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Castlevania Legends is legendarily unloved

There was no avoiding a “legendarily” gag

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Castlevania is a series so sprawling with so many high peaks that the low valleys kind of really stand out. Except I’ve learned that the valleys aren’t always that deep. You can usually, at least, see the peeks from games like Castlevania Judgement and Castlevania 64. I’ve yet to find a Castlevania title without some merit, even if there are a few that don’t exactly crack my whip. I honestly think that 2010’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow might be the nadir for me, because I found it to be just so stiflingly boring. I don’t even want to know what the sequel is like.

Castlevania Legends is one that I’ve heard excluded at best and derided at worst. On paper, it has one thing that I’ve wished for in a Castlevania title: a lady-Belmont, but I’m told that it’s terrible, mostly by Koji Igarashi who helmed the series for more than a decade. In Nintendo Power Issue 230 (July 2008), Igarashi referred to Castlevania Legends as an embarrassment. That’s pretty harsh, and it was enough to put me off even trying it until now.

It’s not great, but if I ever referred to a game as an “embarrassment,” I’d make damned sure I was driving the stake into the right place.

Castlevania Legends Climbing Butt
Screenshot by Destructoid

Pixelated butts

Castlevania Legends has you stepping into the thigh-high boots of Sonia Belmont. In the same Nintendo Power that Koji Igarashi called the game an embarrassment, he also confidently said that Shanoa of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia was the series’ first main female protagonist. I keep bringing his comments up because I just can’t believe the brash confidence in this guy.

You can tell Sonia is supposed to be a lady because of her butt. My husband looked over my shoulder while I was playing it and recognized her outward gender while she was climbing a rope because of the way her butt is shaped. This butt is roughly four pixels high by eight pixels wide and consists of three colors, yet somehow Konami was able to communicate Sonia’s feminine physique through her posterior alone. Masterclass.

Released in 1997, Castlevania Legends was out around the time that Castlevania: Symphony of the Night shunted the entire series into a new direction. It’s largely a continuation of the first two Game Boy Castlevania titles, sharing a number of the same mechanics. And like those games, it’s not particularly good.

Castlevania Legends Knight Guy
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Pocket power

I know that Castlevania: The Adventure and Castlevania 2: Belmont’s Revenge, and I don’t want to pee on anyone’s monochromatic memories, but I’m not a fan. It was difficult for developers to fit even NES concepts onto the Game Boy in the early days. Most attempted ports of existing franchises were watered down to varying degrees. It didn’t really matter; what mattered was having a portable version of a license available.

By 1997, however, we’d seen games like Mega Man V, which was better than even some of the NES titles. Castlevania Legends, however, feels more like a step back. It was handled by Konami’s Nagoya branch, and helmed by Kouki Yamashita, who also directed Dracula X for the SNES. The fact that it was released six years after Belmont’s Revenge and still features all the mechanics and shortcomings of those games is actually a bit of a weird sign. Rather than take a new approach, they just expanded on something that had been shelved for so long.

I think the controls are the strangest part of the Game Boy series. Despite the fact that Castlevania’s early games are almost renowned for their intentionally stiff control, the portable titles seem to simultaneously be stiffer while providing more maneuverability. Sonia can control herself in midair and even crawl along the ground, which is pretty spritely for a Belmont. Likewise, rope climbing is a central mechanic of these games for some reason. I guess this was before stairs were invented.

Trap Dead End
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Vertical perturbance

While Castlevania Legends at least fits in with a lot of the series’ standards, it’s weakened by a lot of mistakes that shouldn’t even be in a game of its vintage. I’m talking things like having enemies that can move freely in all directions in vertical environments when you can’t attack up and down. So, you’re hanging on a rope and a bat is coming for your shapely, pixelated butt. What are you supposed to do aside from use limited movement options to attempt to stay out of its way?

There’s a lot of bad enemy placement, as there are spots where you can enter a screen into a collision that could only have been avoided if you entered at specifically the right spot. It’s a problem throughout.

The worst, however, is that it will hit you with dead ends. I thought we exorcised this terrible practice in the ‘80s, but Castlevania Legends will allow you to walk down the wrong path, only to hit you with a wall and nothing else. To make matters worse, there are a number of optional items, one in each of the five levels. This means that you have to willingly go off the beaten path to try and find these things, at times subjecting yourself to the game’s juvenile traps.

Speaking of which, there are literal traps. Keep an eye on the coloration of the game’s whippable, item-dispensing candles because some of them will trigger pitfalls into waste-of-time enemy rooms, whereas others cut the middle man and just spawn an enemy.

Castlevania Legends Alucard Dialogue
Screenshot by Destructoid

Not inept beyond redemption

That’s annoying, but maybe not as annoying as you might imagine. Castlevania Legends at least allows you to continue as often as you want. Your life gauge is pretty generous, so it’s not impossible to just live with mistakes that you weren’t clairvoyant enough to avoid.

On the other hand, even if it’s not inept beyond all redemption, it’s still rather bland. Its aesthetics aren’t a bad fit. Its enemy design is predictable, but as highlighted previously, the sprite work in general isn’t bad. The music isn’t terrible either, but it has one of the worst renditions of Bloody Tears that I think I’ve heard.

The biggest letdown is that the sub-weapons have largely been stripped. You get extra powers after defeating a boss, and these are the things that consume hearts. However, none of them are very exciting, you can simply cycle between the ones you unlocked, and since you don’t start with one, you spend an entire level collecting hearts that you can’t use. It’s like the game keeps handing you cans of gasoline, but you can’t have the car until you’ve walked far enough.

Spider alert arachnophobia
Screenshot by Destructoid


I’m mostly just shocked that I’m not entirely apathetic about Castlevania Legends. It’s definitely not a good game, but it feels at least comparable to the previous Game Boy titles. I suppose I’ve always had some disagreement with Koji Igarashi’s perspective and direction on the series, so at this point, I maybe shouldn’t be surprised when I feel they diverge from my own opinions.

Speaking of which, Sonia Belmont was excised from the Castlevania canon by Igarashi. This is unfortunate since she’s the only depicted female Belmont. That said, she doesn’t do much, though it’s hinted that she has some sort of relationship with Alucard. She was going to appear in a game called Castlevania: Resurrection for the Dreamcast, but it was later canceled. I’m just finding out now that a demo of that game was leaked, and now I feel I need to try it.

Meanwhile, Konami hasn’t done anything new with the Castlevania series aside from releasing compilations (that omit Castlevania Legends, strangely). The company has started showing some signs of life and largely looking at resurrecting older franchises, and with the success of the Netflix series, maybe we’ll get to see something new. Maybe M2 will get another crack at creating a Castlevania: Rebirth title, and they’ll dig up Castlevania Legends. I’m not optimistic.

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Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.