Back in the ’80s and early ’90s, no series could sell me on a platform like Castlevania. I loved the NES trilogy, and when early screens of sequels for Game Boy and Super NES began to materialize, those systems shot right to the top of my must-have list. Once I finally got my hands on a Super NES, I immediately sought out Super Castlevania IV, and it was everything I had hoped for.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing for the series’ Game Boy incarnation, Castlevania: The Adventure. By all appearances, The Adventure should have been nothing short of portable perfection. It captured the detailed, iconic look of Castlevania brilliantly. Not only with its hunched whip-wielding Belmont protagonist, but with the scenery, too. Konami had a knack for crafting utterly gorgeous miniature worlds on NES with the same colors and limitations as everyone else, and their Game Boy artists somehow achieved the same effect without even using color. Likewise, the company’s insanely talented musicians squeezed the best tunes out of the Game Boy sound chip that the system had yet produced. Castlevania: The Adventure should have been great… right?
Unfortunately, there’s more to a game than looks and music, and The Adventure fell short in every other area. But foremost among its failings, the game was unbearably sluggish. Every single action in the game ran at what appeared to be half-speed, and that same lack of celerity trickled down to affect every element of the game. Christopher Belmont felt like he was ignoring the player’s commands much of the time, failing to respond to button presses in the heat of action. He slogged ploddingly through the Transylvania landscape, puttering with all the urgency of a pensioner on the way to a picnic.
Somehow, though, the world around Christopher didn’t seem to be affected by those same limitations. Enemies moved about as quickly as they did in the NES games. Moving platforms would drop rapidly from beneath Christopher’s feet. The series’ already rigid expectations of pixel-perfect play took on a miserable new dimension here as players founds themselves grossly overmatched and forced to rely on a combination of memorization and sheer luck. Castlevania: The Adventure proved guilty of the gravest offense a Castlevania game could commit: It failed to recapture the series’ innate sense of rhythm and reflex.
If anyone had been paying attention, they would have recognized a pattern in Castlevania releases. The series had a wild hit-or-miss dynamic, with releases alternating between excellence and miserable failure. Yes, the NES trilogy was top-notch (even if Simon’s Quest stumbled with some unintuitive design), but all the other games were thudding failures. Haunted Castle was an abomination of hideous visuals and sloppy, arbitrary level layouts; Vampire Killer gang-pressed the original Castlevania‘s design into a wandering, frequently unfair mess of non-linear corridors and cheap hits.
The reality of the Castlevania series is that great Castlevania games are insanely difficult to make. Konami has missed as often as it’s hit, and tiny details can cause an entire entry to go awry. Just look at the difference between Super NES Dracula X and Rondo of Blood: They’re largely the same game, but Rondo feels almost indescribably superior to the American release for its fine details and more expansive layouts. The Adventure could have been to Castlevania III as Super Mario Land was to Super Mario Bros. 3: A quirky take on the concept that nevertheless succeeded on its own merits. But the fundamental magic of the series, present in Super Mario Land, failed to materialize for Castlevania: The Adventure.
The game offers weird, off-putting takes on series standards. You don’t climb stairs, you shimmy up ropes. There are no skeletons, just armored hulks who throw boomeranging scythes and look like Ninja Gaiden rejects. You don’t collect sub-weapons; instead, Christopher’s whip powers up a couple of times, ultimately gaining the ability to fire a ball of destructive energy from its tip. But his whip power suffers from the same degradation as the gun in Blaster Master, shedding a level of power each time an enemy connects. Hearts therefore don’t function as sub-weapon currency; they work like hearts in every other action game and restore Christopher’s health. The only other power-up takes the form of holy crosses, which grant Christopher brief invincibility.
The crosses really throw the game’s design failures into sharp relief. They’re often used as a free pass in area where platform layouts or enemy placements are so poorly arranged that you can’t possibly squeak past without taking a hit unless you rely on invincibility: The very definition of awful game design. In many cases, enemies and hazards are arranged in such a way that you have to play just so in order to avoid taking damage; there’s very little room for improvisation or player agency in Castlevania: The Adventure.
And in any case, there’s little motivation to bother. The game is so clumsy, so deliberately antagonistic, that the only reason you’d want to play the game more than once is you were a kid with a limited allowance and the poor fortune to have bought The Adventure as your sole new game pickup for the season. And my heart goes out to you if that describes you.
Like most Japanese publishers of the ’80s, Konami didn’t bother crediting its designers for The Adventure, so it’s difficult to say who exactly worked on the game. According to MobyGames’ unsourced credits list, no less than Nobuya Nakazato (of Contra and Rocket Knight fame) and Masato Maegawa (who would establish Treasure a few years later) were leads on The Adventure. If true, this would rank among the lower tier of their creations — making its lack of credits a blessing of sorts. Edit: Oops, I lied. Thanks to Rey from VG Museum.
In any case, given the officially stated involvement of several long-time Konami in-house composers (including future Treasure co-founder Norio Hanzawa) clearly point to this as an internal project. But clearly it wasn’t the work of the standard Castlevania team, who were occupied with designing Castlevania III at the time. Many of The Adventure‘s more awful design choices were smoothed over for Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, only to resurface nearly a decade later in Castlevania Legends, developed at the short-lived KCE Kobe.
Whatever the case, Castlevania: The Adventure may well be the worst game we’ve seen on Game Boy to date. Sure, there have been some bland or dull titles, but none that so utterly squandered a world-class property like we see here. The discrepancy between potential and outcome here is truly breathtaking and a sign of further missteps to come on the platform.
Castlevania: The Adventure
Japanese title: Dracula Densetsu • ドラキュラ伝説
Release date: 1o.27.1989 [JP] | 12.1989 [US] | 1990 [EU]
Genre: Action (platformer)
Super Game Boy: N/A
Previous in series: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest [NES, 8.18.1987 [JP]]
Next in series: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse [12.22.1989]
Similar titles: Kid Dracula [Konami, 1993], Ninja Gaiden Shadow [Natsume/Tecmo, 1991]
Castlevania: The Adventure | U.S. packaging
Castlevania: The Adventure | U.S. package contents
Castlevania: The Adventure | U.S. box front
Castlevania: The Adventure | U.S. box back
Castlevania: The Adventure | U.S. cartridge
Castlevania: The Adventure | U.S. manual front
Castlevania: The Adventure | U.S. manual back
Castlevania: The Adventure | U.S. ad insert
This was my first Castlevania. For some reason I never got into the series until Symphony of the Night.
“For some reason”? I would say “This was my first Castlevania” answered that question pretty neatly.
This game is huuuge trash. The music’s great (as is standard in Castlevania) though!
I guess it’s because many of them had different developers, but quite a few early Game Boy games had this off brand feel to them. Castlevania: The Adventure’s one of the prime examples, being vaguely Castlevania-like but much slower and missing a ton of standard features from the console installments.
Better it than Castlevania Legends, though. At least Adventure had inexperience with the platform as a convenient excuse for being crap; Legends was released in late 1997 and the only modern thinking it brought to the table was cutscene bloat. I get the impression it was a cheap cash-in trying to make some of that sweet SotN money without realizing there was more to its success than being a 2D Castlevania.
Sonia Belmont deserved better than that cat mess.
I always called it “The Castlevania Adventure.” Learning that it wasn’t the title all along is blowing my mind.
Annoying request time: Is there any way you could make your type color darker? It’s awfully close to the background color on this new layout. I love your analysis and am powering through, but I find myself having to select all to be able to read these articles without squinting.
Same here. Some people get really mad if you call it that, but you have to admit the logo TOTALLY looks like it says “The Castlevania Adventure.”
Haha, yes, this game is pretty terribly designed, and the controls take an abject amount of practice to get to terms with. Still, after the sluggish first level and unfair second level, the third and fourth felt oddly enjoyable (although it took me weeks just to get through the third). Because of that, and its shortness, it’s become a kind of comfort food for me, alongside Belmont’s Revenge and Metroid II (inarguably better games, though still limited…)
So, as much as I love blazing through this bumbling mess in some 20 minutes, I absolutely understand that I am objectively in the wrong here. Hell, I’m sure I went through some of the stages of grief while watching this video, seeing my Adventure innocence disappearing before my eyes…
so uh good video, keep it up!
You can’t be “objectively” wrong about your opinion. If you like it, you like it. There’s nothing wrong about that.
Oh, sure, I was just being rather flippant 😛 I guess what I mean is that the game is a mess, a shamble of a game, but dang it I LIKE that shamble of a mess, even if I realise it was very shoddily put together!
Soundtrack’s great, though, hands-down.
I know it’s unpopular to like this game. But as one of the few early GB titles I played, I kind of enjoyed it. I mean I can’t argue with anything you said here. It’s absolutely true. But for someone who had played Castlevania, hated Simons quest , I kind of was happy that it there was a portable Castlevania on a handheld similar to how Maio Land was. It did feel different than the console. But not knowing what to expect this early for the GB I gave it a pass. I generally enjoyed it while being somewhat frustrated by it. Through trial and error I beat it. But looking back it’s flaws were frustrating. Like getting your jumps perfectly and timing spot on to pass some of the forced scrolling areas. I guess without much to compare it against on the platform, I found it fun. But I would never want to go back to it. I agree that while Mario Land adapted Mario into something different but did it right this game kind of got it wrong. I used to chalk it up to the inferiority of the platform. But now I know a little better.
“Like most Japanese publishers of the ’80s, Konami didn’t bother crediting its designers for The Adventure, so it’s difficult to say who exactly worked on the game. ”
Actually, Castlevania The Adventure does have credits at the end.
Oh d’oh! Well, now we know the downsides to playing these games on real hardware rather than emulators: I couldn’t cheese my way to the end. I looked around for credits but only saw them at MobyGames, so I wasn’t sure of their authenticity. Ugh, what a goof :/
Well, there’s a cool place called vgmuseum that has a ton of endings, specially for popular old-school games, you could always check there 😛
A couple of months ago I did some research into the who’s who of early Konami GB games. The game ending screens on your site were of much help! (Looking up game endings on Youtube also was helpful.)
Glad they were useful. Some of the games on the Konami GB Collection have credits not found on the originals too. Although, I don’t know if the credits are for the original makers, or the ones that ported the games to the collection.
This game definitely has problems, and it’s not a great Castlevania game. But that soundtrack is SO GOOD… quite honestly, it’s worth playing for the soundtrack alone!
The soundtrack is good, but not “SO GOOD”. That honor belongs to the sequel that does have a SO GOOD soundtrack.
Like others I have to force myself to call this game Castlevania: The Adventure. Glancing at the logo the name clearly reads like The Castlevania Adventure. And what a horrible adventure it is. Its only redeeming quality is spawning an excellent sequel. Though Toru Hagihara programmed that one, during a period his team was on a winning streak (see also Operation C and Tiny Toon Adventures).
Like most other early Konami GB games The Adventure also ended up on a Konami GB Collection. The European GBC release slightly stabalizes the game’s speed. It’s still unplayable, but ever slightly less so. Plus it’s in color, so that’s neat.
If nothing else, I adore the cover art for this installment.
Incidentally, I think this is the iteration IDW based a really bad comic book mini-series around, but I don’t remember for sure.
I commented to this effect on the related video, but one of the things that really makes this game as broken as it is is just how unbelievably laggy it is. Trying to do precision movement or jumping is almost impossible because the lag always seems to eat some of my input, and along with that makes planning enemy movements really hard. While it wouldn’t have fixed all the game’s problems, it would have at least been playable if they’d done something to get rid of that lag.
I used to love this game! but it probably is nostalgia tainting my brain.
I bought a gameboy just for this game. It took about 15 min of play for it to occur to me how much it sucked. The game stills looked so cool on game mags but in actual motion it exploded on the launch pad. Thanks for the scans of the book. I love that old manual art.
Castlevania Adventure is a classic example of a horrible game hiding behind some really awesome box art. Seriously, the game may be garbage but that box art is arguably one of the best package/art design for the early era Game Boy games. And more than anything, probably tricked many a kid into buying the game.
Also, as for the garbage nature of the game itself, I cynically wonder if the legendary “Nintendo Hard” curse was the reason for it being so difficult and why decisions were made to make the Belmont’s speed so slow as molasses. IE the failures of the design were a feature not a bug, in terms of purposely making it difficult and buggy so that kids couldn’t beat it in an afternoon.
What’s funny is I saw this as a good game – and I’d played the NES games. The reason for this is because of a Tiger Electronics handheld LCD Castlevania game, which I got along with Karnov and never really fully grasped. Those LCD games definitely highlighted why Game Boy games were worth the $20 at the time.