Released for the Wii in 2009 Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth is a throwback to the Castlevania games of old. Similar to how Super Castlevania IV is essentially a retelling of the original Castlevania Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth tells the story of Christopher Belmont, the protagonist of The Castlevania Adventure. For those of you that played the 1989 Game Boy title and thought it was crap, you're not alone! Thankfully The Adventure Rebirth is good. In fact, it's not just good it's one of the best classic style Castlevanias made.
A bold claim? Perhaps, but let's get into it and I'll try to show you where I'm coming from.
First up, the story. This is classic Castlevania at its finest. There's no time travellers with top hats or overly large watches, no Japanese school girls that need saving, it's just you and Dracula. He's back, you gotta kick his butt. In the original game Dracula escapes at the end and Christopher hunts him down and defeats him in the second Game Boy Castlevania title, Belmont's revenge. Not so here, meaning we're probably not going to get a Belmont's Revenge Rebirth. Shame, because after playing through this you'll probably be itching for more.
Unfortunately some of that itch will be because the game is short. The game has 6 stages, with the final being nothing but the classic staircase, hallway then throne room. I'll get to the stage design and gameplay soon so sit tight. I'm just going to get the music and sound out of the way.
The sound effects are fine. I'm not really that into sound design but none of the sound effects ever got annoying, they were distinct enough that I knew what each meant quickly and I imagine others will have similar experiences. One thing to mention that I haven't done yet is that this is not just a throwback in terms of gameplay, it looks and sounds slightly better than a Genesis/Super Nintendo game. The graphics remind me of Castlevania Bloodlines but more on that next paragraph. The music is really well done, you could most likely fool someone who wasn't an expert that you were emulating a Genesis or Super Nintendo game although it is of a higher 'complexity' than what either could produce. Interestingly enough not a single music track in the game is an original. They are all arrangements of previous tracks. The only good part of the original Castlevania Adventure was the soundtrack and it's somewhat odd that they didn't use any from it. Battle of the Holy is sorely missed although New Messiah from Belmont's Revenge is included. Again, odd that they used music from the sequel but not the original. That said, unless you're a big fan of the series you're probably only going to recognise the intro tune, Aquarius, Vampire Killer and Riddle. Enough on that, the music is good, all the arrangements are nice and each track is well used. There's also like, two lines of voice acting and those are fine.
Right, the graphics. As I said in the previous paragraph it looks slightly better than a Genesis/Super Nintendo game. I don't mean better than say Donkey Kong Country 3 or something but I'd compare it to Castlevania Bloodlines (or Castlevania: The New Generation for us PAL players) but better. Especially in the background department. Either way, suitably retro to accompany the music and might help to stir some nostalgia for the older games. The bosses and enemies look nice, most are well animated and there's never any confusion over what something is on screen. The enemies and objects stand out from the background well but not glaringly so you'll rarely 'miss' something thinking it was part of the background.
Okay, so now onto the meat and bones of the whole thing. The gameplay, how it plays and just how much fun it is. Well, you've probably gotten this impression by now but if you like the older Castlevanias you'll almost definitely like this. Being able to jump on/off of stair cases is absent, as are item crashes and multi-directional whipping so if you've got a boner for those elements you'll be disappointed this time around. For those of you who have never played a classic style Castlevania I should probably go into a little more detail.
At it's heart, it's a platformer. You strut along and jump on platforms, dodging traps and killing enemies. Your main weapon is a leather whip that you can upgrade to a chain whip by finding an upgrade crystal, similar to Castlevania Bloodlines. Finding another temporarily lets you shoot fireballs from the end of your whip, a feature only really present in the Game Boy titles. Theses upgrade crystals are fairly common, especially near the start of areas since you revert to a leather whip when you die. You're able to find various sub-weapons that you can throw around. Theses sub-weapons range from a boomerang style crucifix, some holy water and others. In order to use them you'll need sub-weapon ammo that comes in the form of hearts. You collect hearts and other objects by destroying candles and collecting whatever drops out of them. You can also find meat hidden in the walls by whipping it and collecting meat recovers your health. There are staircases to ascend/descend and you are able to do so by pressing the up/down direction on the d-pad at the bottom/top of said staircases. At the end of every stage and often during the middle of a stage you'll encounter a boss. Bosses, like most enemies come in the variety of 'hit it until it dies.' Easier said than done since as I have yet to mention, this game is by no means easy. They didn't forget the difficulty.
Now the gameplay is, as outlined above, classic Castlevania. That's nice, but what good is that without the level design to back it up. The level design in this game is great. You have multiple paths through each stage often involving locked doors that are only usable if you found the key sub-weapon (very Rondo of Blood/Dracula X in that respect.) Theses paths are more than just a short detour, some mid-bosses are only found on the alternate paths through the stages and some can by bypassed by finding another. They're also of a decent length as well. So while five stages and a then a final boss stage might sound really small it's not as bad as it sounds. The stages have a decent amount of variety in their design and they keep it fresh with different traps, obstacles and stage elements while still managing to feel cohesive. By no means is this a long game but the difficulty and stage length should keep you busy for a while. You shouldn't feel ripped off from the $10 or so price tag.
Yes, the difficulty. By default this is not an easy game. It does allow you to select the number of lives you have so you can ramp that up from the standard 3 to 9 if you're having trouble. You can also change the difficult to easy, normal or hard. This affects more than just damage numbers as enemy type and placement will change and hard mode is only for the hardened veterans of the series. You can also change the jumping mechanics to 'classic style' where you can no longer control your character's movement in mid-air if you're into that sort of thing. I should probably mention the 'proper' end boss is only found on normal and hard. There's no option to affect the stage time limit I believe but I never had an issue with running out of time on stages.
Also, while we're talking about options. You know what the game needs? A level select feature. Oh wait, it does have one, it's just a secret? Irritatingly enough the game fools you into thinking that you'll have to start the entire thing over every time you come back to play it since it lacks a visible level select feature. If you hold the directional right key over the 'new game' option for a few seconds you'll find a hidden level select feature allowing you access to any levels reached on the same difficulty/settings. I'm telling you this now since as fun as the game is if you're only able to play an hour or so at a time it's pretty annoying to repeat stages over and over again while you progress to the level that you were stuck on.
So yeah, Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth is a surprisingly faithful throwback to the Castlevania games of old. Its main flaws are its short length and lack of a visible level select feature. If this game had, double the amount of stages and kept up the quality it has and a level select or password feature (that it told you about) then I'd easily say it'd be the best classic Castlevania made. Unless you simply can't go without Simon's multi-direction whipping.
It's on the Wii, it's $10 or so. Pick it up if you can.