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RELEASE DATE (NA): December 28, 2009 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Rebirth of a devil.

So Castlevania: The Adventure on Game Boy was pretty horrific. It made the neighbourhood cats hide for days. The gameplay was sluggish like a government mule and felt as though no one from Konami had ever seen, played, or heard of Castlevania while preparing it. Above all else, it was a quick cash-in on one of their popular franchises at the time, and it dragged that name through the mud. And then, time slowly forgot it, save for a brief revival as part of a Konami compilation on the Game Boy Color (only in Europe and Japan). Then, two decades later, light burst from the clouds above, and its beams landed on the WiiWare platform, where Konami announced a "ReBirth" of one of its classic franchises... no, not Castlevania. It was Gradius; Gradius ReBirth ended up being a re-imagining of classic levels from the franchise. Contra ReBirth followed suit, paying tribute mostly to Contra III: The Alien Wars on SNES. And then, finally, it came: Castlevania: The Adventure ReBi—

Oh, Konami... Of all the games you could've pulled inspiration from, why did it have to be the WORST entry in the series? Then again, if there was ever a Castlevania title that needed a complete makeover, this was it. Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth is a reboot of that old gritty Game Boy gutterball, but mostly in name only. Aside from the retention of a few memorable ideas, this is basically an entirely new Castlevania platformer, built from the ground up. And it's not bad, if not a tad on the uninteresting side.

Unlike retro revivals like Mega Man 9, Castlevania ReBirth takes a different approach to its presentation. This game's graphics don't look like any other game in the series. It's somewhat comparable to the SNES titles, but a little nicer and cleaner. Many cool-looking special effects help the situation considerably. It's too bad most of the enemies are less than impressive. In fact, the only brawl I found even remotely connected to the term "mind-blowing" was a gigantic stone golem boss whose head I couldn't even see until I defeated him and his entire body collapsed. Otherwise, it actually felt somewhat generic.

If you've played one Castlevania game, you know the story: member of the Belmont clan takes on Dracula, kills Dracula with a whip, then looks buff outside the crumbling castle. (The introduction cleverly features screenshots from old games to illustrate the long journey of the Belmonts.) Christopher Belmont is back, and he's finally getting the action he deserves with this re-awakening of his previous quest. Gone are the endless supply of ropes for climbing. Gone are the really narrow platforms for awkward jumping tasks. Gone is the distinct LACK of any sub-weapons. This feels more in line with Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, the pinnacle of the NES trilogy, where the vampire hunter hero climbs stairs awkwardly and tosses giant axes to his heart's content. (Or, more accurately, to his heart content, as this game requires you to collect expendable hearts from candles in order to use subweapons.) In short, this is assuredly a throwback to Castlevania days of olde.

Looks and smells like the Castlevanias you love. Don't ask what the smell is.

Aside from a couple of familiar enemies courtesy of the Game Boy game (the rolling eyeballs and those weird sluggish mudmen, although they don't poop from the sky like they used to), everything really IS new. There are six stages instead of four, although I'd hardly call the final stage a full-on level, since it's just a brawl against Dracula, and they all follow some of the general Castlevania rules: the first area MUST be outdoors leading into the castle; there HAS to be a clock tower somewhere filled with cogs and swinging pendulums in the castle; you have to go underground to some sewer-esque location where mutated lizards pop up from the muck. All the Castlevanian tropes are there in full effect, so this is definitely a rebirth...of practically the same game! The game even uses remixed songs from older games — how 'bout that?

Unusual to the franchise is Chris' whip. Oh, sure, it flicks with the usual snap, cutting skeletons in half with relative ease. It starts out as just some little brown slice of uncooked bacon, but by collecting a crystal, you can strengthen it into a tougher beast. What's unique to this game is that another crystal, you can give yourself the power to shoot fireballs briefly! They're weaker than your whip, but keeping your distance from enemies could be a life-saving technique. In addition, Chris gets use of subweapons such as holy water, knives, axes, and a throwing cross to help him on his way.

Other than this, just expect a lot of the usual frustration that comes with playing a Castlevania game, be it getting smacked around by Medusa heads, getting knocked off platforms, or missing that pendulum by a fraction of a millimetre. But the biggest problem with this game isn't the gameplay as a mechanic — it's as solid as it's ever been — but with the gameplay as a whole: classic Castlevania players will get a humdrum feel out of this one. Granted, they hadn't received a 2D game like this in a while (those Metroidvanias are a whole 'nuther) and had been clamoring for one, but this one's not that exciting. It plays it safe, not daring to try too much that's different. In fact, it's SO safe that by comparison to the original Castlevania on NES, this one's a cakewalk. The level design isn't all that creative, and the boss battles typically teeter between acceptably challenging and despairingly simple. Even the Grim Reaper's holding back! Three difficulty levels attempt to rectify the situation; Hard mode may certainly raise a few neck hairs on experienced players. I'd wager, however, that ReBirth was aimed more at casual players, so even though skill is still required, the amount of skill is lower than classic titles. Still, there were moments that made me smile, like seeing a giant pile of twenty fire-breathing Bone Pillar enemies in one room.

So, we must make a choice: do we want something fresh and new, or will we settle for reliving the same joys of the past for nostalgia's sake? For Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth, we'll can only have the latter. It doesn't try anything new; instead, it clamps onto what made the series notable in the first place. I suppose we can't fault the game for that. For hardcore Castlevania fans, that may be more than enough, a rebellion of sorts against what the series has morphed into. For the rest of us, we'll give a quick yawn and move on.

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