First released on the original Game Boy in 1989, Castlevania: The Adventure has returned two decades later with a re-imagined level layout, some gameplay upgrades, and a far more impressive color palette. Newer ‘Vania fans accustomed to the “Metroidvania” romps of the past decade will be in for a bit of a shock because unlike that incarnation of the series, this entry doesn’t have free-roaming gameplay. You’ve got a set path ahead of you, and as Christopher Belmont, one of Simon’s ancestors, you’ll once again have to slay Dracula, kill hordes of bats, and smash candelabras for hearts along the way.
The most striking upgrade to the game lies in its graphics. They’re a massive upgrade from the original game‘s green and white color scheme. Instead of a world filled with backgrounds that kinda sorta look like parts of a castle if you squint hard enough, Rebirth gives you a richly-colored world that thankfully shows you everything you‘re supposed to see. The foregrounds and backgrounds are filled with rich colors that show off the environments beautifully. I found it to be better-looking than the SNES installments of the series, and about on par with the PSX/GBA games in that regard. However, Christopher’s character model was a little too simplistic for my liking - and it’s a shame, since you see him all the time and his simplistic look clashes a bit with the fancier visuals.
Rebirth is also hurt by his incredibly slow movement, control problems, and the lack of a multi-directional whip attack makes the gameplay feel too archaic - that was a feature introduced in 1991, and it seems absurd for a new iteration to lack something so basic. The jumping controls are also less responsive than they should be, and will lead to many deaths. Fortunately, Rebirth does give you infinite continues, and nine lives as a maximum as opposed to the original’s three, so it’s not as frustrating as it could be. However, it shouldn’t be an issue at all. Rebith supports the GC pad, Wii remote held NES-style, and the classic controller. Of these, I found the classic controller to work the best - with its button arrangement being the most comfortable and its d-pad working far better than the GC’s.
Despite the clunky controls, the gameplay is still able to shine thanks to the well-executed (but limited) whip mechanics, which are helped somewhat by upgrades (particularly the fireball upgrade that makes the whip an ideal long-range weapon) and the addition of sub-weapons that really add some excitement to the proceedings. If you just had to whip enemies through the entire game, it would get old quickly, but the sub-weapons allow you to attack foes in a whole new way. None of the sub-weapons are new, but the series favorites like the axe that will slice through most foes in one shot, or the crucifix that acts as a boomerang and is the ideal sub-weapon of choice for boss battles, are back and shine a little brighter here because the original Adventure game lacked them.
While Rebirth doesn’t have free-roaming gameplay, it does reward players with an exploratory side with keys that allow you to bypass mid-boss battles. This is a godsend on the higher difficulty levels as it allows you to actually have a chance to beat a level without pulling your hair out, cursing aloud, or throwing your controller in a fit of rage.
If that doesn’t work, then perhaps the melodic soundtrack will calm your nerves. While it doesn’t reach the levels of the amazing stuff heard in Symphony of the Night or Circle of the Moon, it is a fine rearrangement of some of the older music. However, it’s a little too techno at times, which clashes with the setting. This results in some comedy as you’ll have some up-tempo music alongside a dreary, gothic world. Most of the time though, the music works, and the sound effects are perfectly fine.
Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth isn’t the best installment of the series, but it’s also far from the worst. Longtime series fans craving a new 2D adventure like myself will be pleased by it, but newcomers probably won’t get much out of it. While the graphics are impressive, the clunky jumping controls and slow gameplay will certainly turn them away. I love the idea behind the Rebirth series, and hope that Konami continues with them for other series, but this entry left something to be desired.