Earthquakes shake the land as four great castles rise from the ground, with a fifth remaining hidden under the nearby lake. This was now the home of the Prince of Darkness – the base from which he will enact his nefarious schemes.
Konami had struggled to successfully recreate the core Castlevania experience on handhelds with the release of Castlevania: The Adventure. Undeterred, they took what they had learned from The Adventure and crafted a direct sequel. This is Castlevania 2: Belmont’s Revenge. Not to be confused with Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. Maybe they should have called it Adventure 2? Naming aside, let’s see how this sequel holds up.
As always we start our Castlevania procedures off by looking at the story and atmosphere, something most Castlevania’s have managed to pull off until now. Belmont’s Revenge, like its much maligned predecessor, opted to cut the classic “Castle shot”, as well as the traditional empty first corridor. This is for multitude of reasons I imagine, one of which being the hardware limitations of the Gameboy. The majority of the 30’s horror vibes also fall by the wayside with only Dracula reprising his role as boss. A shame, but not necessarily an overwhelming negative.
Belmont’s Revenge makes up for this with a slightly stronger focus on story and character development. They even added some pretty interesting lore and world building. Firstly this is a direct sequel, giving most gamers a pretty immediate connection to the protagonist – Christopher. His failure to defeat Dracula in the first game has resulted in his son being transformed into a hideous beast and his ancestral enemy returning. This is a really solid backbone to incentivise the player to experience the game as it has become a personal story, as opposed to a vague prophetic one. This emphasis is further pushed through the limited use of dialogue giving characters in-game development, not just pre and post, as was the standard at the time. Finally there is some light head cannon and world building moments. What is the ceremony that passes the title of Vampire Hunter to a character? Does that transfer the Belmont’s supernatural power to an heir? Is Christopher facing Dracula in a weakened state? Does Soleil have the Vampire Killer? None of this is answered of course, but it is interesting to ponder upon at the very least.
Upon starting the game you will notice yet more changes to the formula. Gone is the linear level progression. Instead you are greeted with a ‘Megaman-esque’ level select, with each level representing one of the four castles that rose when Dracula regained his power. Each level is fairly balanced in terms of difficulty, so there is no wrong choice here. The decision to go down this route is an odd one however. You have options, sure, but your decisions have no consequence. You are not rewarded for completing a stage other than being given the choice between the remaining stages. Once all four are completed you move onto the final castle. I feel like having a traditional linear level structure would have achieved the exact same results.
Once you select a level you will be thrust into the action and immediately be reminded of The Adventure. Memories of the sluggish movement, unresponsive combat and awful platforming will flood your brain. Then like a leaf on the breeze, it flies away and you realise Belmont’s Revenge is bloody brilliant. Firstly Christopher finally moves at an acceptable pace, although still slower than a traditional Belmont. His controls feel responsive, letting you navigate the world and combat its enemies with cat-like grace. Whipping enemies continues to feel meaty and impactful, with death flames being as large and satisfying as ever – one of the few positives it shares with its predecessor. Improved controls make the once dismal platforming bearable and overall, this feels like what a handheld Castlevania should – like Castlevania.
The positives don’t end their either. One of the biggest changes ‘The Adventure’ made was the removal of subweapons in favour of a bizarrely limited fireball spewing whip. Thankfully Belmont’s Revenge brings them back, albeit in a somewhat limited form. Only two weapons made the cut – the Holy Water and the Axe – however these are literally the two most important weapons in Castlevania when it comes to expanding a Belmont’s area of attack, so that is barely a complaint. Interestingly enough the fireball whip also returns – only better. No longer do you lose your powered up whip when you take damage, essentially giving you a free dagger once you attain max level, making Christopher one of the most armed Belmont’s of the 8-bit era.
Level design has taken a huge leap in quality too. Each level feels diverse and has a strong theme that can be seen throughout the stage. Enemy placement is more forgiving and manageable thanks to your expanded arsenal. Bosses, a feature so underwhelming in the previous title I didn’t even mention, are interesting and varied. Unfortunately it is a bit on the short side having only 6 bite sized levels, and the improvements elsewhere also make the game a bit on the easier side of the spectrum. Minor gripes, but worth mentioning regardless.
Belmont’s Revenge holds up remarkably well graphically. Character models are detailed and recognisable with animations as smooth as can be expected for the Gameboy. Backgrounds are noticeably more detailed which really helps push each stages unique theme. Overall the game looks a fair bit cleaner too. In hindsight, The Adventure occasionally looked a little bit too busy, something I only really noticed when doing a side-by-side comparison. A welcome change nonetheless.
Konami clearly knew what they had to improve when making Belmont’s Revenge, and what they had to keep the same. I say this because the music in Belmont’s Revenge is brilliant from start to finish – Gameboy be damned. Practically every track is boppable, every tune is memorable and i’d venture to say the game is almost worth playing to experience the music alone. This is one soundtrack that desperately needs a modern remix. Eveything from Crystal Castle’s New Messiah to Cloud Castle’s Praying Hands is just exquisite.
Normally I would leave a review here, however Belmont’s Revenge gets a special extra bit. Unfortunately for the wrong reasons. Despite all of my praise thus far, it is almost all ruined by the final boss fight. In nearly every Castlevania game up until this point, Dracula has been a legitmate challenge that tests the reflexes and skills you gained up over the course of the adventure. Not here. Belmont’s Revenge, no matter how skilled or knowledgeable you are of the game or the series, is pretty much impossible to beat your first attempt. Or second. Or probably tenth. This is because skill is thrown out of the window for pure memory. Dracula moves in a pattern you must memorise, fills the screen with high damage projectiles that can only be dodged by standing in specific locations you need to memorise and you can only hit him a few times per rotation of his cycle – which you need to memorise. It is not a short encounter, it is not a fun encounter and it is not Castlevania.
Castlevania 2: Belmont’s Revenge is a brilliant experience from start to 5 seconds before the end. Whilst it has its flaws, it is absolutely worth playing through at least once. It is decently short, immensely satisfying and a perfect pallet cleanser after slogging through some of the more difficult entries in the series. Do yourself a favour and Youtube the final boss fight. You’ll thank me later.
A return to form after the Adventure and a game worth checking out if you are a fan of the series. What do you think of Belmont’s Revenge? Did you play it back in the day? How did you find the Dracula fight? Let me know in the comments below!
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