After a group of talented developers known as the "Dracula X team" (whose members would go on to comprise the future KCET division of Konami) created the masterpiece Symphony of the Night, its efforts became focused mainly on other projects for the Sony PlayStation. Though, Konami wished for the series' creative success to continue, so in the original developers' absence, Konami commissioned its KCEN division to port Symphony of the Night over to the Sega Saturn; thereafter, the group was to supply a unique title to the company's other favorite system, the classic Game Boy. This would be the division's legacy. While the porting of Symphony went well enough, with few casualties, it's a whole different story when discussing KCEN's exploits on the Game Boy. For whatever reason, the result of this project is anything but spectacular, and that's a shame considering the creation's subject-matter and how much more it deserved.
The division decided to write itself into history by creating Castlevania Legends, the third title available for the classic Game Boy. While Legends utilizes the standard formula of the two previous Game Boy titles, Castlevania: The Adventure and Belmont's Revenge, it's only related to them in that sense--as a story, it's instead delegated to first in line, before Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, as our first tale of "Dracula versus the Belmonts." What gave KCEN this power, I don't know, but considering the finished product, I'd expect so much more out of the group if its intent was to basically rewrite the entire history of the series.
So as Legends tells us, the Dark Lord has arrived, and he's ready to engulf the world in darkness. Sonia Belmont, who we learn is the first female warrior to carry the surname, wants a piece of him as does her love interest, Alucard, whose mad quest to end his father's dark reign has just begun. Using her Vampire Killer whip, which was given to her by her uncle and trainer, Sonia must journey to the castle, without Alucard's consent, to confront and destroy Dracula.
Legends is a one-player game that features six stages of mayhem that culminates in the heart of the castle for a duel with the final boss, Count Dracula. Sonia starts out with the leather version of the Vampire Killer, and it can be powered up two levels by finding crystals--the first transforms it into a chain whip, and a second affords it the power to spew fireballs. Sonia has two other abilities: She can crouch walk, to squeeze beneath some platforms, and she can enter into "Burning Mode" (attack plus jump), an inborn self-defense ability that allows her to become temporarily invincible and raise her speed and power to the next level; since it drains her "burning meter" completely while activated, it can only be used once per life. Sonia lacks the standard sub-weapons, so she instead relies on her Soul Power, an ability to capture the souls of the stage bosses and transpose them into weapons of destruction. By the time she reaches the final stage, she'll have in her inventory five available soul powers that she can switch between; these include scrolling projectiles, death-rendering screen flashes, and the stoppage of time.
You'll notice a real lack of magical items otherwise. At least 95% of all candles contain soul-powering hearts, and they're all of the "small" variety. Less frequently, you'll find the crystals that enhance the whip, chicken legs that restore portions of your depleted energy meter, and 1-Up symbols that add one life to your stock. As a sort-of side-quest, Sonia can fully explore the first five stages to find five hidden items: An axe, a dagger, holy water, a boomerang and a stopwatch. These familiar artifacts are only collectible and cannot be used as sub-weapons; rather, they act as both a storyline advancement and as the means for receiving better endings. The more of them you find, the longer the ending you'll get.
Legends' stage design and mechanical scheme decidedly mimic Adventure's and Belmont's Revenge's. Though they had over six years to refine the current formula, KCEN, in the laziest fashion, just winds up repeating it--and clearly not to a high level. In most instances, you'll find that they've managed to take some of perennial problems and make them even more evident. For instance: You still have your rope-sliding move and the ability to whip left and right, true, but climbing, overall, has become more maddening because a fluttering assortment of enemies is always--and I mean always--coming in from above, and there's no way to deal with them on a consistent basis. It's bad enough dodging the floaty and bouncy bats when you're on the ground, but it becomes ridiculous when climbing is your only option in proceeding onward. All you can do is watch as your energy meter drains, hit after hit, as you climb meticulously. If this type of enemy-placement was done purposely, KCEN's individual members should be tortured slowly and painfully.
The rest of the "ideas" presented are nothing overly special--it's simply your usual collection of standard, yet in this case appropriate, follies: There are the overly long stages with tiny platforms unnecessarily scattered everywhere, as if the creators are taunting you with their rotten stage design; there are those primitively conceived, tricky jumps that result in Sonia consistently falling short; and they introduce, also, ropes that move horizontally along tracks, as if climbing stationary ropes while under attack wasn't quite fun enough. They do offer as a sort-of extra one hidden stage, a bonus level, but if there was a well, it was surely run dry by this point because the whole concept was from the beginning an exercise in futility. Even when something original is presented, it immediately takes a turn for the worst: You'll find, say, a white candelabra, which is aesthetically different from the normal brand, and if you're foolish enough to whip it, you'll either be transported to an enemy-filled room, a trap from which you can only escape by destroying all of the enemies within (which is a predicament that is intentionally tedious and time-wasting), or you'll in whipping it away reveal an enemy that was concealed within, a surprise attack that will no doubt cost you a heap of energy because you're not able to react swiftly enough thereafter.
Legends tends to be a very ugly-looking game. There are some instances where it looks only OK, and a whole lot more where it doesn't: The enemies are poorly designed, badly animated and are often difficult to see because of blending; the same unsightly sprite designs are repeated over and over again; and they present some very bland, stodgy background design and even longer stretches of completely textureless backgrounds. Since the stages tend to drag on forever, you'll find almost no distinguishing factor between their different sections. This is the best they could come up with? There can be no excuses when Rare can take a game like Donkey Kong Land and make it look spectacular even when considering the handheld's well-known limitations. If KCEN was purposely going for a "classic" Castlevania feel by aiming low, it may have missed the point.
If it's any consolation, Legends fully utilizes the Super Game Boy accessory. When you play the game on your SNES, it features its own personalized border. Well, really, I wouldn't exactly call its design "terribly interesting" or indicative of anything, which is at this point par for the course. And instead of using the normal yellow-brownish (monochrome) combination, it has its own four-color schemes reserved for each of the six stages. While this helps to maybe add a sense of life to what is a lifeless effort, the result is that the ugly nature of the character sprites is often magnified, and blending becomes a more common theme.
It's not really one of their better soundtracks, either. I like how they based some of the themes off of Vampire Killer and Bloody Tears without simply reusing them--similar to what Nintendo did in Link's Awakening--but the selection falls well short of being memorable. Most poignant is that the music's composition is so high-toned that it becomes annoying in due time, more so when the action becomes heightened. The stages are too long, so after about the sixth loop, you'll be begging for them (the stages and music) to end. Taken only in light doses--in short, unlooped samples--you'll find some quality work. I think it's useless at this point to discuss sound effects, considering the hardware limitations that still lingered. Even then, there's even less to be heard now than ever before. Not one enemy makes any type of sound. So if I called its sound selection "nonexistent," I wouldn't be exaggerating too much. Aside from a few "splats," I find only the snap of the whip, and for nostalgic purposes only, I suppose, the classic Belmont grunt when Sonia is damaged.
While the Game Boy titles have never been known for their great control, Belmont's Revenge was working toward something. Legends missed that class. Considering that they added nothing, you'd think that they'd improve upon what already existed. They provided the crouch walk, yes, but it's totally useless--there's not one scenario that requires its use. And again we find that the reactions to button-presses are unresponsive, especially while jumping, which will many times lead to those frustrating deaths where you just walk right into a bottomless pit when it probably wasn't your intention; also, Sonia has problems jumping up to platforms, those that are scattered everywhere, and she often misses the mark when she should, in theory, be able to make it. It feels totally random, like the double jumping in Jak II. Rope-climbing has gotten worse, too, because you have a sliding move with nowhere to use it--instead, they designed each stage so that you're always climbing up through long vertical passages, constantly under attack while you do, and always lacking for a way to do anything about it. The ability to whip diagonally upward would have been a nice addition in light of this overused design, but I guess that forcing in one more leg to the bat-filled Clock Tower was just too important. As any excessive problem can, this almost single-handedly kills a game that already had little going for it. So not only did KCEN add nothing--it went completely backwards almost as a rule.
And that's your challenge in a nutshell: Dealing with sense-assaulting design while trying to cope with the game's other mechanical failures. Where to begin? Well, if Castlevania: The Adventure flooded you with enemies, then the enemy rate in Legends, in a manner of speaking, is a tsunami. Really--it's nonstop, and enemies regenerate back into place when the screen scrolls even slightly. It's bad enough having to fend off five bats at once, but when you finally manage to wipe them out and they all respawn a second and third time, you'll know that something has gone horribly wrong. Also, as I've discussed, the murderous vertical passages, which are numerous, will squeeze every last bit of will out of you; you'll take hit after hit as you climb toward their exits. This is a problem that wouldn't be so evident, perhaps, if the stages weren't so long and repetitive. The boss fights can be considered challenging, yes, but they're nothing you haven't already seen in countless other games--jump here, fire, jump over there, fire, jump back over here, fire, etc. Simple pattern recognition is OK for maybe two bosses, but seven of them ... out of ten? Please. There's nothing fun about any of this.
It's just an uninspired effort, and that's all I can say. The point of Legends is lost on me, and I don't understand why it was handled in this fashion. The Game Boy and Sonia Belmont, more urgently, deserved a better game after six years that wasn't just a weak attempt at emulating Belmont's Revenge. I remember Belmont's Revenge's inspired musical score, its lively stage design, and its fun and inventive boss battles, and then I play Legends and wonder if this wasn't something they wanted to pump out quickly--like they had an idea but not the will to execute it in any memorable way. So they came up with a concept, wrapped a six-year-old formula around it, packaged it swiftly, and threw it out to an audience spoiled by Symphony of the Night. What you get in the end is a game that makes no real advancement, takes no chances, and looks like something that came directly off the generic action-platformer assembly line. After Symphony of the Night, you'd think we'd be on some kind of roll, but alas.
Castlevania Legends is a little better than Adventure, overall, because it's at least playable, but it fails to come close to touching Belmont's Revenge in any way. At least, for all it did wrong, Adventure managed to capture a semblance of the series' classic atmosphere. This doesn't. It's this kind of mediocrity that earns it two and half Medusa Heads.