the Castlevania franchise has had its fair share of success on handhelds. From the brilliant Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, to the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS trilogies and beyond, there really aren’t any handheld Castlevanias that can be regarded as “bad.” Still, former series caretaker Koji Igarashi wasn’t a fan of everything that bore the brand name, and effectively eradicated a late Game Boy Castlevania title from existence. That game is Castlevania Legends.
Released in North America in 1998 (almost a full year after the genre-defining PlayStation classic Symphony of the Night) Castlevania Legends tells the tale of Sonia Belmont. As the story goes, Dracula is terrorizing Transylvania, and someone needs to put a stop to it. Enter Sonia, the very first Belmont to wield the whip and confront ol’ Drac himself. On the way, she meets up with Alucard (who she seems to possibly have some sort of romantic attachment with) whips candles, and eventually slays the demon king and saves the land. Not exactly the most complex story the series has ever seen, but it’s not like the plot is why we’re here.
Gameplay-wise, Castlevania Legends can best be described as just okay. It’s not as slow as The Castlevania Adventure, but it’s not as interesting as Belmont’s Revenge. The game plays out fairly straight forward. Gone is the awesome level select screen from Belmont’s Revenge. Instead, we’re treated to a more traditional static map with straight lines drawn on it, showing the overall level progression without any real choice of where to go next. There are a few hidden levels scattered throughout, but for the most part, this is a “point A to point B” type of game. The level design is also fairly bland. Not terrible, mind you, just sort of bland. Perhaps most disappointingly, the same can be said of the music. Sure, you’ve got some cool remixes of some classic series tunes, but there’s something about the instrumentation here that’s just off. The Game Boy was capable of some really awesome sounds, but while the compositions of the original tracks are nice, the instruments used here just sound cheap.
On the bright side, it’s nice to see some callbacks to The Castlevania Adventure in the form of climbing ropes and some enemies that only appeared in that game, but the overall presentation seems like such a missed opportunity. After seeing what the Game Boy was truly capable of with titles like Donkey Kong Land, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and even Konami’s own Contra: The Alien Wars, it’s just a bit disappointing to see the Castlevania franchise take a step backwards like this. True, sometimes it’s nice to get an old school throwback in the gameplay department, but this series has done that extremely well before (see The Castlevania Adveture: Rebirth or Dracula X) where it played to the strengths of the source instead of, well, whatever the heck this is.
This is by no means a bad game. It’s just mediocre, which is a disappointment for the Castlevania franchise. As I mentioned before, Koji Igarashi publicly denounced this game, and it’s been removed from the official series canon, which is in some ways a shame. Lament of Innocence for PlayStation 2 did a neat job of telling a new version of the first time a Belmont crossed paths with Dracula, but Leon Belmont just isn’t as interesting a character as Sonia. She had a cool character design, plenty of potential for backstory, and let’s be honest, having a woman be the first person to use the Vampire Killer is a pretty damn cool concept. Sadly, Sonia never got her time to shine. Not only has this game never been released on any platform other than the Game Boy, but her Dreamcast game Castlevania: Resurrection was cancelled too, effectively putting the final nail in the coffin of Sonia’s career. With the Castlevania franchise in its current state, it seems incredibly unlikely that this game will ever see the light of day again, and with that same franchise being as highly collectible as it is, prices for this game are fairly high. It’s up to you to decide whether or not it’s worth tracking down. It’s not bad, but it’s only for the most die-hard of Castlevania fans.