The Castlevania series of action platformers is widely regarded as containing some of the best games on the Famicom, and indeed home consoles full-stop, with top-notch instalments on Super Famicom, PC Engine, Playstation and handheld platforms to name a few.
Needless to say the news that the first GameBoy game was being given the WiiWare ReBirth treatment by Konami was met with both cheers and a little scepticism - after all, it's not held in the highest regard by the series' fans, so why choose to remake this title? Well, it could be that it had great music or simply that the Japanese name, Dracula Legend, just sounded really cool. In any event fans who might be dubious should rest easy, as this is certainly a game that lives up to the Castlevania name.
The title screen is much like other Konami ReBirth games: a static title with the flashing "PRESS ANY BUTTON" that wouldn't look out of place on an 8- or 16-bit console, but for the much higher level of detail in the title graphic. You then have the option to jump right in and start the game or set some options, and as with Contra ReBirth all options are in English. There are three difficulty levels: Easy, Normal and Hard. You have independent control over sound and music volume, the number of lives can be set from 1-9 with a default of 3, and then there are controller configuration options. There are four control schemes on offer: Remote alone, Remote + Nunchuk, Classic Controller or Gamecube controller. There are only two action buttons so it's really down to personal preference, and the buttons can be remapped if you don't like the defaults. If you want to go the Nunchuk route you can crack the whip with a Remote swipe, but that's the only nod to newfangled controls in the game.
Starting the game up you'll immediately note that this doesn't look like a Gameboy game. The game appears to be composed entirely of 2D sprites, with sprite-textured pre-rendered polygons being much harder to spot than in other ReBirth entries. Dracula Legend ReBirth looks just like a cleaned-up Super Famicom or PC Engine title, with good use of colour and fluid animations that weren't really possible on 16-bit consoles.
The soundtrack contains faithful renderings of Castlevania music from previous entries in the series and is simply excellent. It's easy to think you're simply playing some long-lost sequel to Castlevania IV on the old SNES and forget it's a WiiWare game, it's that good. Some of the sound effects are a bit odd and appear to have been taken from a stock sound reel, with boings and monster sounds you may recognise from low budget films or Saturday morning cartoons, but on the whole it fits the mood.
Fans of the original games on the NES (and people who enjoy a good root canal sans anaesthetic) will probably be disappointed at first. The first stage seems to be pretty easy: the stairs just aren't the death traps they used to be as you cannot jump off them, but you can change direction and attack enemies - plus there's no bounce back from getting hit! Jumps seem to be a bit more forgiving without the old leap of death because you were a pixel off. Of course there are some trade-offs: you'll rarely see anything that restores your health, the whip upgrades level out pretty quickly and you cannot attack in diagonals. Whilst secondary weapons seem plentiful they're triggered by pressing up on the d-pad and then using the attack button, but for some reason this isn't detected consistently which can be a bit annoying.
By the time you get midway through the second stage you'll start to notice the game getting a bit tougher, with some trademark Castlevania goofy level design as you jump across various water wheels and moving platforms. It's in Stage 3 that the pain really starts though, and root canal fans will be well pleased at getting killed by room-spanning spears that launch from the walls (and which you need to use like platforms - joy!) whilst endless armies of flying pink pterodactyls and bone-chucking skeletons attack you. Best of all, if you continue after losing your last life you start the stage AT THE BEGINNING and there are NO SAVES. Make no mistake, despite "only" having six stages this game is no pushover. Whilst it feels less unfair than Castlevania IV, people who have a special dislike of Castlevania games will likely still be put off by the difficulty of this one (though there is always Easy difficulty to consider), but you can still get a lot out of it due to the crafty level design.
Your path throughout the game is pretty clear, but there are bonus areas with extra swag to be had. There are also keys that unlock doors to alternate paths, though these will be lost if you pick up any secondary weapons so there's often a trade-off between fun bonus stuff and fun alternate routes. Each stage has one or more sub-bosses and then the main boss followed by the trademark orb, though once you get that the stage just ends, with no mindless walking to the exit afterwards.
On the whole it's a nice entry to the ReBirth series and should tick the boxes for the old-school Castlevania fans whilst fixing a lot of the issues that plagued earlier entries. The Belmonts are still deathly allergic to water however, although thankfully they can be immersed in it a bit without going into shock. It sure would have been nice to record your best scores though, Konami.