Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth marks the third installment in Konami’s ReBirth series, a series with the goal of taking certain franchises back to their roots. I missed Gradius ReBirth, and Contra ReBirth was underwhelming. Naturally, I didn’t have incredibly high expectations of the third ReBirth game.
Imagine my surprise when I played Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth, only to find out that it was pretty good. The Castlevania series has been away from its ‘roots’ ever since the smash hit, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, reinvented the series from the ground up.
It would seem, however, that there’s still some merit in remembering the old way.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Castlevania games are some of the original “horror” games. Usually revolving around a Vampire Hunter from the Belmont clan (named Christopher in this game) out to kill Dracula, the player is set to go through multiple levels of Dracula’s castle (and occasionally other places) while seeing bats, zombies, skeletons, huge spiders, and even Medusa.
The old Castlevania games – for any younger readers who never tried them – are full-on platformers with none of the RPG elements that have been prevalent in the series for the past twelve years. Instead, players simply take control of a Vampire Hunter with a whip and use it to whack ghosts, demons, and other mythical creatures while running and jumping around. Take enough hits or fall off a cliff, and a life is lost. It’s quite a far cry from what’s been seen from the series lately.
Let me just say that anyone who knows me knows that me and ‘retro’ games do not mix. I feel that many of these games tend to be old-fashioned simply for the sake of it, and they don’t attempt to infuse any wisdom found in the past several years of gaming history to create a more fulfilling experience. Very few retro games adhere to the philosophy of an enhanced retro experience, which could ultimately combine nostalgia with remarkably better games in general.
I’m more than happy to say that Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth succeeds in this way. While the most obvious way to do this would be to scale back a lot of obvious production cost-related aspects and add a new gameplay innovation, Castlevania ReBirth improves an old experience in a more subtle way: it takes the frustrating, antiquated controls of old Castlevania games and – surprise – fixes them.
Now, when our hero jumps, we have more control over his momentum, instead of being dedicated to the initial direction we chose to jump. When Christopher jumps off of a high ledge, there is a moment upon landing where he is unable to act, – a subtle touch from the old Castlevania games – but he now has to fall much farther to be stunned.
Christopher, like the Belmonts of old, still gets knocked back upon taking damage, but it isn’t so drastic that he’ll fall off any cliff within a mile behind him. And finally, Christopher doesn’t fall off the damn staircases if he gets hit while ascending them.
These might sound like very small, subtle things, but they go a long way in making a game that is much more fun. These might have been acceptable back in 1988, but any game not hailing from a franchise as popular as Castlevania would get lynched for having such antiquated gameplay mechanics.
Thankfully, Castlevania ReBirth isn’t content to rest on its laurels, and for that, I’m extremely grateful. If you’ve read this statement and thought to yourself that any gamer worth their salt would play with the antiquated game mechanics, you’re in luck; after the first time you restart the game, you unlock the option to play with all those old mechanics still intact.
I lament the game being a bit short; there are “six” levels (the last one is just the final boss and nothing else). It’s quite insubstantial compared to many of the older Castlevania games. There’s also no password or save system, so if you don’t stumble upon the Stage Select code (on the title screen, highlight “Start Game” and then hold right for a few seconds), it can be annoying to just start over again if you don’t beat the whole game in one shot.
Even the way the Stage Select system works is weird: the game saves data every time you choose to return to the title screen. The game only lets you select a stage you’ve already finished, but it doesn’t record data for the Stage Select until the second time you return to the title screen (the first time nets you the ‘classic’ game mode for extreme masochists).
More than anything, the one beef I have with it isn’t its brevity, and not the Stage Select code, but the way the game scales difficulty. At the beginning of the game, enemies do a certain amount of damage to Christopher. On later levels, though, the exact same enemies begin to do more damage to Christopher with no warning.
So, at the beginning of the game, Christopher can survive eight attacks from an enemy before dying, but can only survive four hits by the end of the game. This is strange and bewildering, and it makes the difficulty less about clever enemy placement and more about being incredibly precise in dodging all enemies. What was the problem, I wonder, with just making new enemies? It would have been less confusing and more fun in general.
Honestly though, these were the worst things I could come up with, and they’re not even that bad. I would definitely recommend this game to any fan of Castlevania and retro games. Castlevania ReBirth is proof positive that retro games can evolve, and they don’t need to copy its source material to the T. In fact, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Castlevania series mastermind Koji Igarashi decided to make Symphony of the Night because he would see older Castlevania games in the bargain bin leading him to believe that the old model was growing stale. It’s funny to me because the ‘new’ model that SotN established is beginning to become tiresome. Who knew that a game made in the old, ‘stale’ style would be a breath of fresh air?
Sporting the look of an old arcade game, the game sets out to tickle your nostalgia bone and does a good job. More varied enemies and environments would have been nice, though.
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Here we have the old-school gameplay mixed with some sensible gameplay fixes.
New pieces of music are mixed with some of the old Castlevania classics. Composer Manabu Namiki had a good sense for the sound of the old games.
Five stages, the final boss, and that's it. I suppose one could play through it on Hard Mode, and then in Classic Style for even more challenge.
Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth is one of the best retro games I can ever remember playing. Some gamers might find it to be too short or too antiquated, but it definitely holds its own when compared to the old games that established the series.