Developer: M2 / Publisher: Konami / ESRB: Teen (Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence) / Played on: Wii / Price: $10.00
My 1980s gaming weekends were a complete roll of the dice. Thanks to US labor laws, my eight-year-old pockets could scarcely afford new games, so my weekly allowance went to only one game rental. My tastes at the time rarely eclipsed “Ninja Turtles are awesome,” so finding a great game to consume the weekend was more luck than skill. Occasionally luck would be on my side, and I’d end up with a game like Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth. The game is the best of the old school; it’s hard but not cheap, has tight controls, and looks great. Classic trappings cut both ways though, so while some will appreciate the simple gameplay, not everyone will tolerate the lack of saves and traditional game structure.
ReBirth features the traditional Castlevania experience: whipping candles, jumping gaps, and dying a lot. The experience isn’t entirely classic though; most of the game’s six stages have branching paths, which can be unlocked by finding hidden keys or breakable walls. Ferreting out these paths livens up subsequent playthroughs, which will occur, either due to running out of continues or patience.
Either occurrence exposes Castlevania’s biggest flaw, though it’s part and parcel of the classic experience. Castlevania doesn’t employ passwords or saves, so the game must be completed in a single sitting. Granted, players with the requisite skill can blow through the game in an hour and change, but hitting the difficulty wall and restarting the game revives the old-school frustration of staring at the title screen after hours of play with little to show for it.
That being said, like the games it’s channeling, the goal isn’t beating the game. ReBirth is meant to be played and re-played, on increasing difficulties, in an effort to discover all the game’s paths and secrets. The ultimate payoff is mastering all of the stages and bosses – that ‘I’m awesome’ tingle from destroying a boss that used to slaughter you without taking a single hit. Such a game will not compliment most modern gamers’ sensibilities.
This is two-button gamin’ at its finest. The A button jumps and the B button attacks… and that’s it. Players can throw weapons like the holy water and crossarang, but that’s as complicated as the controls get. The game’s platforming is razor-sharp. Jumping and attacking are all responsive and allow for a degree of mastery enabling accomplished players to blaze through levels. The biggest annoyance in the game comes from its stairs – once on these things there is no getting off aside from climbing to the top bottom. This can be chalked up to faithful recreation than oversight, as the original games operated this way. Getting swatted off a staircase by a Medusa head was equal parts nostalgia and frustration – though players without the benefit of experience will just feel the latter.
The sprites in ReBirth exhibit fantastic animation, and the resolution of the artwork eclipses that of Symphony of the Night, though ReBirth can’t boast the same quantity of enemies and stages. The game’s enemies are easily identifiable and adequately telegraph attacks. ReBirth’s stages are also solid, moving through Castlevania mainstays like caves and clock towers. Some of the stages even introduce novel ideas like fighting through a completely dark cave lit only by sporadic torches or fighting on oversized rotating clock hands.
ReBirth’s music sounds like Phil Collins, Castlevania, and Casio CZ-1 did a lot of cocaine and had a wild three way, which is to say it’s awesome. The soundtrack hearkens to the punchy drums and excessive orchestra hits produced by 80s synth arcade chips, but with an updated sense of musical complexity. Surprisingly, the game manages to go until the last stage before resurrecting Vampire Killer, and manages the whole runtime without retreading Bloody Tears. Sound effects reflect the polish and classic charm of the music. Whip cracks never tire the ears even though they’re heard constantly, and enemy deaths produce satisfying demon screams.
Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth is exactly what classic revivals should be. The game captures the spirit and gameplay of the original, updates the graphics without seeming too modern, and adds in just enough modern spice to keep the game from burning out in a matter of hours. Certain aspects of the game, like the difficulty, won’t appeal to players softened by newer titles but these aspects are inexorably tied to the classic formula the game channels. Anyone with fond memories for the halcyon days of the 80s should get this game; others won’t understand or appreciate it.