(GB / Game Boy)

Castlevania Legends (GB / Game Boy)

Game Review

Castlevania Legends Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Damien McFerran

Tainted bloodline

The odds were stacked against Castlevania Legends almost from the start. When it was released towards the end of the '90s, it had the near-impossible task of following Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - a game which had revitalised Konami's gothic series and won widespread critical acclaim.

To add to the heady level of expectation, it was one of the first games from Konami's fledgling (and now defunct) Nagoya studio, which would later code the commendable but ultimately inferior Sega Saturn port of Symphony of the Night. Another reason fans had to be excited was the game's status as the sequel to the fantastic Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge, arguably one of the best action titles on the console. And finally, it was one of the last big-name monochrome Game Boy games before the system was usurped by its successor, the Game Boy Color.

Given this combination of circumstances, it's perhaps unsurprising that Castlevania fans expected something big, but they were left feeling bitterly disappointed.

Positioned as an origin story and notable for being the 'first' Castlevania adventure in terms of chronology (until the release of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence in 2003, at least), Castlevania Legends sees a female Belmont assume the lead role for the first time in the history of the franchise. Sonia Belmont makes a positive first impression - she's capable of changing direction mid-jump and can even crawl whilst crouching - something that was only previously possible in Super Castlevania IV. Equipped with the trademark whip - which can be powered up by collecting special items - Sonia feels like a true Belmont, at least.

Another neat touch is the fact that Dracula's troubled offspring Alucard makes an appearance as an end-of-level boss, his intention being not to harm the heroine, but to test her mettle to ensure she's up to the task of taking on his villainous father. Something which is rather less welcome is the insinuation during the end credits that Alucard is Trevor Belmont's father, and therefore the entire Belmont bloodline is actually part-vampire - arguably one of the key reasons that Castlevania Legends has since been removed from the official timeline of the franchise.

Visually, Castlevania Legends is a mess. From the barren and repetitive backgrounds to the unimpressive sprites (only a handful of which possess more than two frames of animation), the game looks downright amateurish. Compared to the brilliant presentation of Belmont's Revenge, the drop in quality is shocking - even more so when you consider that a staggering seven years separates the two titles. Given the amazing advancements made in Game Boy development by companies like Rare during the middle of the decade, it's almost unforgivable that Castlevania Legends was released in the Game Boy's twilight years.

Despite some tight and responsive control, the gameplay doesn't do much to win you over, either. Castlevania Legends appears to have been created by somebody who has only the vaguest grasp of game design. Levels are constructed in such a manner that enemies often fall off high, unseen platforms and land directly onto your character, giving you no time to react. Elsewhere, platforms are arranged almost at random, which makes picking out a safe route a case of luck rather than skill. Couple these problems with some crippling slowdown and the game becomes even harder to enjoy.

Also, for some inexplicable reason, Konami Nagoya decided to include special 'trap' rooms, which can only be escaped by defeating a series of re-spawning enemies. Your reward for surviving this frustrating onslaught? Freedom from the room, and nothing else. By the time you've fallen foul of these traps (some of which are unavoidable, while others are triggered by whipping candles which look identical to all the other candles in the game) for the third or fourth time, you'll be close to hurling your Game Boy at the nearest wall in disgust.

The frustration doesn't end there, though. Enemies automatically re-spawn, so if you back-track (as you often have to do, as the game features many dead ends) you'll have to battle them all over again. In the interests of keeping you on your toes, this could be seen as a benefit. However, there are moments when you'll have to fight the same enemy repeatedly because it knocks you backwards, and by the time you're killed it and are ready to advance again, it has re-spawned right on the edge of the screen.

To counter this terrible game design, Konami Nagoya took a drastic approach. Instead of rebalancing the difficulty, the studio simply added an 'easy' setting in the form of the Light Mode. Here, your whip is permanently at its fullest power, making things a little easier. If you ever feel the need to ignore this review and experience the game for yourself, Light Mode is the way to do so as it's slightly less likely to give you high blood pressure.

While the game itself is generally shoddy, Konami Nagoya should at least be commended for attempting to factor in some new elements. In a controversial move, the sub-weapon system has been removed entirely, replaced by a spell mechanic. These 'Soul-weapons' consume hearts - just like the traditional sub-weapons - but you get a new one upon the completion of each level. The iconic sub-weapons haven't been completely forgotten, however - they're hidden as collectable items throughout the game, and are one of the main reasons the stages have so many branching pathways and dead ends.

Another addition in Castlevania Legends is 'Burning Mode', which can be activated once per level and temporarily turns Sonia into an invincible, flame-covered harbinger of death. Best saved for the tricky boss encounters (which are made even more challenging by the fact that you can never see how much health the boss has remaining), Burning Mode is a neat feature, but it feels like it's there to balance out the unfair challenge more than anything else.

The Castlevania series is famed for the high standard of its music, but aside from a stirring variation on the classic Bloody Tears for the opening level, Castlevania Legends' soundtrack is one of the most jarringly discordant we've yet witnessed on the Game Boy. Again, this is in stark contrast to the music featured in Belmont's Revenge, which managed to overcome the limitations of the hardware to deliver classic, toe-tapping tunes. Regrettably, Castlevania Legends is one of the few titles in the lineage that you'll want to play with the volume turned right down.

When Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi expunged Castlevania Legends from the 'canon' timeline in 2002, he admitted that the game was something of an embarrassment. While one could assume his stance was largely due to the fact that he didn't personally oversee the production of the title, it's hard to disagree with his opinion. Castlevania Legends is a shambling mess of a game which very nearly plunges to the depths previously charted by the equally hateful Castlevania: The Adventure. Don't be sucked in by the name; this is best avoided.


After the sublime Belmont's Revenge, Castlevania fans deserved something really special to see off the series on the Game Boy. Sadly, they got Castlevania Legends instead. Poorly-designed, atrociously scored and generally lacking any of the polish we've come to expect from Konami's famous vampire-slaying series, its an inauspicious end to a portable trilogy that only has one worthwhile entry: the aforementioned second title. Don't be fooled by the game's steadily-increasing value on sites like eBay - this is collectable solely for its name alone, not for the game itself.

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User Comments (19)



belmont said:

I kind of liked this game but, as it is obvious, I am a fan of the series and my opinion may be a little biased.

Anyway what I liked about this game is the multiple endings (sort of). The more collectibles you find the more lines of text you see in the ending.



Omega said:

I like this game very much. It's easier than the other Castlevanias on the Classic Gameboy. Surely not a bad thing for everyone. And it has a female protagonist.



Ryno said:

After reading this review I definitely want this game now!



ueI said:

"However, there are moments when you'll have to fight the same enemy repeatedly because it knocks you backwards, and by the time you're killed it and are ready to advance again, it has re-spawned right on the edge of the screen."
Oh, so it's one of those games. I just decided to look this game up on youtube. Legend's soundtrack is much better than the one in Harmony of Dissonance.



Bass_X0 said:

Castlevania Legends is not canon to the Castlevania storyline. Not because of its quality, it could have been great and it still wouldn't be canon. Its simply because the creator of the Castlevania series doesn't like there being a female Belmont as a hero.

I bet the voice acting was better in this game than in Symphony of the Night.

You're saying SotN's is bad? I don't. I like it. The supposedly superior PSP version just doesn't sound right to me. The whole "Die monster! You don't belong in this world!" is enjoyable to listen to and is memorable.



ueI said:

Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge is supposedly good. Damien gave it a 9.



WolfRamHeart said:

I guess that I will just skip this one and wait for Belmont's Revenge to arrive on the 3DS Virtual Console.



RegalSin said:

This game was great. I own it. The bad part is how Konomi never released the 3d version of this game on the Dreamcast. Which they were suppose to do. People even made pre-orders for it as well in the back of magazines.

Konami also allowed this western idiot to do super bad things to the story and kill off the actual timeline about Belmonts mother.

Great game could have had an Anime to it as well. I might play it again on an real Gameboy or GBA sometime. It is a challenge and compare to the other GB games is really something original and auwsome.



tanookisuit said:

I find this review as an owner of this game is more of a dishonest travesty with the number assigned and some (not all) of the complaints about it. Sure it wasn't a big hop in detail over Belmont's Revenge, but it improves upon every thing that stunk about the original Castlevania Adventure. The graphics and backgrounds are decent, the sound(music) is fantastic, and the controls are quite spot on. Perhaps you need a hearing aide? The first stage music alone is amazing and is a throwback piece most would recognize very easily. Yes it has cheap moments with drop in enemies (or just placement), and I do question no energy bar showing for the bosses too, so yes with the randomness of things the general level design in places is a mixed bag of pain and pleasure.

The traps you brought up, they're not really traps, but more gotcha moments. You're making it out like all candles look the same, but the trap candles have no shading, they're all WHITE so they're avoided easily if you look carefully and yes they do suck if you fall in.

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