Thursday, April 11, 2019

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth Review

Back in 2008/2009, Konami had the incredible idea of getting M2 (known for their Virtual Console emulators and Sega Ages Series) to make 3 new retro inspired Konami revival games exclusively for the Nintendo Wii's pre-eShop digital game store, the Wii Shop Channel. One of these games was Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth, a remake of the first Castlevania game released on the Game Boy, and one of the worst Castlevania games ever made, Castlevania: The Adventure. Thankfully, The Adventure ReBirth has very little in common with the 1989 GB original besides the story.

In Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth, you play as Simon Belmont’s ancestor (probably grandfather), Christopher Belmont. It’s set in 1576, 100 years after Castlevania III, and 115 years before the original Castlevania. In this game, Dracula returns 100 years after being killed by Trevor Belmont and is “killed” by Christopher, but it is not until the Game Boy sequel, Belmont’s Revenge (15 years later), that Dracula is killed and stays dead until Castlevania I. There is no elaborate story going on here. Christopher is the current heir to the Vampire Killer whip and must kill Dracula after his scheduled 100 year resurrection.

The original Castlevania: The Adventure was released around 5 months after the launch of the GB in Japan. It was a very rudimentary Castlevania game. The classic monster theme and basic whipping and jumping gameplay were there, but the level design was very simple and repetitive, the graphics were nowhere near as detailed as the NES games, and it had constant slowdown, even when there were no enemies on screen. The music was okay for a GB game, though. Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth is about as far from that game as a remake can be while still being considered a remake.

There's very little about this game that makes me think of the GB original. Some of the enemies that debuted in that game return, but it's not like any of them haven't shown up in other Castlevanias. There are still only 2 whip upgrades, but they're not downgraded every time you get hit. The max whip upgrade still shoots fireballs, but only for a limited time. The bosses are all different except for Dracula, and this final battle is much more like the classic final battle than the GB game's final battle. The level design is completely different, but ReBirth does still have a lot of vertical sections, and the giant spears that come out of the wall and can be used as platforms also make a return here. The cathedral level in ReBirth looks like it's inspired by the final level in the GB game, but the rest of game looks more like a greatest hits of Castlevania than the GB game. You have the courtyard, entrance, caves, clock tower, and the long staircase leading up to Dracula's throne room. It's a lot of the same stuff we see in the original Castlevania and its remakes, Super Castlevania IV and Castlevania Chronicles. This game does that a lot, and I'm perfectly fine with it.

Even though this game's subtitle is “The Adventure”, it is not an action adventure game, like Simon's Quest. Castlevania: The Adventure and ReBirth are pure action platformers, or Classicvanias. ReBirth is a little different from the GB, though. ReBirth has branching paths, similarly to Bloodlines, and keys for locked doors, like Rondo of Blood. Keys can be found inside the breakable walls and candles and carried around in the subweapon slot, but if you get a subweapon while carrying a key, you will lose the key. It's okay if you lose it; though, because all things behind locked doors are completely optional. Sometimes you'll find little rooms full of score boost items and 1ups, sometimes it's a much needed whip upgrade, and sometimes it's an alternate path through the level. Not all alternate paths are locked behind these doors, though. These alternate paths sometimes lead you to different midbosses, and usually shave a minute or two off the time it takes to get to the boss, but they always lead you to the same final boss of the level.

As far as controls go, ReBirth feels like it was modeled after Castlevania Chronicles. Christopher walks like a guy looking for a fight, kind of like Simon in Chronicles, but his walking speed is faster, and his walk cycle has more frames of animation. He has air control very similar to Simon in Chronicles, and can't turn around and whip behind him, like Richter can in Rondo of Blood. Christopher can also hit enemies behind him with the windup frames of his whip attack, like John Morris in Bloodlines. There are no ropes to climb in ReBirth, like in the GB game, but it does have stairs, like most Castlevanias, which you can't jump on or off them, like in Rondo of Blood. There is a “Classic” option that gives you rigid jumps, takes away most subweapons and back whip hits, and downgrades your fireball whip if you get hit, if that's your thing, but it doesn't feel like the game is really designed for that. Classic feels more like an optional difficulty setting that is supposed to make the game feel more like the GB game, but doesn't go all the way.

The Game Boy game didn't have subweapons, but ReBirth brings the classic ones from the earlier games back. The dagger, axe, pocket watch, holy water, and cross are all here, and they work exactly the same way they do in the NES games. There's nothing like an Item Crash or super move in this game, though.

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth is the most technically advanced 2D Castlevania by default. It is the last mainline Castlevania ever made after all. The backgrounds aren't as detailed as in the DS games, or as varied as Symphony of the Night's, but they are completely original and drawn in real 640x480 resolution. It's not scaled up like a SNES game on Wii VC. It also runs at a constant 60 FPS. I think all the enemy sprites are just touched up versions of sprites from Rondo of Blood - Order of Ecclesia, but most of the bosses and Christopher use new sprites, and they look really nice. This game doesn't look like a long lost SNES or PS1 game, it's at least Dreamcast quality!

The thing that kind of ruins the graphics is that they are pre-squished horizontally. Unlike nearly all 8-bit and 16-bit games, this game was made with the way old TVs stretched pixels horizontally into rectangles in mind, so if you're playing on a widescreen TV, that can't replicate the CRT 4:3 stretch, everything is going to look a bit thinner and narrower than it was meant to look. There are options to adjust how wide the image is, but the game automatically puts an ugly smoothing filter on as soon as you start messing with that. It also cuts off the sides of the image if you have your Wii/Wii U set to a 4:3 aspect ratio. The game also automatically turns the smoothing filter on if you have your system set to 16:9, and there's no way to turn it off, but it at least lets you adjust the image to get the correct aspect ratio without cutting off the sides, so I just played it like that. And in 720p because the Wii U can do that.

The soundtrack is all remixes of classic Castlevania tunes by composer, Manabu Namiki. Reincarnated Soul from Bloodlines is in there, Vampire Killer, Aquarius and Riddle from Castlevania III, Lullaby Sent to the Devil from Haunted Castle, New Messiah from Belmont's Revenge. Lots of great tracks, and not just the usual stuff. Weirdly enough, none of them are from The Adventure on Game Boy.

Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth is all thriller, no filler! Yeah, it only has 6 stages, and the last one is just the Dracula battle, but it's a great Classicvania from beginning to end, and better than the GB original in every way. It was only $10, too. Sadly, you can't buy this game anymore since the Wii Shop Channel closed a while ago. Which is a real shame because not only is this a great game, it's also the last mainline Castlevania ever made. Hopefully, Konami will put this on the upcoming Castlevania collection because this game is definitely in the top 8 of Classicvanias.