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Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge (Game Boy) artwork

Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge (Game Boy) review

"A Game Boy Castlevania actually worth playing!"

To give credit where credit is due, after releasing Castlevania: The Adventure and, as a result, gifting the Game Boy with what easily could be considered the single worst game in that venerable series, Konami did a really good job of making up for that travesty with their second attempt for that handheld system.

While Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge isn’t on the same level as, say, the NES’ Castlevania III — and to be honest, what is? — it is a monumental improvement that takes the more interesting ideas behind the original and actually places them in a game that isn’t agony to experience. You’ll start out by going through four castles in whatever order you’ll prefer and then visit Dracula’s castle for two more full stages and then a short jaunt to your inevitable encounter with Ol’ Fang Face. It’s a quick and breezy title that, while challenging at points, is pretty easy compared to some offerings in the pre-Symphony of the Night days.

Part of that is due to how, as long as you’ve powered up your whip, you’ll be able to fire projectiles from it, giving your Belmont a ranged attack that’s very useful when you consider just how many enemies in the average Castlevania have the ability to fly. Even better, taking damage doesn’t remove this power-up unless we’re talking about the projectiles fired by one particular foe. If you’re good enough to handle the game’s platforming and not blunder into foes, it’s not all that tough to make progress.

Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge screenshot Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge screenshot

Much like the first game, platforming skill will play a huge role in your success. You’ll go through many rooms in each level that are light on enemies, but heavy on various other challenges. You’ll dodge spike walls, leap over pits and the exploding eyeballs that are creating them and scale heights by jumping onto platforms that burst from walls and then recede back into them just as quickly. A lot of this stuff might have been in The Adventure, but these challenges actually feel fun here.

A lot of this is because the play control is improved. In Belmont’s Revenge, you won’t be moving painfully slowly and you won’t feel like you need picture-perfect precision to succeed in leaping over every single pit you come across. Take those exploding eyeballs as an example. In this game, they are a definite hazard, but with a little practice and timing, it’s usually not that difficult to get past them with little or no damage taken. When they appeared in The Adventure, I could count on my performance plunging into a bit even more quickly than my character’s body. It wasn’t easy for his barely-mobile self to consistently leap over them and if I decided to simply whip them, it was just as tough to vault over the holes made by their explosions. This game feels fair and that’s a huge improvement. If I died, it was because I screwed up; not because I was controlling an out-of-shape slug incapable of performing a legitimately athletic feat to save his life. I have mirrors for that, thank you very much!

While the game doesn’t contain many levels to travel through, they tend to be pretty long, with a couple even having branching paths. There are some graphical differences between them and the platforming challenges tend to change as you progress from one to the next, but due to the limited color palette of the Game Boy, you probably won’t get the same “this is completely different” vibe from going from one castle to the next in this game that you would in Castlevania III when a clock tower leads to a forest which leads to a ghost ship. Going off my notes, I had stuff to say about the various challenges and bosses in each stage, but other than minor details such as how Crystal Castle had some good music or how Plant Castle did have an “in nature” vibe, my impressions of this game came purely from whipping monsters and navigating platforming challenges.

Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge screenshot Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge screenshot

And both of those things tended to work out quite nicely. You get a couple of those integral Castlevania power-ups, allowing you to add holy water and axes to your arsenal as long as you are diligent at whipping candles to obtain hearts. There are some fun bosses to take on, such as a pair of trident-wielding statues that shoot fireballs at you while you’re utilizing a lift in order to whip their vulnerable spots and a particularly claustrophobic battle with a massive skeletal dragon in a narrow tunnel.

Well, one boss in particular was a huge downer for me and, sadly, it was Dracula. In this game, the final boss is, more or less, a battle in which pattern memorization will dictate if you win. You’ll fight in a chamber consisting of a number of platforms. He’ll appear on each of them in a specific order, summon a bunch of orbs to circle them and send them off in every direction. You’ll have a brief window to hit him and then need to get to a specific location to avoid his attack. Take the time to get his pattern down so it’s second nature for you to be in the right spot every single time and I’d guess this fight would be a bit on the anti-climactic side. Until that point, it’s just horribly frustrating and made me wistfully remember fighting…okay, this might not be the best time to invoke Castlevania III — decades after the fact, I still don’t know how I ever got past that confrontation…

But one bad concluding boss fight does not equal a bad game. Belmont’s Revenge was such an overall improvement over its predecessor that it’s hard for me to not be amazed at its quality. It keeps a lot of the same types of challenge, but they actually work in this game; while also making your hero feel like one, as opposed to a bumbling goof. It might not be a perfect Castlevania, but for a low-power handheld system like the Game Boy, it’s about as good as it gets.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (June 27, 2024)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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