Sheer Terror Is at Hand
Boy, sure is a shame about Konami getting out of video games, huh? Specifically, the shame is the loss effectively of the franchises that they’ll likely be keeping the rights to, including the likes of Metal Gear and Silent Hill and so on. But the franchise which I might have the most personal attachment to has probably gotta be Castlevania.**
The idea that I might not get to see another proper Castlevania is really kind of saddening, even if there are plenty of other games to carry on it’s legacy. Yeah, I’m definitely excited for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, but I still have an sentimental attachment to that Belmont lineage and to the goofy, convoluted story nearly 30 years in the making. If I remember correctly (I often don’t), my entry to the series was 1991’s Super Castlevania IV, and from there I made it a point to go back and see the entries I had missed so far on the NES. I’m gonna go ahead and save my thoughts on the often misremembered Simon’s Quest for another article, but I’ll let it be known here that Dracula’s Curse is probably the best action platformer on the NES, if not one of the best of all time.
I could write a defense of the beloathed N64 entries in the series, and how they’re not quite as bad as they’re made out to be. I could go on about the transition into the “Metroidvania” style, and how I feel that Circle of the Moon on GBA actually outdoes Symphony of the Night on PS1. Hell, I could even brag about finishing a “Level 1 Hard Mode” playthrough of the criminally underappreciated Order of Ecclesia, which is probably the single most tedious challenge mode I’ve ever played in a game. But you probably get the point by now, don’t you? I love Castlevania, and I’ll be forever bummed out that Konami seems content reserving it for morally reprehensible pachinko machines. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. But this will not mark the series’ first exercise in disappointment. Far from it.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at an early handheld installment in the Castlevania series; 1989’s Castlevania: The Adventure for the Game Boy. But of course, we’ve gotta give a brief bit of historical context before that though, and cover a couple other forgotten spin-offs and licensing deals that threatened to derail the franchise before it hit its stride. Because, as it turns out, Konami was ALWAYS looking to make the quick buck.
** Close second goes to Silent Scope. I’m gonna miss you, Falcon.
Items You Can’t Live Without
Let’s get some regional differences out of the way first here, for the benefit of both “those who don’t know” and “those who insist that everyone know”: In Japan, the Castlevania series is known as Akumajō Dracula, translating to something like “Devil’s Castle Dracula.” The reason it’s called Castlevania in English-speaking territories is thanks to Konami of America, the senior vice president of whom in 1987 (one Emil Heidkamp) understood the translation to be “Dracula’s Satanic Castle” and realized that might not play so well in the states. And so, rather than bog this article down with the different names of different installments in the series in different territories, we’re just gonna be calling it “Castlevania” from here on out. Capeesh?
Speaking of titles, there are two entries in the series from around this time that don’t even bear the “Castlevania” branding (at least outside of Japan), further adding to the naming confusion here. The first of which is 1986’s Vampire Killer for the MSX2 home computer (named as such in Europe), serving as a re-imagining of the NES game. I don’t use the word “port” or “remake” there because it is a very, very different game, even if it recycles many of the same assets and tells the same story. I won’t go into too much detail here, since many of its “added features” tie interestingly into the aforementioned Simon’s Quest, and so I’d like to save my talking points for that eventual article. But to summate, Vampire Killer is far and away an inferior version of Castlevania, and a version which really did have the potential to scare players off of the series completely with it’s downright unfair difficulty. There’s a reason none of the following Castlevania games made it to the MSX2 in any shape or form, and it certainly wasn’t like Konami was looking to distance themselves from the console.
The other Castlevania game not worthy of bearing the name is 1988’s Haunted Castle for the arcades. Yet another re-imagining of the original Castlevania story, but this time with a damsel in distress for some reason? I guess saving the world from a reign of vampiric terror just isn’t high enough stakes (no pun intended). It is also one of the most frustrating entries in the series, with a coin-consuming mechanic that should be considered downright criminal: You can continue to insert coins mid-play to increase your health, all of which is obviously forfeit if you die by falling off-screen or something instantaneous along those lines. But the real problem here is that you can only insert so many coins before the game stops rewarding it, meaning that past a certain point you won’t even be able to insert coins for continues and just have to start over! And thus, the vicious cycle begins again. Of course, it’s also one of the hardest platformers ever created, with inadequate control given to a player in the face of pure trial-and-error level design. A truly awful game, whether it’s tied to Castlevania or not. If there’s any positive to be found in it, it’s the soundtrack, and the fact that it brought us the underappreciated “Crucifix Held Close” (as well as a decent rendition of “Bloody Tears”).
We should also take a minute to talk about the true first portable Castlevania game: Electronic Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest for Tiger Electronics’ LCD watches and handhelds, released in 1988. If you have ever played or seen a Tiger Electronic LCD game, you should know exactly what to expect here. The handheld variation is a bit more varied than the watch game by virtue of having a bit more screen space and buttons to work with, actually resulting in one of the more ambitious LCD games of the era. Neither of these compliments is really saying much at all, as the core of the game still involves looking at a series of rapidly flashing cells trying to give the illusion of combat and movement, with enemies who can only appear in one spot on the screen blinking in and out of existence. Yes, this was the product of an era slightly before the Game Boy, and I’m sure some kids at the time were plenty happy to have something like this to play on the go. It’s just amusing to think back on how quickly the Game Boy completely and thoroughly outclassed these LCD games. Bear the fact in mind that games like this were the standard for years while I talk about The Adventure in a short while from now, and how much of a step up that was in spite of whatever flaws I may mention.
One more business dealing I’d be remiss not to mention is Simon Belmont’s appearances in the Captain N: The Game Master cartoon, which ran from 1989 to 1991. For those not in the know, Captain N was a cartoon produced by DIC Entertainment (the production company that also brought us the Sonic the Hedgehog “SatAM” cartoon), which ran during NBC’s Saturday morning cartoon block, and effectively served as advertisment for all things Nintendo. It features a crossover cast of… how you say? “Reinterpretations” of characters from various Nintendo games of the time, including the likes of Mega Man, Kid Icarus (never actually referred to as Pit), and of course, Simon Belmont. Simon is inexplicably made to resemble more of a fighter pilot type than a 17th century warrior, and has the personality of Narcissus. The only things he really has in common with his source (for as loosely defined a character as that may be) is that he carries a whip and that he doesn’t much care for vampires. There’s even an early episode which takes place in the loosest interpretation of a Castlevania setting, furthering the attempt to sell viewers on the games. Eventually, as the show ran into its third season and ran low on budget, the likes of Simon eventually stopped showing up as much in an effort to avoid having to pay royalties to Konami. I’d argue that the Simon that appears in Captain N is so completely different, he barely even registers as something from Konami’s property.
The fact remains that Konami was willing to make that deal with DIC, as well as their licensing deal with Tiger which allowed them to create their game [presumably] without direction from Castlevania’s original developers. And while Vampire Killer and Haunted Castle mostly constitute misguided efforts rather than cash grabs, they still represent early missteps in trying to milk the still budding series for all it was worth. Speaking of, I hear that new “Game Boy” contraption from Nintendo is moving a whole bunch of units now? Seems like an untapped market to me. I think it’s high time Konami makes their presence known on the handheld market…
Dank Dungeons, Torture Chambers, and Vampire Crypts
Castlevania: The Adventure is a first-year title for the Game Boy (the console itself releasing in April of 1989 for Japan, and July for North America), as well a member of the “second wave” of releases in Japan; consisting of a series of third-party titles timed to supplement the system’s library post-launch. The first wave consisted of primarily first-party Nintendo titles and was largely simple affair, similar to the first wave of NES titles. We’re talking basics like Alleyway (effectively Breakout with some puzzles in the shape of Nintendo characters), Baseball (a scaled-down version of the 1983 launch title for the NES), and of course, the historic version of Tetris. Also among these titles was Super Mario Land, which set a standard for platformers on the handheld that would not be met or matched for months post-launch. Super Mario Land whet a platforming appetite in early adopters of the console, and Konami realized there was money to be made in being one of the first to satisfy their craving.
However, with the team responsible for developing the NES titles occupied with creating the final entry in their NES trilogy, Dracula’s Curse, a second team was put together to create the Game Boy game. This team would include Nobuya Nakazato and Masato Maegawa; two developers who had limited experience on their resumes at that time (though in fairness, they may actually be uncredited for some of their prior game contributions), but who would go on to bigger and better things in the industry. Maegawa, for example, would go on to establish the development company Treasure Co Ltd., who have developed something of a reputation for developing fast and exciting shooters. All I can say about his role in the development of The Adventure is… Well, we’ve all gotta start somewhere, I reckon!
The Adventure casts you in the role of Christopher Belmont, predecessor to Simon by roughly a century. But you might not have known that, since there are no references to his name in-game (or any semblance of story at all, for that matter). English instruction manuals don’t bother naming him either, and early advertisements for the game claimed that you were once again to play as Simon. Not that any of this matters at all, since at this point in the series history, nobody was really bothered to come up with intricate plots or think about the overall timeline yet. The plot as the manual explains it is quite simple:
“With the taste for sweet revenge on the tip of his fangs, the blood thirsty prince of darkness hungers for a succulent delicacy — and your throat is definitely on his menu. But before you reach this host of horrors, you must risk your neck against multitudes of unearthly evils that lurk around every corner.”
So far, so Castlevania. But while it may look familiar enough on the surface, it really doesn’t feel familiar while playing it. Sure, the whip is as methodical a weapon as ever, jumping is as deliberate as you might expect, candles contain a variety of items, and you’ve got your Dracula to contend with in the final stage. But these are the constants players had come to expect by this point, and to not include them would have been sacrilege. With these core features in place, the developers were free to change whatever else they wanted, and take whatever shortcuts they needed to in order to get a sidescroller working on the Game Boy’s primitive hardware. Still, the number of concessions made to the formula – ranging from minor to quite large – add up to a game that doesn’t feel in place with the rest of the series, even as later games continued to transform and evolve over time. It probably doesn’t help that it honestly isn’t a very well-designed game even taking the rest of the series out of consideration, but we’ll get to that shortly.
Simon’s Quest distinguished itself from its predecessor in several ways, one of the boldest of which was having players purchase their secondary weapons from merchants (actually, it was Vampire Killer that first made this change, but let’s just forget about that game for now). The Adventure goes a step further by removing secondary weapons entirely. Unsurprisingly, this eliminates just about half of the depth of the original game right off the bat, as the secondary weapons proved nearly essential in the face of precariously positioned enemies and several of the bosses. With those gone, the hearts we’ve since been trained to collect to power our weapons now restore health, replacing the familiar turkey dinners. Invincibility crosses are still present, and often placed in front of obstacles that would result in guaranteed harm without the aid of temporary invincibility, which basically reads like the developers realizing design mistakes they had made and looking for the easiest way to “fix” them.
Oh, that reminds me: No more breakable walls containing hidden items anymore, either. There are a grand total of five secrets in the game by my count, and nearly all of them are so incongruous with the rest of the game that you really do have to know about them going in in order to find them. As an example; if you choose not to whip the first candle in the first stage, forfeiting a score-increasing coin, you’re rewarded with a 1UP that drops from a candle later in the stage. And then as far as I or anyone else is aware, there’s never a secret along those lines again. It’s just a weird one-off with no hint given about it and which never recurs again. A later secret has you purposefully go in a circle in the second stage, as part of a series of rooms that potentially repeat themselves depending on which exit you take. Once you take the “wrong way” to it’s end, putting you right back at the start of the trap, this gives you the ability to unlock a secret room, by killing one of the exploding eyeball enemies and blowing up a hole in the floor. That’s right, I lied: There is a breakable wall in the game, but it’s the only one. It requires you to assume that a mechanic from the first game might still exist somewhere in this game, and not to be discouraged as you futily whip blocks in earlier sections of the game to no avail, until [likely accidentally] discovering this one, thereby leading you to assume that there might still be other breakable walls in the game. But there aren’t. Sure, the original Castlevania had some obtuse secrets too, but they were in the company of more easily accessible secrets that inspired a sense of exploration and detective-work. The secrets in The Adventure just feel like some tacked-on obligation.
Another fundamental change is to how the Vampire Killer (the whip, not the game) upgrades… and also, in a rather unwelcome change, now downgrades as well. With circular “crystals” falling out of certain candles, you can upgrade the whip by to a maximum of two ranks. Collecting one crystal will lengthen and strengthen the whip, turning it into “an all-around super weapon against the super freaks” as the manually hilariously states. Collecting a second crystal will cast fireballs from the tip of the whip with every attack, which do one point of damage vs. the whip’s upgraded value of two, and trivialize several encounters in the game (including two of the four bosses). As the manual goes on to explain, “if you find a third, forth [sic] or one-thousandth crystal, they’ll be nothing but worthless status symbols.”
You know what? I believe that instructional manuals don’t get to “be cute” when they’re describing almost-objectively bad game design, which this whole mechanic ends up being when you take the downgrades into account. It’d be one thing if you lost your upgrades on death like in the original Castlevania; that’s fair. But downgrading on every hit like in Super Mario Bros.? That doesn’t work in this style of platformer! It’s acceptable in Mario because encounters with enemies are a test of reflexes, and no confrontation is really inherently unfair. In The Adventure (and, let’s face it, in the original Castlevania as well), confrontation often amounts to a test of memorization, as chances are you’re not going to make it through a level flawlessly on your first life, even with snap-to-it reflexes.
One other gripe I hear mentioned from time to time in other reviews of the game is the replacement of stairs in the game with climbable ropes. Some make a bigger deal of this change than I feel is really warranted? In fact, in one way, it’s actually something like an improvement! In the original Castlevania, you infamously couldn’t jump while walking up or down stairs, effectively locking you into the space until you reached level ground, and setting you up for several types of enemy attacks. With the ropes in The Adventure, you can jump off whenever you need to in case of impending danger. The third stage in particular makes use of ropes as part of elaborate jumping puzzles that see you jumping from rope to rope. Whether that puzzle is particularly fun or not (it isn’t) isn’t the point here. The point is, the developers actually attempted to justify the change by designing content around it, rather than just changing it for pure convenience-of-design reasons. All that being said, not being to use your whip while climbing ropes sucks, and seems like an oversight considering there are sprites specifically for when you hold left or right while climbing, which make it look almost like Christopher is readying his weapon.
A change which really is entirely unfair to criticize is the “lack of content” in the game, which amounts to four stages and which can together be beaten in under thirty minutes once you get a grasp of the game. Bear in mind that we’re dealing with a console in its infancy here, and a library of games that mostly consisted of single-screen sports or puzzle affair. For a bit of comparison, Super Mario Land takes roughly the same amount of time to finish, and it’s “12 stages” each translate to roughly one-third the length of a stage in The Adventure. Another factor contributing to the perceived lack of content is a lack of enemy variety when compared to the console releases, which again is kind of unfair. Game Boy cartridges in 1989 had a capacity for something between 32 and 64 kilobytes of storage, with 128kb and larger sizes only becoming financially viable months later. You could only cram so much into them, y’know? If there’s a complaint to be made about the enemies, it should really be that many of them don’t really feel like classic Castlevania enemies, with none of the facsimiles of the “Universal Monsters” or biblical demons that you hope to see in the series. Death incarnate doesn’t even bother making their usual appearance (which, to be fair, they also didn’t show up in Simon’s Quest either).
Which brings us to one of the biggest problems with The Adventure, and one which is particularly a nuisance when more than one of those enemies is on-screen: Oh god how is it so sluggish? Any Castlevania fan will tell you that the early Belmonts were never known for their agility, but Christopher moves and reacts so slowly, you have to wonder if he’s even medically cleared to go on this adventure. In addition to control sluggishness, there is also the separate matter of performance sluggishness, with the Game Boy struggling to render action on-screen. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is the culprit for the performance issues and framerate drops (it frequently drops into the 10~15 range), as it’s likely a combination of multiple issues and failures to optimize. If I can make an excuse for the developers, many of the technical tricks and programming tools that would make later Game Boy releases possible and playable didn’t exist yet, and this was largely uncharted territory for the team. That being said, they would’ve been better off not trying to push the limits, rather than completely failing at the attempt as they do.
The Adventure has only recently been rivaled by 2013’s Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate for the 3DS in terms of poor framerate in the series, which is sort of unacceptable in its own respect. But allowing these issues to persist on the original “brick” model Game Boy, with its constant graphics ghosting and lack of color contrast? That reads like the developers not really taking the console they were developing for into consideration; just looking to meet the bare minimum of functionality in applying for that Nintendo Seal of Quality. It’s a shame that effort was put into making the game visually interesting – with effective use of backgrounds and good distinction between character sprites and stage elements – only for it to be buried under layers of blurred graphics trails and served at a framerate constantly in flux. As I said earlier; the developers can be forgiven for not understanding how to extract the full potential from the hardware. But in that case, they needed to design around those limitations rather than suffer for them. There’s no finer example of their failure to do so than the jumping puzzles that appear in every level of the game.
Every hazardous jump in the game requires Christopher’s sprite to be hanging half off your launching platform. There is one — maybe two pixels of space where you can safely jump from any given platform in order to reach the next. It does not help that many of the platforms you’ll be jumping to and from begin to fall when you land on them, giving you a fraction of a second to make another jump to another waiting platform. The third stage also introduces platforms that move vertically up and down in rooms with instant-kill spikes lining the ceiling, to where there is a split-second window of opportunity where you can jump between platforms without impaling your head at the top of your jump. There are also several jumps that taunt you with items that appear nearly impossible to collect, in the case of candles that hover above falling platforms at such a height that you can’t hope to whip them in mid-air and not still be stuck in the animation by the time you land, leaving you unable to jump in time to not fall to your death. Can the jumps eventually be mastered? Sure, save for the candle traps. By the end of the game, you get used to the necessary positioning and the tempo of timing them out. Would it have been better if you had been given just two more pixels of jumping height / distance? I’d certainly say so.
I understand that on some level, part of what makes the early Castlevanias great is their challenge. The original Castlevania requires an absolute mastery of its incredibly deliberate and precise control in order to progress through the stages. It further requires players to learn the rhythm of combat, as well as to learn to predict patterns in the level design itself. When you do finally understand “how the game is meant to be played,” it eventually comes as second nature, with the reward coming in the form of being able to breeze through sections of the game that you previously may have thought “impossible” or “unfair” at first attempt. The Adventure offers no such reward, since so much of the game truly IS unfair. Due to inconsistency in level design and an inability to predict / prepare for certain attacks, there are moments in the game where you are nearly guaranteed to take damage, unless you have absolutely committed the stages to memory. I’m talking about enemies and projectiles that appear on-screen without sufficient distance / time to see and react to them. I’m talking about scenarios where you’re attacked from all sides, and given one frame of opportunity in which to respond without taking a hit. And with the game constantly punishing you for every “mistake” you make by stripping away your vital whip upgrades, it’s hard not to get frustrated.
It’s a cruel irony that the boss encounters – often regarded to be some of the most difficult situations in the early Castlevanias – are so easy here they’re actually disappointing. If you manage to keep the maxed out whip intact, two of the four encounters (the “Under Moles” in stage two and “Death Bat” in stage three) can be rendered so easy they’re actually boring to fight. If you remember in Simon’s Quest, the final confrontation with Dracula can be easily overcome with clever use of the “Sacred Flame” subweapon, leading to one of the easiest final boss encounters in video game history. The Adventure ranks right up there, requiring little more than moving slightly to the right of where the battle begins and using a series of easily-timed jump attacks to beat Dracula’s first form within 10 seconds. His second form is only slightly more difficult, tasking you with figuring out which platform you need to stand on that puts you in a perfect position to both attack Drac and completely avoid his spawning bats. Yes, these easy boss victories are more or less contingent on retaining your whip’s power, which is easier said than done. But the fact that recurring enemies pose more of a risk than the bosses is troubling design in itself, innit?
“Lack of consistency” seems to be the recurring issue in The Adventure. Whether it’s consistency in level design, maintaining a consistent framerate, or even remaining formulaically consistent with the original console games, The Adventure deals in often wild variances. About the only consistent quality of the game is its soundtrack, which is quite nice. Not the best in series history, but some of the tracks certainly have the potential to get stuck in your head. In fact, the soundtrack is perhaps the strongest link to the rest of the series, feeling more “like Castlevania” than any other aspect of the game. Obviously, that doesn’t speak to well for the rest of the game, does it? But it’s here where I have to come around full circle; back to that Tiger Electronics take on Castlevania. It’s here where we have to remember what existed before the Game Boy, and consider how much longer it would take before handheld gaming established a set of standards for itself. By that metric, did the game have any merit? Of course it did. The problem was, it had no longevity.
If further concessions had been made to the graphics and enemies, the game may have been able to perform at least a little bit smoother, and probably have escaped with minimal complaints as to the lack of visual detail. That’s realistically about the only change that could’ve been made to the game (besides tweaking the jumping) given the limits on cartridge space, and given the limited time the development team likely had to get the game finished. What many fail to consider is that The Adventure existed within a very specific window of time, and with a very specific purpose in mind: To offer a new action platformer on a console severely lacking in such games. And for a moment in time, it was one of only four platformers available on the handheld, along with Super Mario Land, Mickey Mouse, and Hyper Lode Runner. And those last two there were puzzle platformers, not to mention the fact they were only available in Japan until 1990! The next action platformer on the Game Boy would be Batman: The Video Game, which arrived in the states as late as June of 1990. That was nearly half a year between the two games!** And so, much like the Tiger Electronics LCD games that predated The Adventure, many were content with what was available to them at the time.
** It was roughly the same amount of time between the two games in Japan too, taking their release dates into account: October 1989 for The Adventure, and April 1990 for Batman.
Some Pretty Frightful Dudes
In July and August of 1991, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge hit shelves in Japan and North America respectively. And it was awesome, serving as an improvement in nearly every regard and becoming one of the best action platformers in the Game Boy’s entire history. It ran smoother, controlled better, looked neater, added more (including the return of secondary weapons), and even sounded sweeter. “New Messiah” is actually one of my favorite songs in the entire series! But the bigger point here is, it outclassed The Adventure in nearly every conceivable aspect, and demonstrated the advancements that had been made in developing for the Game Boy between releases. Given time to develop technical know-how, as well as practice with developing other titles, the team tasked with developing Belmont’s Revenge were able to put together an incredible little game that managed to make full extent of the hardware at hand. That’s the key of it, really. It was given time; a luxury not afforded to The Adventure.
I usually like to shy away from accusing publishers of “trying to make a quick buck,” since I understand the need to make money for a company and since it can inadvertently imply the development teams were “in on it” as well. I like to give developers the benefit of the doubt, and assume they’re all out to make the best games they can, given whatever constraints they’re given by their publishers or the general state of the industry at a moment in time. I like to believe the staff behind The Adventure did the best they could with limited time and resources, designing for a system they had no experience with. If there’s blame to be laid here, it should be on Konami themselves, who were willing to risk the reputation of one of their rising brands. It’s short-sighted business, gambling on the future of a franchise that they should recognized and respected the long-term value of.
Yes, Castlevania did quickly recuperate from whatever damage The Adventure may have done, and continued on for decades to come. We should all be thankful that it did, as it has left us with some some great games in that time. And all things said and done, The Adventure isn’t the worst game in the Game Boy library. Far from it, really. But at a time where the library was so small, and where the lack of quality control was so apparent compared to some of Nintendo’s first-party fare, it definitely left players wondering about the limits of their new handheld, and what direction exactly was the Castlevania franchise headed in? It certainly didn’t help that Nintendo Power’s review of the game at the time straight-up lied about features of the game, implying that secondary weapons were present in the game and that there was a fifth stage to be played! It’s one thing to ignore issues like performance and control in order to try and sell a game, but to pretend there’s content that there clearly isn’t? Who would think they could possibly get away with that? Oh, that’s right: Konami, probably. It likely would have been them who submitted something like a press kit for their game to Nintendo Power’s writing staff, running down the supposed features and expecting them to be reprinted without the reviewer having actually bothered to play the game themselves.
I contend that even within the small window of time where it was relevant, The Adventure can certainly be chalked up as a disappointment. It filled a hole, sure, but it left it bumpy and uneven. I’m sure there are some out there who look back on The Adventure with nostalgia, remembering a time where their options and alternatives were really kind of non-existent (unless they felt compelled to dust off that old Tiger Electronic game). But among those who were slightly more discerning at that time, they would almost certainly find frustration and develop mistrust. The Adventure is just barely good enough that it didn’t leave more consumers feeling betrayed than they did, and one flaw more really might’ve pushed it over that edge. At that point, it might not have mattered how good Belmont’s Revenge was, since consumers might’ve been left without faith in the franchise to produce a competent handheld game. It’s very hard to win back fans after disappointing them, even with just one lackluster installment in an otherwise great series. Is it any wonder why Konami dropped “The Adventure” subtitle completely for Belmont’s Revenge, despite it being a direct sequel and featuring the same protagonist? They knew the negative connotations that some had attached to the first game, and looked to distance themselves from it as far as they could (while still recycling whatever assets and concepts they could).
All that being said, and knowing full well that The Adventure didn’t completely deliver… that didn’t stop Konami from re-releasing the game as part of the Konami GB Collection for the Game Boy Color in 1997, alongside versions of Nemesis (known better to many as Gradius), F1 Spirit, and Operation C. Incredibly, this version of the game still doesn’t bother to smooth over several of the performance issues with the original, as having multiple enemies on-screen still causes noticeable system chug. It’s particularly egregious considering how well Operation C runs with even more happening on screen at any moment in time! To the color version of The Adventure’s credit, it does seem to move at least a bit faster than the original in less busy scenarios, and the use of color really does enhance the game. But I have to wonder why they bothered at all? Oh, that’s right: Money, probably.
As a final attempt to make bank on whatever misplaced nostalgia players in 1989 may have had for The Adventure, there was one last attempt at reusing the branding: The 2009 WiiWare release of Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth. Telling the story of Christopher Belmont once again, the game consists of six stages, none of which have any relation to the four stages of the original game. In fact, other than the fact that it stars Christopher, it has almost no relation to The Adventure whatsoever (outside of a few of the recurring enemies and hazards). As such, it’s actually an excellent action platformer, and one which reminds you of how great the pre-Metroidvania era of Castlevania truly was. Not that the Metroidvanias aren’t great as well, but they do tend to overshadow the platformer era games at times.
So, what lesson is there to be learned from all this? Something like “don’t rush games to market,” I guess. Being the first to meet a market’s demand isn’t always as advantageous as it sounds, since it usually requires cutting a lot of corners in trying to get there first. Sure, you’ll do well in the short-term while you’re the only game in town, but “firsts” are rarely remembered as fondly as the games that improve and iterate on them. A second lesson to be learned is that if you insist on rushing a game to market, don’t put a beloved franchise’s name and reputation at stake in the process. Slapping the Castlevania name on The Adventure wasn’t necessary when simply marketing any new action platformer on the Game Boy would’ve guaranteed sales at the time. Hell, it could’ve been an opportunity to establish a new IP; something that would have gained an immediate and sizeable amount of interest. Using the Castlevania name may have helped sell a few more copies on name value, but it damaged the brand in the same way portraying Simon Belmont as a cowardly fighter pilot in a cartoon did: It’s a misrepresentation of what the series values as its fundamentals. But of course, Konami executives never truly understood what made Castlevania as successful as it was. All they knew was “it makes money,” and that’s really all they wanted to know. Whatever made them that quick buck, I reckon.