I don’t think I can say that we ever owned a Gameboy. Or at least, one was never a constant part of our household like our consoles. But I do distinctly remember using one, though my time with it was fleeting. Maybe we borrowed it or my brother had temporarily traded it for another game…I’m not sure. In any event, I didn’t spend tons of time with a Gameboy, but I did have the chance to play two of its games: Tetris and Castlevania Adventure (1989).
I’ve thought about devoting a whole post to Tetris, but I can’t really come up with a lot to say about it. Besides the sheer addictiveness of it, what I loved most was the music. (I know you can conjure up that ubiquitous theme song as well as I.) When playing, I remember I was almost afraid to blink. I didn’t want to miss any of the falling pieces for fear of placing them incorrectly and screwing the game.
I only ever played Tetris on the Gameboy. For whatever reason and despite the many, many, many ports and versions of the game that have come out over the past 20+ years, I never really wanted to re-live the game. I had a version on my phone not long ago, and it just didn’t capture my attention the same way. It’s also possible I have adult ADD.
But while Tetris was an enjoyable drop in the everlong gaming bucket, Castlevania stuck with me much longer. I’ve managed to play a couple titles over the years and I’ve found them to be mostly enjoyable. Difficult. But enjoyable.
In Konami’s Castlevania Adventure (CA), you played as Christopher Belmont, a member of the vampire-hunting Belmont clan (they recur throughout the series), and an ancestor of Simon Belmont who is introduced the original Castlevania game. Christopher’s mission was simple: defeat all monsters and face Dracula. And what a cavalcade of monsters there were! Mudmen, birds, bats, giant eyeballs, things that spit fire, snakes (maybe worms?), spikes (do they count?), other…things…demons…vampires…that attacked, and several bosses including Dracula.
The only weapon at Belmont’s disposal was a whip. A puny, weak whip at first, that could be upgraded by finding crystal spheres. These spheres made the whip longer, stronger, and did they change its form as well? (Like Viagra? *rim shot*) I know there was a fire whip, and a …stone…whip? Something like that. There were also items, like hearts, which gave life, and crosses, which gave invincibility, to be found.
CA was a challenging game, to say the least. Although I never beat Dracula, just managing to get to him was prize enough for me. You got three lives. Once you died three times that was it. Game. Over. And I don’t remember there being any checkpoints. But even if there were, you still had to start at the beginning of something – the entire game or a level – and that was no fun. And Belmont was hard to control, especially when it came to jumping. I’m pretty sure that my poor gauging of distances wasn’t an issue – it was incredibly hard to get Belmont over even the smallest of gaps. And starting out with that puny thing of whip really sucked. I remember that finding that first crystal sphere was akin to Indy finding that little gold statute, only with a giant rolling eyeball in tow.
I’m making this game sound like a whole lotta not fun, and sometimes it was and sometimes it wasn’t. I hadn’t been playing much except Mario, Street Fighter, and random computer games up to that point, so CA was new and different. And one of the best things about the game was that…wait for it…Belmont could crouch. Eh, crouching! That sounds dumb to say, but pre-Super Mario 64 Mario couldn’t crouch down to avoid high shots. (Could he?) A little thing like that made it feel like you had a lot of control over Belmont’s movements. And it was so much easier to crouch to avoid high shots than it was to jump to avoid low shots. I know I take movement for granted in today’s games – we can run, walk, jump, crouch, glide, and slide with ease (mostly). The static movements of older games are something I certainly don’t miss, and CA is probably one of the less fun entries in the series due, in large part, to movement issues. But we, I, didn’t really know better back then. Any time a character did something “new,” even if something as simple as crouching, it was a big deal.
I’m tired of saying “crouch,” so let’s end with a quick note about the game’s music. Sure it was that Gameboy, sure it was chirpy and 8-bit, but it was memorable. Since I died, a lot, I became very familiar with the music of the opening sequence and first level. I can even still hum a few bars if I really put my mind to it. I liked the peppy/sinister tone that the music set. It was hard to give any Gameboy game atmosphere with its little black and white screen, so CA set the tone with music; and I think it did a pretty good job. I know I felt a little uneasy each time the game started. Sure, I was probably going to die, but at least I had a nice swan song each time.
I don’t know that Castlevania Adventure is a game worth revisiting even for nostalgia’s sake. It had its moments but it suffered in its poor execution. If, for some reason, you still had a Gameboy and were looking for something to play, and you had never played a Castlevania game ever…you still wouldn’t want to play this game. However, if you had a time machine and could transport yourself back to 1989, and if said time machine had the capabilities to temporarily erase all your current memories, and once transported, if you could get your hands on a Gameboy and Castlevania Adventure, maybe you’d want to play this game. But you’d probably be better off playing Tetris.