Castlevania Legends pixel-overs

Background information

Castlevania Legends was released for the Game Boy in 1997 and 98, so after the Pocket but before the Color and Light. The game was seemingly intended as an origin story for the Belmonts and Dracula. The player/protagonist is Sonia Belmont, later the mother of... probably Simon Belmont (the father being Alucard, which makes Dracula gramps).

However, Castlevenia canon and timelines became increasingly convoluted as new games appeared and Legends is no longer officially canon. As an old fart I'd probably only include Legends, CV1 and CV2:SQ in my timeline to keep it simple.

What I'm doing here is pixel-overs, meaning, I just edit the original sprites and tiles to better suit my sensibilities, not really considering what might actually read well on the original displays. I'm sourcing sprites from other games than Legends too, but scaling them down and adapting the style.

^ Pixel-overs with some of the original Legends sprites included for reference. I also adapted a few from the NES games and SotN. Castlevania sprites come in a few different scales, Gameboy, NES, GBA and SotN/16-bit. The SotN sprites were reused a lot in e.g. the DS games. Gameboy figures are 3 tiles tall, so NES ones which are 4 tiles tall can be adapted by scaling down to about 75%.

If I recall from my Super Mario Land hack you can use all 4 colours for sprites if you're careful with background details at character level/path. This means placing background details up in room corners and such. Some flying enemies might be up there though, so it might be a good idea to limit the use of transparent white on e.g. bats and birds.

It's possible to do an in-shadow effect using solid light gray. This removes the highlights from the sprites, seemingly darkening them.

The GB has limited VRAM for graphics, I believe 384 tiles (6KB) and that has to cover the player, enemies, terrain, fx, HUD. So each room section can have only a few enemies, placed into VRAM from ROM as needed, probably not immediate like NES bank switching.

That Merman/Fishman is huuuge so I scaled down the head a bit. Could be a boss. I like the spider thing, it's pretty creepy so I didn't change much. My animation frames at the bottom are are untested. The hump-back might actually be (or started out as) the winged being (harpy?) from CV2.

<- It's difficult to photograph a GBP screen due to glare/reflections while also holding it in the light, so this here is a reproduction. Glass glare kinda disappears with human stereo vision and image processing, but a camera only has one eye so it's difficult to photograph a display without a special setup.

Detailing with grays (or greens as it were) was perhaps problematic on the original display, less so on later ones. The Pocket's screen is more gray than that of the original Game Boy (1989). Modern Game Boys are sometimes given modded displays, increasing readability. LCD displays apparently lose contrast as they age. My GBP and GBC are both difficult to enjoy playing now as is. It's possible to improve (mod) the displays with new polarised filters and backlight kits.

Apparently filters can also be used to give a grayscale screen colour. It's done on my CASIO CFX-9850G but it results in some very disorienting drop shadow behaviour (Green here is actually black, and gets a red or blue drop shadow, whilst blue, actually a lighter gray, gets no drop shadow).

Anyways, even under ideal viewing conditions on a GBP the contrast is much lower than on my mockups. It's easy to lose one of the grays by nudging the contrast wheel. While the LCD pixels are very sharp they are actually blurred by their own drop shadow. Movement blur is the biggest issue though.

Additionally, there's some sparkly noise on the backing... maybe it's to avoid reflections while being reflective? I once owned (but sadly somehow lost) the "crystal" G&W games (Ice Climber and SMB)... you'd put a blank paper or your own decoration underneath*, so I don't think the traditional greenish LCD backing is strictly needed.

*The levels in G&W games were printed on clear film tho. I used to make my own G&W "levels" using clear over-head film and pens.

Here I've added some of the bosses and CV1&2 enemies. They were scaled down to fit the GB character scale. The skeletons become too chonky as-is though... maybe with an elongated skull it can look like an alien deformity rather than "SD". There's no way to actually detail the skull at a more realistic scale, but I might go for that.

Medusa is a snake in Legends but loses her head, which Simon then encounters in CV1. I adapted the snake sprite from CV3 into a statue (JP version, as in NA they took her boobs away and made it a male Gorgon). But it's a pointless inclusion here as it doesn't match the Legends design. The CV1 style statue head doesn't make sense chronologically unless it's explained as e.g. remote possession by Medusa or included as a fun easter-egg boss.

Medusa is of course an ancient being so maybe she just teamed up with Dracula, or Medusa is a species of sorts.

Some terrain pixel-overs (bits from other CV GB games). Probably eats into the pattern budget but not a problem with a larger ROM and localised/sectioned loading for landmark tiles.

NES Castlevania Dracula 2nd form has a lot of tile re-use, probably because it was an early game with a limited ROM. Quite posable for a big boss though. Still, I wanted to fool around with the design. A few poses like this would probably fit in a dedicated pattern table.

The CV engine seems to be using 16 wide sprites (3 per scanline for the boss here?), so my variant might run into trouble as it has little extra 8 wide bits probably making it 4 sprites wide. Maybe not a problem if it only does the pose high in the air (no player conflict). I used an overlay sprite for the mouth. My head here is really just an arbitrary design.

I also started a bit on a 32 colour Amiga palette, with the bottom indices being set up for 3 colour sprite effects (glow, gibs). Didn't really spend time optimizing the palette. Ideally parts of it should be dynamic for local enemies & BGs

Game Design Ideas for a Game Boy Castlevania

This project was initially just an attempt to pixel-over some of the sprites from Legends, but as usual it derailed and I included a whole bunch of other designs as well. The bestiaries in the GB games are quite small overall. SotN one the other hand has a massive bestiary. Perhaps it needed that because unlike the original platform game, SotN has a level system with the protagonist growing more powerful.

I like the idea of a more modern Castlevania like that, but it's a lot of work and would also probably overburden a Game Boy. Thinking back on my Super Mario Land hack and breezing through that game so many times to check my new additions, I quite enjoyed the ease of it, so I could imagine liking a more leisurely Castlevania. Something short and not as depressing and slow as some of the NES titles (CV3 seemed to drag, CV1 was short but not that fun to engage with due to the difficulty).

So, perhaps 6 short levels navigated by a quite nimble character. I think I'd like to see diagonal whipping, sliding, boost tackle, ledge grabbing to prevent falls, quick special weapon selection*. However, I don't like parkour platformers where I'm required to do "the fancy move" to progress. In a way, CV1 also forced those kind of situations on the player, just with a smaller movement set.

*Perhaps Select + Dpad to select and A/B to use? Kinda wish Start/Select on the GB were shoulder buttons.

I wouldn't be opposed to seeing occasionally random in enemy placement, forcing me to problem solve or quickly improvise with my available tools. In fact, since I did more sprites here than what would fit in 6 levels, I could imagine making the level selection random too. Something like 3 variants of each level, making it 18 total. Each "run" would be a different experience with different weapons (and move sets).

Perhaps each level has a mid point (mini boss/danger room) and an end boss where the player finds a random treasure: The level special treasure, Whip or Lifebar upgrade? This means ultimately foregoing one, but I suppose there could be super secrets with a chance for a reward. It's nice to be rewarded for being a veteran adventurer.

The first level with the heroine approaching the castle could be a forest, graveyard, or swamp, with a special weapon upgrade (holy water, dagger, crossarang). The second level, a courtyard, CV1 hallway, or a crypt/sewer, with the first movement upgrade as a reward (slide/boost/ledge grab), speeding later levels along a bit. Third level, a bridge, barracks, dining hall, with the first super weapon as a reward (kinda like the fancy ones in the later CV games... more expensive to use than the normal special weapons). Fourth level, dungeon, library, clock tower, and another special weapon (axe, laurel, stopwatch). Etc. up to level 6 which ends with some form of Dracula.

This way you'll see a lot of variety and short portable leisure play, and it's easier to implement than a full open-ish-world RPG Castlevania like on the GBA as there's no maze to design and no player-monster power levels to balance. The game wouldn't even need a save function as it's quite short.

Well, those are my thoughts on a GB Castlevania for now. Toots.

Art by Arne Niklas Jansson