The Castlevania experience translates rather well to the Gameboy in Castlevania: The Adventure. Rather than a compromised port of a previous game, this is an all-new adventure with a distillation of traditional Castlevania mechanics. It’s short and simplistic, but it offers a good challenge.
The basic gameplay of The Adventure is stock Castlevania gameplay, with a slow protagonist that has deliberate jumps and a whip. However, the formula is changed considerably compared to the NES games. There are no hearts or sub-weapons here, and health restoration is far more common. The core mechanic is that your whip can be upgraded twice, with the second upgrade giving you the ability to shoot fireballs from the end of it, but getting hit by any monster or obstacle will decrease your upgrade level by one. As a result, the game is somewhat reminiscent of Contra, in that true mastery requires never getting hit.
All four levels are well-designed and distinct. Most of the game is focused on combat, though there is one stage that will test your platforming skill. The level design takes into account the smaller Gameboy screen in a variety of ways, the most notable of which is that there are none of the traditional Castlevania staircases to be found here. Instead, you’ll find yourself climbing on vertical ropes.
Castlevania: The Adventure is hard, but the difficulty curve is smooth. You’ll have to learn the levels and how to fight each monster type, but doing so is satisfying. Being an older action game, you will of course have to replay parts of stages you’ve already mastered to get to the parts you still need to learn. It can be jarring to modern gaming sensibilities.
The game captures the essence of Castlevania, even though it has its own quirks and plays quite differently from the home console games in many ways. It is technically primitive, susceptible to slowdown and even some screen distortions. But it’s a solid challenge if you’re a fan of the Belmont clan.