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When all you have is a whip...Let's Play Castlevania: The Adventure

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)
Hey, does anybody remember “Let’s Play Beowulf’s Game Boy Youth,” my LP series of yesteryear? I did a whole host of my favorite games from when I was a kid, starting with Final Fantasy Legend 3, and my personal favorite of my LPs Final Fantasy Legend. But I also did Gargoyle's Quest, Rolan's Curse 1 & 2, The Sword of Hope, Kid Dracula, Metroid 2: The Return of Samus, all three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles games, and Super Mario Land. (And they’re all available for your perusal on the TT 2.0 archives, hint hint.)

But today, I’m here to talk about Castlevania, a game series that I’ve always run very hot and cold on. I actually owned the original Castlevania for DOS on a 5.25” floppy disk. It was painfully hard partially because it was Castlevania, and partially because it had a seriously limited color scheme and didn’t actually run terribly well on my family’s PC. The first game in the series that I had real luck with playing was Castlevania: The Adventure for the Game Boy.


This was a fairly early Game Boy title, and as such it was short and simple: You’re Christopher Belmont and you have a whip. Fight through the four areas, beat the bosses, kill Dracula.

More backstory was later reconned together. According to the official Castlevania Timeline, Christopher was the Belmont of the late 1500s, falling between Trevor and Simon. He was the first to realize the pattern of Dracula reviving every century. None of that really matters here. As you’ll see in a minute, the manual doesn’t even give the main character’s name! We all thought he was Simon until the sequel came out!)


Even Nintendo Power thoughts he was Simon! The game got full maps and nice coverage in the Game Boy Players Guide.


While we’re riding home from the video game store, let’s have a look in the manual.



Does this feel like the same guy who wrote the TMNT manuals knocked it out in the same afternoon? (Because honestly, I think that’s a real possibility.)

Notice something missing? No hearts and no subweapons! All you have is your whip and your wits. (There’s no wall meat, either!)

Helpful!


Some of these are inaccurate, as we’ll learn. Also interestingly, most of these monsters aren’t series regulars.


This could easily be Simon, I’m just sayin’.


Nintendo Power game us a breakdown of the items, also.


And much better details on the enemies, which more boring names. They label the Ground Mole as the “Creeper” here, but in the section about the boss fight against it, they call it both “The Drips” and “The Poisonous Slime”. They really couldn’t decide what these things were supposed to be!
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)


Here we go!


Lives! A score! A timer! No cinematics at all!


Christopher does the good ol’ Belmont Pimp Walk, just like Simon. He’s goddamn slow.


And he’s got a tiny whip.


The first area gives us the basics: You can whip candles to get items. Most candles drop a coin, which is worth points.


Madman (or Mudmen? Seems more likely.) fall from the sky in big drips and then rise from the ground to slowly walk at you. A single strike with any whip will destroy them.


Picking up these crystal orbs will upgrade your whip.


The first upgrade is the longer chain whip.


The second upgrade lets you shoot fireballs from your whip. But if you get hit, it downgrades your whip in addition to costing health.


I give them a lot of credit for managing to make interesting backgrounds despite the limited Game Boy colors and sprites.


These little hopping creatures look like the Under Mole boss mentioned in the manual, don’t they? All in due time, but we’ll call them Mini Moles for now. They actually can leap into the air, and if you hit them with a fireball (which does half damage and needs two shots to kill them), they’ll react with a leap.


The Heart restores health, and it’s here to be nice to first-time players. (Did I mention that row of bars at the bottom next to the score is your life meter?)


This area leads to a rope you need to climb up.


This next area features Big Eyes, which roll towards you. If you hit them, they explode. You can also jump over them if you time it carefully.


The Cross grants temporary invincibility, which is good for climbing this rope while more Big Eyes drop down at you.


This next area has another Mini Mole, and then introduces Birds. They fly in a straight line overhead, and if they get past you, they’ll veer down and then speed at you from behind. They squawk as they come on screen, so you have an audio clue that they’re coming.


Both of these are really tricky jumping areas as the Big Eyes roll down at you…unless you hit the candles and grab the Crosses on each screen.


Here, we find the first of the game’s hidden areas: If you keep climbing, you go straight up into the ceiling.


This has a crystal, a 1up and a flashing heart. Pretty swank!


Again, check out those backgrounds!


Christopher can’t whip while climbing, so in order to hit a candle up high (this one contains a Heart), you need to jump off and swing in the air.


If you’ve made it this far and need a crystal, one is waiting for you. If you have the fireball whip, you can get another 1up. Then we have a long flat stretch with Birds and MadMudMen.


Then we get to our first real jumping area. If those blocks look familiar from other Game Boy games, it’s because they were consistent about marking blocks that fall. It’s surprisingly tricky, because Christopher walks very slowly and doesn’t jump as high as you’d really want him to.


The next area is an annoying jumping puzzle. You need to walk on the very edge of each block before you jump in order to make it to the next one. Falling just drops you into the lower area to try again, but remember that there’s a timer.


Also, Bats are going to try to knock you down, and Christopher suffers a LOT of knockback.


There’s a middle area where you can stop, as a kindness.


When you make it to the end, there are more falling blocks to switch it up.


Then the boss arena. You need to hit the candle to release the flashing crystal.


Then touch it to summon the boss.


This is our first Primary Evil, Gobanz. (No, I have no idea what that name means. Apparently in the original Japanese version, this guy was called Zeldo, and the Death Bat was called Gobanz!)


He moves toward you slowly and swings his mace down or up. You might think, “I made it here with fireballs, I can just kill him from afar?” Nope! Fireballs bounce off him (Though they don’t hurt you.) You need to let him walk towards you, hit him a few times, then climb up the platforms and go over him to the over side to do it again.


The chain whip gives you plenty of reach for this, though. And his health meter is visible, so you can keep track of when he’ll explode.


At the end of each stage, as is typical for the era, your remaining health and time are added to your score.


There’s a trick for extra lives that I didn’t show off, but here are the details from Nintendo Power.

I’m not going to try to scan the Nintendo Power maps; they’re rather busy and would require a lot of work to take apart and piece back together. I will point you to a full set of maps at Finalfantasykingdom.net.
 

Albatoss

Mellotron enthusiast
(She/they)
This game is on the fantastic Castlevania Anniversary Collection; if any of y'all haven't checked that out, I highly recommend doing so!


Some of these are inaccurate, as we’ll learn. Also interestingly, most of these monsters aren’t series regulars.

"Some Pretty Frightful Dudes" is an excellent phrase, nice.


This has a crystal, a 1up and a flashing heart. Pretty swank!

I completely forgot that there were secret areas on my recent replay, that probably would have been helpful. Whoops!

Also, shoutout to Adventure's composers/sound designers - Shigeru Fukutake, Hidehiro Funauchi, and Norio Hanzawa - for the killer soundtrack. Battle of the Holy is the first stage theme and it owns bones. Shoutout as well to Manabu Namiki's arrangement from Adventure Rebirth, that for some reason went unused in the game but still kicks ass.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
I didn't know, about the secret area. Also, I got the game used, so I had no access to the manual. I have no memory, of infinte continues, so I guess if you don't press up, it's over? Elsewise, I would have likely beaten the game earlier, than I did.

Seeing this old Gameboy graphic makes me nostalgic. As does the manual, I miss those.

There is some weirdness going on with the images. They aren't all loading, for me. With refreshing the page, more seem to be added, but the image after the secret room just doesn't want to appear. Strange, but considering that refreshing partly solves the problem, probably means the the problem is on my end. Strange.

Anyway, thank for the LP. Nice to be reminded of this game.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
I sincerely adore the writing voice in the Konami manuals of this time. When I was a teenager, I wrote for a Castlevania fan site in a limited capacity, and one of the games I covered was The Adventure--both because of my affinity for it, and because I wanted to emulate and pay a little tribute to that sensibility in how I talked about it. None of it's probably up anymore but it's a good memory.

What I love about the game is that in retrospect, beyond all the clear technical limitations it has as far as how it's programmed, the most common criticism tends to revolve around how unlike "Castlevania" it is, with ropes instead of stairs, no sub-weapons, the bestiary, and other such calling cards being off-center. Yet this is only the fifth game in a three-year-old series, which for all that run had cast such a wide sprawl in the kind of play concepts and styles it was exploring that its divergences are more true to that spirit than those retroactively applied standards. You can play it today and find a really unique expression on the series within because it formed in that era of constant restless reinvention.

I love playing it too because the nominally much too punitive mechanic of the whip losing its upgrade tiers with every hit taken works in the specific context of how The Adventure is constructed; it would not gel in a game that was any longer. In the four stages on offer here, of brief and precisely designed nature, it turns the game into a memorizer that not only encourages but practically demands perfect play to get anywhere, which is again a reasonable direction to push the game toward for the length of time any single run takes and what kind of patterns and behaviours there are to internalize. It's a game I can pick up in almost any kind of mood I'm in and find that it accommodates my needs as it's something you can learn and always depend on to retain those reassuring play rhythms, however languid they are when observed in a vacuum.

And yes, you can get ready for not finding a single unsatisfying song in this game or its sequel, and the increasingly impressive handle they had on crafting evocative visual settings. The mountain range in this stage 1 is one of my favourites in any video game.
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)
I think Peklo really has it here: This game isn’t really “Castlevania” but at the time, there was only a very loose definition of what Castlevania was. Some game series found their feet in the very first game and just built from there (I’d argue that Mario, Metroid, Mega Man, and Dragon Quest did, among others) but Castlevania spent a really long time faffing about. In some ways, despite being very much “a standard sidescroller of its time,” this is as experimental for the series as Simon’s Quest was.


With all that in mind, let’s have a look at Stage 2!


We open with a number of Bats stationed directly above me.


The Bats are there to tell you that the game has taken off the kid gloves. Three erratically moving Bats are hard to deal with right off the…bat.


Then we meet our first new enemy, Punaguchi. (Nintendo Power called ‘em “Spitters”, but that’s nowhere near as good for a nonsense name.)


It’s a mouth-first-thing that stays in one place and periodically opens, sending out a glowing ball that flies diagonally and bounces off of walls. It takes two direct hits to kill Punagushi, and one to destroy an energy ball.


Then we have a choice: Up or down? Up leads to a Punaguchi to fight.


But as you continue on, you see that down would lead you to Zeldo, who throws boomerangs at you. Zeldo also has two health (which means as many as four hits with fireballs). He is not, however, a Primary Evil, despite what the manual claims. (This monster was called Night Stalker in the original Japanese and when it reappears in later games.)


Onwards and downwards.


The next area features a block you need to ride down and jump off at the right moment. If you’ve gotten this far, you’re probably already building a sense of how fast the blocks fall, but this is the first time we see this particular variation.


The candle in this area is Schmuck Bait. It’s a crystal, but it will fall through the platform, and trying to time a whip strike and jump anything less than perfectly to get it will mean you don’t clear the next platform and lose a life. (The other candle is just a coin.)


This room is unpleasant in a different way. You’re probably going to have two energy balls bouncing around the bottom by the time you get there. If you’re lucky, you can dodge one as it bounces to the top once you’re at the bottom. Only two can be on the screen at once.


Then we have this bridge. There are going to be Big Eyes rolling along the bridge, but remember when I noted that they explode when you hit them?


The explosions damage the bridge. The Big Eyes are traps for the unwary player who thinks killing everything is the way to proceed.


You’ve got to jump over the Big Eyes, and only hit ones coming up behind you. There are a few Hearts in the candles if you take hits, though.


They we come to a path with two choices. First off: The candle on the far left is really hard to reach because of the jump timing (and you only get one chance), but it’s a 1up.


Going right leads you to a repeating series of screens. When you take the left rope on that screen, it gets you going where you want to be.


A staircase with Big Eyes falling behind you.


As opposed to going left, then right, which brings you to these screens. Which seems like a good thing: It’s got a Heart, some coins, then another screen with another Heart and a Cross. But then you end up back at the bridge screen and if you aren’t paying attention, can waste a ton of time trying to cross back.


So go right, then left, then follow the ropes down.
Fun Fact: In this game, if you jump or fall down the hole with a rope, rather than climbing down the rope, you die! (This is one of the few things in this game that I find genuinely unfair. It turns “the way forward or back” into “another pit where enemies can knock you to instant death” in an unintuitive way.)


(I vaguely recall there being a secret room here, but can’t remember how to access it.)
When I checked afterwards, apparently there is a room you can access by blowing open the middle step in one of the earlier rooms by hitting a Big Eye on it. Sorry, I missed it.


So we’ll continue on past more Zeldos, and then have the choice to go up or down.


Climbing up is a trick: It just loops you to the bottom of the same screen and refreshes the enemies.


Climbing down leads to the boss arena.


Under Mole is the Primary Evil here. Or rather, the entire goddamn colony of Mini Moles is the boss. They’ll pop out of the four holes in the background (and you can actually hit them while they’re popping out, if you’re quick) and while they only take one hit each, you need to kill them all to deplete the boss health meter. It’s actually easier than it seems, because hardware limitations means you won’t have more than a couple at a time.


Then on to Stage 3!
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)
There is some weirdness going on with the images. They aren't all loading, for me. With refreshing the page, more seem to be added, but the image after the secret room just doesn't want to appear. Strange, but considering that refreshing partly solves the problem, probably means the the problem is on my end. Strange.

I'm actually getting that too--I think it's Photobucket being wonky, honestly.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
Can you die, when you hit the ceiling? The pointy parts? I vaguely remember dying somewhere in this level, due to jumping against spikes at the ceiling, which didn't look like they should hurt me. And i know everything before this, including the room with the extra life. So I guess I died in this room? Maybe? It's just way too long, maybe my memory is just faulty.

Also, sure, I didn't want to imply that it was your fault, whatever is happening with the pictures. I mean, it works mostly fine, in the end, it's just really weird.
 

Mogri

Round and round I go
(he)
Staff member
Moderator
Most of the secret areas in this game (that I found) are accessed by climbing a rope through a wall. I didn't know about the eyeball room.
 

Albatoss

Mellotron enthusiast
(She/they)
The Stage 2 theme is called Darkness, and it's suitably creepy. Something I'm only just noticing is that all the stage themes make extensive use of a rapid back-and-forth panning in their basslines. It's a pretty cool effect!

I forgot to talk about it last time, but the boss theme is rather delightfully called Kill! Kill! Kill!. It manages to be a jam, despite its short loop length and lack of any noise channel percussion. Pretty sick bassline too!

I also really like this game's box art. The image is kind of cramped on the Gameboy box with all the logos, but the picture itself is very moody and dramatic, like most box art in the series tends to be.


Then we meet our first new enemy, Punaguchi. (Nintendo Power called ‘em “Spitters”, but that’s nowhere near as good for a nonsense name.)

Easily my least favorite enemy in the game. They have a habit of being stationed at very inconvenient spots that make dodging their projectiles dang near impossible.

Most of the secret areas in this game (that I found) are accessed by climbing a rope through a wall. I didn't know about the eyeball room.

I also didn't know about the eyeball room!
 

Beowulf

Son of The Answer Man
(He/Him)
With only four stages to work with, they still managed a new aesthetic and a bunch of new mechanics in every one. And the stages are long—each one is easily equivalent to an entire three-stage world in Super Mario Land. They did the (incredibly common at the time!) trick of enhancing replay value by not including passwords/save points/stage select so you had to replay the earlier stages a lot, but they really did give you a lot of material if you could get to it.


Stage 3!


A word of advice: The spikes here will kill you. Try to avoid them.


You need to be careful while jumping. Felix asked about dying when you hit the ceiling in stage 2, but he was probably thinking of stage 3. The stalactites in stage two are just background and can’t hurt you.



There’s a 1up if you brought a fireball whip from the previous stage, which is harder than it sounds, because that means getting through the boss without taking a hit.


The ceiling will start dropping, and you need to get forward to these twisting screws and destroy them with a couple of hits to make it stop.


Then you need to duck in this alcove so you don’t touch the spikes. (This mechanic is very popular, and Konami reused it in Kid Dracula, which I also LP’d.)


Then rush over as soon as the ceiling starts rising and break the screw. They take 2 direct hits or 4 fireballs, like tougher enemies.


Then you need to get through here and IGNORE THE CANDLE. Christopher stops walking when he whips, and that pause means the ceiling will drop and kill you.


Don’t stop until you’re safe in this alcove.


Then you can continue on to the nasty jumping area.


No, not platforming. You need to hurry up the ropes while the spike rise below you. If the catch you, DEATH!


It’s a very steep learning curve, and the She Worms rolling around really don’t help. A single hit can be enough knockback to land you in the spikes, or enjoy delay that the spikes catch you. (No, I have no idea why the manual gendered the worms.)


This bit you need to time carefully: Climb high enough to make the jump, but not so high that you can’t cross the floor in time.


And then two She Worms. She Worms take one hit from the whip, but two fireballs, and a fireball will make them curl up and roll at you, which will likely knock you back.


And then this asshole move: You need to climb all the way up and jump over the platforms, because that ledge is just too high for you to reach. This situation right here is certain death. This was what the mountain path in stage 1 was training you for, because now there’s no margin for error…and that isn’t obvious your first time through.


Yes, in pre-Save State times this was exactly as hellish as you imagine. I spent a lot of hours and a lot of batteries memorizing which way to run and how to time whipping the enemies.


And it’s really, really long. Nowadays, I feel like you’d have a breather or a checkpoint halfway through it. Possibly two!


You might breathe a sigh of relief when the spikes suddenly descend as you reach the top.


You fool. They then come in from the side!


This can get really tight, because you need to duck and whip the She Worms and then move, move, move.


You also have to slowly climb these ropes high enough to make the jump to the next one. Several times!


Goodbye, hell wall!


In this next room, you can jump off to the right into a false wall.


There’s a shining heart, a 1up and a crystal in here, and then you continue up.


Boss arena!


And the Death Bat, which is a Primary Evil, even if the manual labeled it wrong!


This is also relatively easy, especially compared to the stage before it, which is so heavily biased towards instantly killing you. The Death Bat will walk long the floor at you or fly up and then lunge down a diagonal at you, but he’s easy to hit and easy to avoid.
 

FelixSH

(He/Him)
A word of advice: The spikes here will kill you. Try to avoid them.


You need to be careful while jumping. Felix asked about dying when you hit the ceiling in stage 2, but he was probably thinking of stage 3. The stalactites in stage two are just background and can’t hurt you.
You are right, it seems like I actually DID beat stage 2, from time to time. Because I remember this stage too clearly, for that not to be true. And:


Then you need to get through here and IGNORE THE CANDLE. Christopher stops walking when he whips, and that pause means the ceiling will drop and kill you.
I certainly did NOT ignore the candle, and just died. I totally remember this part. And it happened multiple times, because I remember being really annoyed, when I died here and realized, that it's not the first time that I fell for this trap. Probably out of lifes too, so it's likely that I simply tied here, and never made it further.

I mean, maybe I'm wrong, again, don't remember anymore. But I do remember this trap.
 

Peklo

Oh! Create!
(they/them, she/her)
This is one of my favourite stages in the entire series. You absolutely cannot miss a beat once the autoscrolling starts and which comprises the vast majority of the environment, pushing you to fully understand all the limitations Christopher's working with. The few enemies there are (just two!) exist only as delaying tactics to mess up your escape from under the ever-advancing spike wall, whether it's in the vertical or horizontal section. Even the opening segment with the pressure screws does a lot to create the impression of a clockwork environment that wants nothing but to flatten and skewer the player within. You can look at something like Dracula's Curse as The Adventure's contemporary, and its autoscrolling design mentality is much more ponderous, uneventful and ultimately less successful.
 

Albatoss

Mellotron enthusiast
(She/they)
Stage 3's theme is appropriately called Death Fair, because you'll almost certainly be dying a lot while you're learning the level. I used to hate this stage when I was younger, but now I admire the sheer audacity of it - Christopher is arguably the most cumbersome Belmont to control in the series, and this level forces you to learn every minute detail about his limited moveset to succeed.
 
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