Handheld gaming is more than a compromise of power and portability. Whether it’s the ability to play anywhere, multitask or hold an entire console in your hands, it’s a special experience consoles have never replicated. In a world where high resolutions and teraflops reign supreme, we take a look at a portable relic every month and reflect on what makes it memorable. Be warned, spoilers may occasionally populate these articles.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the series. We never saw a proper follow up on a home console, but we got six Castlevania titles in that style on the Game Boy Advance and DS. Most people’s favorite handheld Castlevania is taken from one of those titles and not without good reason since they are excellent. Because of these metroidvania masterpieces it’s easy to forget that there is a trilogy of classic vampire hunting to be found on the original Game Boy. The gameplay is similar to the adventures of Simon and Trevor Belmont on the NES trilogy, and like the NES titles these handheld titles can deliver a challenging experience. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is arguably the best of the monochromatic Castelvanias.
Set fifteen years after its predecessor, Castlevania: The Adventure, Belmont’s Revenge has players once again taking control of protagonist Christopher Belmont. Dracula and the Belmont clan have a long history of not exactly being friendly to one another, so it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that Dracula decides to kidnap Christopher’s son Soleiyu Belmont right before he can have the title of Vampire Hunter bestowed on him during his coming of age feast and transforms him into a demon. Dracula creates yet another architectural nightmare of his Castle and Christopher must set out to save his son and all the other inconsequential citizens of Transylvania.
The gameplay of Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is similar to the classic NES titles. Christopher fights with the trusty vampire killing whip, but this time it has the added bonus feature of shooting fireballs every time it gets cracked. Unlike Castlevania: The Adventure, Christopher can use traditional Castlevania subweapons even though he is limited to the axe and holy water. There are a some branching paths to take, but each level follows a path that is closer to the odd numbered NES Castlevania titles on the linearity spectrum than Simon’s Quest.
The levels themselves don’t offer a ton of room for exploration, but the player can select which order they wish to tackle the initial four stages. These four stages are small castles based around a certain theme in their design: earth, air, plant and crystal. The order a player chooses to progress through stages ultimately doesn’t matter as they need to complete all of theme and the chosen order doesn’t effect the story or unlock any end game changes. Our guess is this feature was included to add some variety to repeated play sessions.
Each of these small castles will feel like familiar territory to any Castlevania veteran. Christopher will be constantly under assault from the various enemies that lurk within along with the normal platforming forming and environmental hazards. Pointy poles protruding from walls and moving spiked walls are just a few of the death traps Dracula’s interior designer decided to include. The enemies include traditional boss monster types such as reanimated suits of armor and giant bats along with large disembodied rolling eyeballs. Surviving these hazards leads to the inevitable boss fight, which even with the hardware limitations end up being rather impressive.
After the four castle spirits are vanquished, Dracula’s real castle appears, putting just a couple more levels between Christopher’s confrontation with Dracula. After defeating one of the serpentine dragon skeletons Dracula is known for, Christopher is reunited with Soleiyu in a rather predictable face off between father and son face off. After that it is the battle with Dracula, which isn’t quite as easy as the anticlimactic boss battle in the other Castlevania II but still one of the easier Dracula battles in Castlevania, especially since this is one of the titles where Dracula only has one form to contend with.
The original Game Boy had a unique place among the consoles of its time period. One on hand it was a technological marvel that delivered a legit gaming experience to a handheld device but on the other there were more technical limitations than there was with the NES, let along the 16-bit consoles, which made many games feel like watered down versions of their home console equivalents. Castlevania II: Belmont’s revenge was no exception to this. Judging it against the classic NES Castlevania games would make this title come up short, especially against the ambitious Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse which was released a year prior to this title. Comparing it to other titles on the Game Boy, this title was an improvement upon its predecessor and did an admirable job of recreating the Castlevania gameplay for the small screen.
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge may not be as appreciated as some of the other Castlevania titles but it is a respectable entry, especially given the limitations of its platform. Arguably the best Castlevania title on the original Gameboy and worthy of being included in a best of list for titles on that console in general, this is a title that no Castlevania fan should go without experiencing. Later Castlevania titles have surpassed this title in quality and it’s very much a product of its time but even with its limitations there is still much fun to be had with this one. Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge is included in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection for anyone interested in experiencing this title without having access to a Game Boy.
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