Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge
Review by Mike Finkelstein
It's been fifteen years since Dracula's defeat (at the end of The Castlevania Adventure), and Romania has experienced relative peace (well, at least from the hordes of the undead). Two events, though, cause Christopher Belmont, hero of the previous game, to come out of retirement: his son, Soleiyu Belmont, has disappeared right around the same time that four mysterious castles have appeared around Romania. It's up to Christopher to explore these four castles and solve the mystery of their existence and how it all ties into his son's vanishing (spoilers: Dracula).
For those that have played the original Adventure, the question might very well be, "did that crappy game really deserve a sequel?" Well, to be fair, the Game Boy made great money (printed it, really), and just about every series needed to have regular releases on that system so as to get a piece of that glorious cash.
Whatever the reason for its existence, Belmont's Revenge proves itself to be a worthy entry into the series. Most everything that was wrong with the first game was fixed, and enough improvements were added to make this one of the essential entries in the Castlevania series (Game Boy or otherwise).
The first and most interesting feature is that this is the first game to allow you to freely choose your path through the game (even more-so than Castlevania III). When you first enter the game, you're greeted with a shot of Romania with the four mysterious castles. You can go through those castles in any order, giving you a chance to try your luck at any of the challenges there -- and get better as you see fit. If you find one castle to be too challenging, try a different one -- each has its own challenges to trip you up, and each will teach you different skills you need for your journey (as a player -- there is no "power" benefit to the castles, unlike a Mega Man game, for example).
The move to four different areas also shows the next improvement over the pervious game: each area feels different; they have their own graphics, their own style, their own music. Your aren't playing through four "samey" levels, but very different, fully realized locales.
And while we're on the topic of the music, Belmont's Revenge is packed with winners. Admittedly, I'm a hardcore Castlevania fan, but the whole of this game's soundtrack is regularly on my playlists (mixed in with a variety of techno and modern rock -- I have an eclectic mix). "New Messiah", "Ripe Seeds", "Praying Hands", and "Psycho Warrior" are all glorious tracks inspite of -- or maybe even because of -- their "plinky" nature. Certainly the limits of the Game Boy sound-system forced the composers to work within limited means, and they did so gloriously ("Ripe Seeds" being my personal favorite).
As a bonus, with a simple password, players can unlock an "Easy Mode" in Belmont's Revenge -- certainly an essential feature for any sequel to the punishingly hard Adventure. I'm not saying you'll need it -- Belmont's Revenge isn't as hard as its predecessor, although it is still quite difficult -- but if you like having a chance to make it through games, an easy mode is a welcome inclusion.
Regardless of your feelings towards the original Castlevania Adventure, Belmont's Revenge improves on the original and refines the basic engine from the first game to a point where it does what seemed impossible: it makes an Adventure game that's fun to play.