After the success of the game changing entry that is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, it surely would seem like this innovative shift would be present for later entries, right? Well, to a certain degree. Castlevania: Legends marks the last original, linear, side-scrolling/vintage game, with some interesting twists to the formula. While this game has since been stated as not canon by Igarashi, are these innovations worth revisiting?
Burning through and burned out
“This is the tale of a young girl’s struggle to single-handedly provide Transylvania, a place ruled by madness and despair, with the light of hope.” This woman marks as the first female Belmont to use the trusty whip, the Vampire Killer, to defeat Count Dracula. A lovely change to the formula, but she also comes with maneuverable jumps, a duck-walk and the ability to jump through platforms. It is strange for a Belmont to be so maneuverable while still being able to only attack in horizontally with the whip, but it works well. You can even swing from climbable ropes, similar to Christopher, which is great. The whip can also be once again upgraded by collecting orbs from candles. The first will strengthen Sonia’s whip, while the second one will make it shoot a fireball. These will be kept until you lose a life, and are definitely handy.
What are the most unique features to Sonia, are her magical attacks and Burning mode. First of, gone are the subweapons, which are replaced with the magic Sonia can get from defeated bosses. Freezing time, healing, a screen nuke, and a couple more are useful and neat extras, and you can select which one to use from a pause-screen and activate it by pressing up and B. They consume a lot of hearts though, which are found in candles like in previous titles. Though this time, they are everywhere and this feels almost like overkill due to the amount of hearts you can acquire. Some of the candles will contain refilling food or an extra life, but usually, it is hearts. Next is the Burning mode. By pressing A and B together, you will get temporary invincibility, become faster, stronger, and can attack regular enemies by simply touching them. This can be only done once per life in every stage and lasts as long as the bar at the bottom of the screen shows.
This might sound like Sonia is overpowered. She is. Not just because her abilities are quite strong, but every stage is barebones. The most intriguing thing you will do is jump between moving ropes and jump from them to a platform. Enemies don’t vary up the stages in any creative ways either. Some are different in concept, but because everyone is aggressive and attacks you head on, they become very similar. The boss fights are the worst because with Burning mode you can simply plow through them blindfolded.
The lack of magic in the beginning, makes the first stage especially dull, and it gets similarly uninteresting until the fourth stage. Here, the game takes on a huge difficulty-curve and while still easy, the fact that you have to venture upwards and enemies respawning quickly by you simply jumping between screens, makes me miss the subweapons for vertical attacks. Not to mention, the plenty of trap-rooms with spawning enemies are just annoying and makes exploration a bore. Yes, there is some exploration in this game. Taking a page from Symphony of the Night, each stage has alternative routes, but often take you to some food or these dumb combat-segments where you get nothing. Because of these dead ends, there is a backtrack to get to the right path and with Sonia being as slow as the other Belmonts, it can be a terrible drag. There is another part to this, but I will come back to it in the extra-segment.
There are some good ideas in Legends, but it seems clear that the developers had a character in mind, but no idea how to make the levels work around her. All 6 stages are dull, the lack of vertical attacks makes some enemies tedious, the semi-exploration is uninteresting and just pads the game, and our character is overpowered. There is some fun to be had with the magic and you will find use for all of the spells, but that is the only thing to remember in the game’s mechanics. Why does it even have an easy-mode?
Gameplay Score: 3/10
Super Gameboy can only do so much
Sadly, the lackluster stage-design can also be seen in the visuals. Each stage represents decently a location, such as forests and towers, but the backgrounds are empty and bland, making them feel rushed and soulless. There are some parts that contain varied details, but for every cool clock tower segment, there are long stretches of dull dungeons with nothing in them. The inhabitant monsters look okay, but are far from appealing. They have a decent variation with spiders, soldiers, and slugs, but none of them are intriguing thanks to poor designs. The soldiers are my favorite example, with poor animations and awkward small heads on big chested armor. At least the bosses fare much better, with some being huge and well designed, but the creativity to them leaves a lot to be desired as they are generic. The Super Gameboy at least has some cool coloring-features for this entry, but that doesn’t help much.
At least we have a great soundtrack, with some wonderful new compositions. Familiar tunes such as Bloody Tears are always a wonderful treat, and the new ones are great, but more repetitive. They also have a more symphonic tune to them, trying to have multiple bit-tunes overlapping each other, and they are certainly great, but more variation to the soundtrack could have been included. The stage set inside “Cave of Silence” has also an awkward strong tune to it.
Presentation Score: 6/10
Why can’t Sonia use subweapons?
As stated above, there are some optional routes to take and some of them can lead to subweapons. Each stage contains one of these and they are only there to get the best ending in the game. These are unfortunately very easy to find, but can also be a drag thanks to some alternate routes making you backtrack. There is also one hidden stage with a secret magic spell, but it is towards the end and is pretty useless. You do get a pretty interesting and controversial ending, and while this game is not canon anymore, I do love the theories this game provided the series. Just not how you get it.
Extra Score: 3/10
This was strange. Compared to the other poorly-made handheld Castlevania-game, The Adventure, this was terribly draining for a completely different reason. I am actually not sure which one is the worst anymore, as The Adventure was like being in a fistfight where the opponent had a shotgun, but this was like reading every YouTube-comment on the internet. Frustration versus boredom in other words. Either way, it is hard to recommend both. This one is only for those who have no idea of what a D-pad is.