Longtime readers of my site know that I'm a big Castlevania fan, so much so that I use it as a rule as to buying a new system (as in, whatever next gen system is the first to get a Castlevainia game is the one I buy.) I find them mostly to be above average in terms of graphics and gameplay, some of them (like SOTN) are borderline works of art.
There are the occasional black sheep in the family to watch out for. Even the best batter can't hit homeruns all the time. In a franchise with over twenty games between a dozen systems over twenty years, there are bound to be some stinkers here and there. With Castlevania: Legends we just happen to have one.
This game follows the adventures of Sonia Belmont, matriarch of the famous family of vampire killers. In terms of storyline this game was actually the first chronologically until the release of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence on the Ps2 in 2003. The plot involved Sonia venturing forth to destroy Dracula, and encountering Alucard (the two were apparently lovers) and making the vow that her family line will continuously hunt vampires forever more. The inclusion of Alucard ties this game in with SOTN, which was the big Castlevania game on consoles at the time.
Now "crappy" for a Castlevania game is actually "above average" for any other game. There are actually some improvements here over the previous Castlevania Adventure games. Sonia moves faster (a lot faster) and doesn't loose whip upgrades with hits from enemies. She can change direction in mid jump which increases control considerably. She does not have access to side weapons, but instead gets magical powers after defeating the end level bosses (one which even completely refills her life meter, which you'll be using a lot.) Sonia can also enter "Burning Mode" once per life that makes her stronger and invulnerable for a limited amount of time. The traditional side items do make an appearance as bonus items that must be collected to get the best ending. Graphics are on par with other Game boy Castlevanias, and the music is actually a step up, with peppy renditions of staple tunes like "Vampire Killer."
What then, is the problem? First off, the levels are boring. There isn't much going on here except walk to the right, whip something, walk some more, etc. In the other GB games there was a sense somewhat that you were in a specific environment (caves, buildings, towns, etc.) Here each level seems a bit generic, with pieces of background and foreground used over and over without much variation. The actual level design itself is boring, with long stretches of nothing but random steps and jumps interspersed with rope climbing segments.
The levels have a bit of exploratory gameplay here and there (mainly to find the aforementioned bonus items.) This is interspersed with trap rooms, dead ends, etc. You would think this would be a good thing, right? Problem is the game is filled with cheap hits and respawning enemies, so much so that towards the end it starts becoming a chore just to get to the end with any life left. For instance, in the third level clock tower there are these flying ghost things that come at just the right angle that you can't whip them while climbing on the chains. Make the mistake of backtracking and the same ghost appears again. They also have a habit of appearing at just the right time as to knock you into bottomless pits when you're making a critical jump.
There are these monkey-like gremlins that climb the chains too and shoot fireballs at you. Not much of a problem except there are certain rooms where these things spawn right on top of you as soon as you enter. If you get hit and juggled back into the previous room, everything in there also respawns. Plus unlike all of the other Castlevainia games where you get a limited time of invincibility after getting hit, here you get like one measly nanosecond to get out of the way.Thus it's easy to get juggled by two or three flying ghosts and rope monkeys and not have any opportunity to fight back. This frustration is really apparent in the third level clock tower, where it's like cheap hits and unavoidable ghost monkeys in every room. Weak.
The actual bosses however are pretty cake, with the usual 8-bit patterns that aren't hard to figure out. Most of them can be beaten right off the bat by just hitting burning mode and going to town. Just a tad unbalanced there folks.
If this were any other game starring any other vampire killer fighting any other monsters it would have scored better. Simply being affiliated with the Castlevaina name raises the steaks just a bit higher.
Graphics: Average graphics, move faster but blur a bit on the GB screen. Levels are pretty boring looking.
Sound: Good music, the usual Castlevania sound effects.
Gameplay: A bit faster than previous entries in the series, bad level design, cheap hits, and annoying, respawning enemies drag the game down a lot.