Sunday 4 April 2010

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth

Castlevania hasn't really been my thing, mostly because it's made its home on platforms I don't own in territories I don't live in. For years I thought it was a Japanese take on horror, with added depression thrown in to make sure it didn't appeal to anybody, and that's because for years only one Castlevania game crossed my path: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the Sega Saturn. And it was a Japanese exclusive. And all the art for it was questionable.

Though I've caught up a bit since, I've still yet to sit down and complete a Castlevania game. I haven't been treated to the same level of frustration as the Americans, but all that has changed thanks to Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth on WiiWare.

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth is a remake of Castlevania: The Adventure, an early Game Boy title released way back in 1989. The Game Boy outing suffered considerably as a result of this - it lacked various Castlevania features such as sub-weapons and stairs, and was outclassed by its later sequels. Recently though, Konami decided to fix these flaws... mostly by creating an entirely new game to take its place in history.

CARB is a downloadable WiiWare game that drops all the post-1997 Castlevania stuff and brings the series back to its roots. Make sense when you think about it. The player is tasked with controlling Christopher Belmont, and he goes off to defeat Dracula with a whip. As with other ReBirth games, it's meant to look like something that may have emerged from the early 1990s, sporting lower-than-normal resolution graphics and an FM soundtrack. It does have numerous additions that wouldn't be possible, like crystal clear voice samples and various special effects, but generally it looks like something that may have been released on a MegaDrive/SNES hybrid.

The game is fairly simple. You've got a whip, and it kills things. It can be upgraded into a longer chain whip and then, for a limited time, a fire whip that acts like a projectile, but there's not much more to it than that. There are sub-weapons which have limited ammo, and this ammo comes in the form of hearts (which was also confusing twenty five years ago). Health powerups are virtually non-existent (and are mostly hidden), though you can take a bit of beating before you die. Gameplay is essentially about the same as the original NES game, though CARB offers the option to give the player more freedom in the air while jumping.

There's also significantly fewer pits than in some Castlevania games, so there's less danger of being thrown off the edge after being hurt. I found my GameCube's D-Pad a bit unresponsive when it came to changing directions, resulting in a few cheap hits from enemies, but aside from that I can say it's a pretty pleasant experience and a bit more refined than some of the early outings.

There are only a small handful of levels, each with their own sub-boss as well as an end of level boss. They're long and the later ones can be challenging, but even if you're somehow displeased with the length don't forget the original game only had four. The later levels in CARB are extremely difficult for a novice player, like myself, who hasn't had much experience with the franchise. It's been a while since I've played a new game that was as challenging as this.

But the biggest issue I had with the game was the time limit. I don't see any purpose for a time limit in a Castlevania game, yet I've found that this is just as deadly as anything else the game throws at you. By the time you've reached the third and fourth end-of-level bosses you usually have less than a minute or two to get the job done. And with only three lives per continue and no way to obtain new ones, there's a lot of GAME OVERs and restarting of stages. Luckily, despite what many reviewers would have you believe, there is indeed a save system in place. All you have to do is hold right on the menu screen and you'll get a list of completed levels. Why this option is hidden I can't say, but at least it's there.

The music is brilliant, but this has always been the case with Castlevania. Could possibly use a few more instruments so that things sounded a bit more appropriate for some areas, but compared to what Sonic the Hedgehog 4 is offering it's godlike. Sadly none of it is original for this title - the tracks come from previous (though admittedly somewhat obscure) titles in the franchise, including Haunted Castle in the Arcades, Bloodlines on the Mega Drive, Belmont's Revenge on the Game Boy and bizarrely the file loading theme in the Sharp X68000 port of Castlevania. It's remixed of course to take advantage of Konami's made-up sound hardware, but this game's not adding anything new to the mix. Another staple of the Castlevania franchise is re-using music so it's not a huge surprise.

Overall I was pretty impressed with this, and I'm half inspired to search for others. You could consider it to be a tad overpriced at 1000 Wii points, especially considering longer Castlevanias with CD audio soundtracks are priced for less, but I think it's a good deal and a good game.

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