With which game, though? The killer DS app Dawn of Sorrow? Curse of Darkness, starring a popular character from the show? The very first game in the chronology, Lament of Innocence, or the very first game, period? Well, friends, I marshalled my usual excellent priorities to tackle...the Game Boy titles. (Um, though I guess the neon green gives that away.)
I actually finished the first two previous Game Boy titles a couple years ago. I have more extensive notes somewhere, in some woebegone file, but what I remember is that I concluded Adventure was just too rough to matter and miserable to continue, and about Belmont's Revenge: a) it was solid; b) I liked the Mega Man gimmick with the themed castles, though I wished more were done with it and the levels were more extensive; c) I liked how Debussy's exacting "Passepied" was used to great effect as a final level theme, bringing Debussy to my attention as one of the few classical composers whose work doesn't (I'm sorry) bore me; and d) the final boss battle took more time than the entire rest of the game.
More recently (in a relative sense), I took advantage of the Halloween update to Switch Online to polish off Castlevania Legends. While I'm prepared to write a more complete article on this title, I note most of my opinions are reflected in this piece by the estimable VGJunk. My overall view is that it's really a nothing game. It has a number of original ideas, but it doesn't build on them, and very little comes of them. It's not a disgrace to the Castlevania name; it just is not remarkable in any way that you identify with Castlevania games. Which I suppose means that it is a disgrace? Not worthy of the name in a low-key manner, I suppose. Very, very soft disowning, though. It's one step above being a Castlevania game in the way, say, a Tiger game with the Castlevania license is. It has the aesthetic, but the guts and soul aren't fully there.
It doesn't know how to design smartly-hard encounters in the mien of Castlevania, so it settles for being persistently annoying. The respawn rate is wholly unreasonable - move a pixel, and defeated foes reappear. As VGJunk notes, it loves having enemies who home in above you, where you can't hit. And there's no escalation of difficulty; the game just keeps on being persistently annoying. As with the original Seiken Densetsu on this platform, there's big "just put a bunch of fuckin' blocks here" energy, where the developers want to expand their Game Boy title beyond the platform's typical scope but don't have the design chops to know how to do that.
The bosses, on the other hand, are generally cake. The is the easiest incarnation Death ever; he just jumps from side to side in an arc safely above you and chucks a scythe over your head occasionally. As for the "Owwww!" incarnation of Alucard, you can get the boy caught in a pattern like money.
The jumping is bad. Every jump is in the vein of the last stage of Castlevania Chronicles has to be with one of Sonia's feet off the surface. I died more to jumping over standard pits or onto ropes that anything else. This is why Belmonts shouldn't wear high-heeled boots. It's a good thing we never had to play Trevor when he went through his own high-heels phase. Wait, is he an extra mode in Curse of Darkness? ...Dammit.
The special abilities seem like patches for certain problems whose implications for the rest of the game the developers didn't wholly think through. OK, it's Stage 3; we want to make things harder now. Hold on, we made the enemies too annoying. Well, just give players a healing spell. Wait, isn't that unbalancing? Well, I dunno; just make fewer candles then, I guess. Sonia also has Burning Mode, a special meter you can activate once per life that makes her invincible and gives double damage, which I imagine would have broken the game near-completely if I had ever run into enough resistance to remember to use it. (I think I used it on Drac, though.) Why didn't you hand that down to your descendants, O Venerable Matriarch? I'm sure Juste would have been happy to exploit it, along with the rest of his 37 superpowers.
Again, it's not a bad few hours if you have Nintendo Switch Online. "It's not bad" is probably the most damning thing you can say about it, in the good and bad senses. The delights are found in smaller elements:
Sonia's sprite looks great. Can a Game Boy sprite look tough, sexy, and capable? Apparently.
I really like the use of "Vampire Killer" as the final boss theme for what was at the time the earliest game in the chronology. It is not damning with faint praise when I say it is probably one of the best decisions they make. (I also like the specific remix the game presents.)
I also like the Nyx-from-Resident Evil: Outbreak-but-of-souls-not-corpses final boss, though the graphics could have made this a bit more monstrous.
Gathering the classic Castlevania subweapons to pass on to Sonia's descendants is a good idea. (The idea of Sonia having a gradually-expanding arsenal of spells that's always available, hearts willing, is also good but, as noted above, sloppily-implemented.)
These skull monsters and their chomping jaws! Look at these goofy, grinny guys! I love them.
(The bird-head bone pillars, I dunno, but at least they're different.)
The game also includes full-sized hunchbacks who demonstrate traditional Castlevania "hunchback" frantic jumping behavior, which is genuinely WHOA WHOA WHOA disconcerting when you first encounter it.
In going through my screenshots, I was struck by how the big spider enemies do make the most of scary spiderness. Despite stuff like, say, the little spiders that throw their web on Sypha's stage in 3, Castlevania has had a lack of big scary spider enemies.
Legends does explore new frontiers in candles for Castlevania. For one - and for perhaps the first time in the series - we have whippable candles actually where candles belong: in candlesticks, on dining tables. Holy moly.
For another, we have troll candles. Some candles, if you whip them, they'll just take you to a trap room filled with zombies who respawn packed so close together that it's tough to avoid them, and you eat a ton of damage. All right, this isn't a positive development, but it's worthy of note. (Other Sword of Vermilion-esque troll developments: candles containing candle chicken and a 1-up in mid-air between two ropes, where you will likely fall to your death if you try to catch them.)
I was going to say "the original music is butt." Listening to it in the Bard's playthrough (linked below), I'm not sure I agree with my past self; I think it's that the game doesn't offer any strong original melodies but tries to make some of the richer, more orchestral compositions in the vein of Symphony and doesn't quite do it, but it's not as bad as I thought. A full-fledged Castlevania might be able to make something out of them. (Interesting choice: "Bloody Tears" for the first-stage theme. The Japanese title of the track also translates to "A Woman's Tears.")
As for the big twist at the end: it doesn't explicitly say Al was the Dad, though why would you have him call her "beloved" otherwise. VGJunk: "Now we know why Dracula keeps trying to take over the world - it's the only time he ever gets to see his family."
(Good job, Al: Get her pregnant, then go to sleep. Really taking after your dad there with the shitty parenting.)
In further canon discussions, the manual describes Sonia as the first Belmont to leave her name to posterity as a vampire hunter. Didn't Leon get his name stricken from the record books because he chose to go after Walther? I don't want Alucard baby to be canon, either, but Iga edicts aside, Leon and Sonia don't seem to be mutually exclusive.
I do like Legends' manga art, by the way, both in the manual and in-game. It's far better and more artistically-accomplished than the manga style used in Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin. No artist listed that I can see, sadly.
The Bard did a playthrough here, which is short on Collection Items but long on bardly diction and pronouncements. On the sword-wielding Medusa miniboss fight, of which I did not get a pic, and given that description, why not: "Is this the original decapitation of Medusa that leads to 50 heads reproducing in subsequent castles? That's significant, that her head gets away. It is, of course, the greatest weapon in Greek myth."
Note: If you're a console gamer, please take some aspirin before reading the chat. As is frequently the case with old-old-school PC gamers (see: the Ultima series), despite believing their gaming knowledge to be encyclopedic, they can be, um, somewhat behind:
Thank you very much.
They like Sonia's verbal smackdown to Drac at the end:
"Activate Buxom Mode! ...What is this mode called?"