Castlevania Legends is the last of the three Gameboy releases based on Konami's iconic vampire hunter series. The general consensus is that it is inferior to Castlevania 2: Belmont's Revenge, which preceded it, but better than the ill received Castlevania: The Adventure. I have to say that I have enjoyed the newer Castlevania games on the Gameboy Advance and DS, which blend RPG elements with Metroid style exploration, but I don't have much experience with the older games. With the aim of addressing that deficiency in my retro gaming knowledge I decided to give Legends a go. Perhaps I should have started my 8 bit Castlevania journey with the highly rated original on the NES, but Legends sports a busty lass on the cover which I cannot resist. Let us see if the game is up to much or if once again I have been suckered in by a pretty face.
It is the year 1450 and Count Dracula is up to no good. Stepping up to free Transylvania from the blood sucker's tyranny is seventeen year old Sonia Belmont armed with a dominatrix style whip (how kinky.) Players guide the teenage vampire huntress through five horror themed levels set in various parts of the Count's castle (such as the castle gates, clock tower, garden shed... okay I made that last one up.) There's not much to the plot as all we get is a brief intro when the cartridge boots up, a short ending upon completion of the last level and some dialogue in the latter boss fights (which hint at a romance between Sonia and Dracula's son Alucard.) Legends' claim to fame is that it was supposed to be the first Belmont/Dracula showdown in the Castlevania timeline, but it has since been removed from the series canon as it clashes with the story set up in the newer games. Poor Sonia, she saves the world and gets no credit as Konami erased her tale from the history books.
Graphically Legends is comparable to the Nintendo Castlevania games although it looks slightly uglier due to the Gameboy's small screen and lack of colour. I wasn't too impressed by Sonia's in game appearance as it looks like Simon Belmont in drag. You have Simon's sprite, from Castlevania 2, modified ever so slightly to resemble a girl (the slightest hint of boobs and a thin line passes for long hair.) Another weak area in the visuals are the poor backgrounds which often consist of a blank wall with a few bricks dotted here and there. Despite the lack of detail the game stutters when too many enemies appear on screen which is annoying.
The quality of the soundtrack varies from level to level. It seems like they pieced the audio together by taking music from other Castlevania releases. Upon starting the game I recognised the catchy Bloody Tears from Castlevania 2 which was a treat as was the tune that plays during boss fights. It's not all good though. The gothic ditty that plays in level five may suit the tone of the game, but I didn't like it. It's a score that may sound good with real instruments, but the 8 bit rendition we got was painful to listen to. The repetitive chords started to make my ears bleed which may have been the Count's idea all along. Why risk chipping a fang via neck biting when you can get a fountain of plasma flowing out of a victim's lobes.
Unlike the newer Castlevanias which are set in one big world, Sonia's quest is broken down into bite sized levels. Just as well as the game doesn't have a save feature, but thankfully you are provided with passwords upon finishing the stage you are on. Although you sometimes get forks in the road, which may lead to hidden areas or dead ends, the game is fairly linear. Sonia power walks (very slowly) from the starting location towards the level's exit which is guarded by a boss. The game mixes platforming with combat so to succeed you will have to jump over hazards, climb ropes and fend off the creatures lurking in the castle.
As you wreck havoc in Dracula's fortress you are encouraged to smash any candles you come across (I'm sure the candle reviewers on this site wouldn't approve of that.) Why destroy a light source in a dimly lit castle you may wonder? The answer is that doing so reveals whip upgrades, health restoring food and hearts which power Sonia's magic spells. Grabbing one power-up beefs up your whip's range and strength whilst nabbing a second gives the whip the ability to shoot fireballs every time you swish it. Given that touching enemies depletes your health this is a very handy upgrade as it allows you to dispatch monsters from a safe distance.
You may be wondering what heart fuelled magic Sonia can cast (she isn't grabbing those things due to a lack of organ donors after all.) Well the array of spells includes the ability to freeze enemies in place for a short period of time, replenish your health and damage everything on screen. Completing a level rewards you with a new magic ability which is selectable by erm pressing the select button. Sonia has also mastered a technique dubbed "burning mode" which once activated increases her movement speed and makes her invincible for a few seconds. You are restricted to using it once per life or level so it is best to save it for tricky sections or boss fights.
So what did I think of Castlevania Legends? It was alright, but from the Castlevania games I have played it is one of the weaker instalments in the series. I liked it enough to complete it, but it wasn't a terribly exciting experience. Sonia's slow walking speed coupled with stutter when the action heats up made certain bits a chore to play through. If I could award half a star I would give this two and a half stars, but as I can't I'll round up to a low three stars. Castlevania fans will get some enjoyment out of it, providing they can find a cheap copy, but anyone else probably shouldn't go out of their way to snag a copy.
Although the game isn't a cake walk, it isn't fiendishly difficult like other Castlevania titles. You get passwords and a good number of check points in each level so you don't have to back track much when you lose a life. I did however get a tad frustrated when fighting Dracula as I needed a few goes to put the fiend down. Every time I perished I was made to fight through a few screens for a rematch rather than getting placed outside of the Count's lair. The rooms you had to fight through weren't that tough, but it felt like a waste of time having to travel through them all over again just because Dracula beat me with a lucky shot (yeah it was a fluke, nothing to do with me sucking at avoiding his attacks honest.)
Speaking of boss fights, the encounters at the end of each level weren't as thrilling as they should have been. The bosses repeat the exact same attack pattern over and over so once you memorize the moves it isn't too tough to beat them (even if you don't abuse the Burning Mode feature.) It feels like the developers didn't put much effort into designing the end of level guardians which is something that applies to the game as a whole. It's mediocre, lacking original ideas and suffers from a few programming issues. On the vampire coolness scale I would say that Legends is less From Dusk Till Dawn and more Twilight. Aaaarh the sparkling burns my eyes.
I picked up Castlevania Legend after having become a Castlevania fan from Symphony of the Night on the PS. This doesn't really compare to that game, but passes as a basic platformer on the Gameboy format. It's an older black and white game with not particularly impressive graphics or sound. What it does offer is another chance to fight Dracula in the Castlevania world. Gameplay is your standard platformer stuff. Run along fight enemies, avoid being killed. There's the usual set of weapons and power ups from Castlevania, so things like whips and Holy Water. Progress is fairly tricky, but perseverence is rewarded and once you complete a level you gain codes to allow you to start from that point. There isn't much more to recommend the game really, it's not particularly inspired, but it's not one of the worst games out there. I can only really recommend it if you're a Castlevania fan and you can find it cheap. If you're just looking for a platformer I'd recommend the newer Wario Land games.