Nintendo’s Gunpei Yokoi sparked a handheld revolution with the introduction of the Game Boy in 1989. It would start the ball rolling on Nintendo’s virtual handheld domination of the market with new models following afterwards offering new features and, most importantly, great games for a quarter of a century.
Depending on who you talk to, though, Castlevania: The Adventure was not one of those games.
It was released a little later in the same year that the Game Boy had come out and had returned to the traditional linear side-scrolling and platforming mechanics of the first game. Despite the daring RPG-lite changes made to the original formula by Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Konami seemed to realize that players may not have been ready for an open world Castlevania just yet. That and they probably also needed a bit more time to polish the formula to make it more fun.
The story, as told on the back of the box and in the manual itself, is pretty thrifty on the details. If you go by what the North American box says on its back, it sounds as if the game takes place right after Simon’s Quest and that Dracula has arisen again leaving it up to our nameless adventurer to put a stop to his evil. But in 1991, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge was released with a story tying itself to this game and giving a name to our hero — Christopher Belmont. Just where exactly he fits into the Castlevania mythos is as good as guess as anyone’s at that point as it seemed those two Game Boy versions, at least at the time, followed their own gaiden (it was simply known as Castlevania attached to a subtitle without a number) while the console versions followed theirs.
Mark Bozon’s retrospective for Castlevania on IGN, however, notes that the game apparently takes place in 1576 — something that neither manual says but was likely a bit of information shared to news sites as part of a preview piece which wouldn’t have been unusual. If you didn’t keep up with your favorite news sites, though, it’s a detail that could easily escape notice further confusing things for lore hounds intent on trying to work through the info. It was just a small bit of context for players and not the kind of sprawling myth-making that Castlevania embarked on with its later titles.
Castlevania: The Adventure consisted of four major stages with a boss (a “Primary Evil”) waiting at the end of each including the Count himself. Players were given two extra lives and new ones were earned at 10,000 points with new ones earned every 20,000 points afterwards. Points could be earned by picking up coins from smashing candle holders along with power-ups such as a cross which gave temporary invincibility and the crystals that upgraded the whip. A few more differences set this apart from the original Castlevania as well.
There were no secondary weapons fueled by “heart” points. Instead, hearts restored Christopher’s health bar. Magic crystals could power up his whip twice: once turning it into a ball and chain, and one more time turning it into an even longer weapon that now shoots fireballs. Getting hit not only robbed him of a bit of his health, but it also dropped the power level of an upgraded whip.
The game was also big on pixel-perfect jumps which didn’t help because Christopher moved like a man wading in molasses, something that Nintendolife’s Damiem McFerran notes in his review of the game. Add in enemies that attacked the player at the same time in some instances, and you quickly have a formula for frustration. Check that, also add in a limited amount of lives where continuing often started you some ways back from where you had used up all of your lives, and soon you’d also be memorizing patterns and movesets just to get by. The bosses weren’t too much to write home about, either.
While the clunky game mechanics and exacting platforming (which also included leaping off of falling platforms and pitted the player against a time limit) were brutal tests, the music of the game was actually quite good and features a few names arcade players may remember. Kazuo Hanzawa (credited as Norio Hanzawa) went on to make music for other Konami classics like The Simpsons and Bucky O’Hare arcade beat ’em ups before moving on to work at Treasure. Hidehiro Funauchi and Shigeru Fukutake would both eventually go on to work on Konami’s Parodius, one of the company’s strangest but also incredibly fun arcade hits.
The game was eventually re-released for the 3DS via Nintendo’s Virtual Console and a remake, Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth, was released in 2009 for the Wii as a downloadable title. As Castlevania’s first, but not last, mobile version, The Adventure might not have been rough around the edges, but like the series’ first game, would only be the beginning of a long dynasty of titles that would continue to challenge would-be vampire hunters wherever they might be on the go.