I’ve owned Castlevania: The Adventure for most of my life, it released on the original GameBoy all the way back in 1991, at least in Europe. All this time and I’ve never finished it. That’s right, a game with just 4 levels has bested me for the best part of 30 years. I have tried countless times, but this time would be different. Even if I had to cheat.
Full disclosure, I played Castlevania: The Adventure on the PlayStation 4, thanks to the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. I did this for a number of reasons: 1. My Game Boy copy has broken and I haven’t replaced it yet. 2. The share button made getting pictures much easier and 3. I could cheat my way to victory even if it killed me and several control pads in the process. Maybe cheat is too strong a word, but I did exploit the hell out of it thanks to the save anywhere function. I still had to complete the game, however, being able to save at any time made things bearable.
First things first, the actual game. Castlevania: The Adventure originally came out in Japan in 1989, it is set a century before the original Castlevania and stars Christopher Belmont, an ancestor of Simon. This was a nice way to tie into the other games, however, there isn’t a story to speak of, at all, besides the end “cutscene”.
Gameplay consists of simple side-scrolling platforming with enemies and bosses chucked in for good measure, with Dracula being The Adventures big bad. Unlike other games, Christopher only has access to one weapon, his whip. Hitting candles with it will see the release of goodies such as health, invincibility, and powerups which increase the whip’s damage in three stages. The first is a basic whip, the second is thicker and stronger, while the third lets Christopher shoot flames from the end. Getting hit by an enemy will lose an upgrade until it is back to being a bog standard whip.
Castlevania: The Adventure is a slow game, Christopher controls like a fridge, and jumps like one too. I get the feeling that the developers were forced to keep the game slow to allow it to run so well on the Game Boy’s limited hardware. To be fair, they have done a good job, while the game is slow it was rare for me to come across moments of slow down, at least anything that made the game unplayable. This also makes the fighting much more manageable. It wasn’t often that I found myself failing due to the enemies, usually I was only hit when getting swarmed, or due to my own error. The enemies themselves are standard fare, with bats, mud men, and huge rolling eyeballs. Alright, maybe not that standard.
During my playthroughs of this game, what killed me, more often than not, was the platforming sections. As I’ve stated, Christopher handles like a fridge, when you jump, he puts his knees into his chest in a position that looks far from comfortable. At least if I was suffering with the platforming I was somewhat sated knowing that the character I was controlling was in immense physical pain as well. Of course I jest, but the platforming in Castlevania: The Adventure requires complete pixel perfection. Slightly miss time a jump that looks passable and you’ll fall to your demise or hit spikes and die or fall into an enemy and, likely, die.
Previously, I had never made it to level 3. The second level always seemed to be a sticking point for me. The game is definitely beatable, with practice and patience, both are required to the nth degree. Thankfully, on this playthrough, I was able to save before any tricky points and reload if (once) I failed. The game is hard but as mentioned, definitely beatable. The problem is, when playing legitimately, you are only given 3 lives. Die and it’s back to a checkpoint. Lose all your lives and it’s back to the start of the level.
Thanks to this exploit (don’t judge me, it’s built in now, it’s there to be used. Fine, judge me, I’m judging myself) I was able to make it to level 3 quite easily. I had a whole 48 seconds left on the clock, thanks to a wrong turn and some backtracking. That’s another thing, run out of time and, you die. Much of the difficulty lies in being punished for mistakes or less than perfect jumps, racking up deaths is very easy and results in a restart. Older games often did this as a way to increase longevity and back then gamers didn’t mind as much. It would be a case of playing and playing over and over until things were consigned to muscle memory. I don’t mind this, as you know I love older games, but I’ve been spoiled and I’m not always sure I have the patience.
Using frequent saves actually drove me to try and perfect the game, often I found myself reloading just because I had been hit, such was my desire for a perfect run. Anyway, I made it to level 3 and the challenge ramped up significantly with ceilings of crushing spikes and moving walls of spikes that chase you up and across the screen. I’d seen lets plays of this level before and getting to it was a bit scary, especially as saving can’t be utilized effectively on the level. If you’re not quick enough and were to save in the wrong place death would be a certainty, no matter how many times you reload. Mistakes just can’t be made and because of this, I didn’t make any, somehow. Getting through the level was extremely intense, in fact, as silly as this sounds, it was some of the most intense gaming I’ve ever done and the sense of achievement once complete was huge.
After this, the 4th level seemed easy in comparison. Maybe I had taught myself to be better, I don’t know, I guess the real test will be when I pick up another Game Boy copy and see how I get on. Castlevania: The Adventure did not do that well with the critics when it came out, but I really enjoyed my playthrough this time. Possibly because I played it so much as a kid or possibly because I finally finished, I don’t know. What I do know, however, is the whole thing is set to a remarkably good soundtrack in a package that is quite impressive for the Game Boy.
It may not be the best game in the series and it may be quite different to the others. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time, especially if you pick up the Castlevania Collection. It’s on there anyway, so you may as well give it a go. Let me know in the comments what your favorite Castlevania game is, even if, like most people, it’s Symphony of the Night.