Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth
Poor Christopher Belmont. Nobody cares about him. Despite being part of a legendary clan of vampire hunters, most gamers have never heard of him. Those few that have, however, try their best to forget he ever existed. With good reason, too; Adventure is arguably the worst Castlevania ever conceived. Considering how awful Simon’s Quest and Judgment are, that’s saying something. The game was riddled with enough glitches and design flaws to make it nigh unplayable, and its watered-down mechanics were easily overshadowed by its console counterparts. Not even the success of Belmont’s Revenge was enough to get Christopher the recognition he deserved. But after nearly twenty years of obscurity, he’s finally been given a second chance. Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth doesn’t just revisit one of the most infamous games in the series, but gives it the improvements it so desperately needed.
The premise is simple: Christopher has to infiltrate Castlevania and kill Dracula. That’s it. No background story, dialogue (aside from a single-line reference to Symphony of the Night before the final battle), map, experience points, or any of the extra stuff fans have come to expect from the last few titles. Instead, it retains the style of its old school predecessors. You’ve got to leap and whip your way through a series of side-scrolling levels, smiting creatures of the night and the occasional boss along the way. Christopher’s abilities are equally retro. Since he can only swing the Vampire Killer directly in front of him, you’re going to have to employ tactics unseen since the NES games. He can upgrade the whip twice, the second of which grants him the ability to temporarily launch fireballs. He’s also got access to the classic arsenal of sub weapons, including the crucifix boomerangs and holy water molotovs. It may not seem like much, especially compared with Simon’s multi-directional whip from Super Castlevania IV or Richter’s acrobatics and Item Crash option from Rondo of Blood. However, it won’t take long before you realize that Christopher doesn’t need any of these things; his responsive controls and decent speed make up for his lack of attack range and strength.
This is best reflected in the design of the stages. Rather than focusing on combat like the newer titles, Adventure Rebirth balances things out with more platforming and harder enemies. It starts off with an homage to the older games; Christopher slogs through the muddy castle grounds, flaying zombies and bloodshot eyeballs before taking on a monstrous bat. While these first couple of areas are little more than training grounds for newcomers, the game hits its stride in the latter half. You’re thrust into a dungeon riddled with blood-rusted spikes, spinning blades, and moving walls. You have to carefully dodge your way through a gauntlet of pendulum guillotines and whirling buzz saws, all with nothing more than a pixel protecting you from a gory demise. One of the most challenging areas has you ascending up a stairwell, using the retractable spears in the walls as temporary platforms. The layouts of the stages themselves are equally interesting; by collecting keys instead of sub weapons, you’ll be able to get past the locked doors strewn throughout each level. While they don’t offer shortcuts, they do offer alternative routes to the same goal. You could take the path to the drawbridge, or you could dive into the watery caverns beneath the castle and work your way back up. It’s not quite as prominent or important a feature as it was in Rondo of Blood, but at least it’s an incentive to play the game again.
It might not be enough, though. Especially if you’ve been spoiled by the last decade of Castlevania titles. This game is all about timing and precision, which requires far more skill than what you might be used to. Even with the multiple lives and mid-level restarts, you’ll probably get your ass kicked. It’s just a matter of time before you finally give in, switch to the easiest difficulty level and max out the number of continues. Under those conditions, it won’t take long for you to reach the stairs leading up to Dracula’s throne room. A bit over an hour, in fact. Even with the awesome platforming and branching paths, that’s still incredibly brief. Bragging rights and curiosity aside, there’s little reason to explore the castle a second time. It demonstrates the limitations of the older games; despite all their creativity and difficulty, they’re still hampered by sheer brevity and a lack of features. That hasn’t changed here, either; in making such a dedicated homage to the retro games, Adventure Rebirth suffers the same problems.
The game tries to compensate by cramming as much nostalgia and visual effects into stages as possible. Christopher might be only slightly better than Trevor in terms of ability, but his slick movement animations make him look more like Richter. Just watch him swing the whip or climb a flight of stairs; few Castlevania protagonists have that level of detail. The same goes with the bosses; you can see the ragged edges of Death’s robe flapping in the breeze, or how the Succubus summons all kinds of flashy (if not predictable) magic spells. Even minor enemies like the knights have been fleshed out with thicker armor, larger weapons, and livelier animations. The levels are even better. Part of the underground caverns has you groping your way through a pitch-black room, lead only by the faint flicker of the destructible candelabras or your flame-throwing whip. It’s not so much about what you can see, but what you can’t; the glowing eyes of countless mutant rats stalk your every step from above. One of the last stages is an excellent throwback to the clock towers of the old games, complete with the spinning gears, brutal platforming segments, and floating Medusa heads. The biggest homage, however, is reserved for the music; there are remixes of several songs spanning many of the older titles. There’s an absolutely epic version of Reincarnated Soul from Bloodlines, and the revamped themes from Dracula’s Curse and Belmont’s Revenge are even better. It may not be the best music of the series, but the nostalgia more than makes up for it.
That’s the entire point. Adventure Rebirth thrives on nostalgia. It’s about reliving the old days, when skill was the only thing keeping your character alive. It doesn’t have a story, map, or any of the deep RPG mechanics that newer fans have taken for granted. It’s about a guy with a magical whip, a few spare weapons, and limited jumping abilities on a crusade to slay Dracula. That’s all. For the most part, it worked. The levels have some clever platforming, and the branching paths offer a decent incentive to explore. Between the sheer difficulty and brevity of the game, however, you might be turned off before giving it a second chance, if even a first. You should, though. It may go by quick, but the stylish designs and the superb soundtrack offer a level of quality that few WiiWare titles can muster. If you don’t do it for yourself, then at least do it for Christopher Belmont. After spending twenty years in obscurity, he’s finally earned his spot among the best of them.