By Josh Speer / May 31st, 2019
|Title||Castlevania Anniversary Collection|
|Release Date||May 16th, 2019|
|Platform||Steam, Nintendo Switch, PS4, XBox One|
|Age Rating||T for Teen – Blood, Fantasy Violence, Partial Nudity|
I wasn’t originally planning on reviewing the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. After all, I didn’t receive a review copy, and mostly bought it to satisfy my own nostalgia. But the more I played it, enjoying both reliving and experiencing anew highlights in this storied franchise, I decided I might as well write something. After all, I was already taking dozens upon dozens of screenshots. And despite only being a nominal fan of the Castlevania series, I felt I had some things to share. I say nominal because I only really got into the series when Symphony of the Night revolutionized the entire thing, and you’d be accurate in saying there’s a big difference between the original games and those which came after SOTN. Hell, before this I hadn’t even beaten any of the original NES games other than Dracula’s Curse, nor had I touched upon the Gameboy or Genesis entries. So I actually had a lot of work to do in order to write this review. The question is, did I come out of it with my fandom gloriously inflamed by the Collection? Or was it just a miserable pile of remakes?
I’m going to start out by explaining how this review is going to go, since it’s not often I review 8 games at once. This review will devote a few paragraphs to each game in the order I played them, along with plenty of pretty pictures. At the very end, I’ll touch upon the visual and audio presentation plus anything extra, and finish it up with my summarized thoughts. With that out of the way, let’s start my first foray into the Belmonts’ Gameboy mayhem with Castlevania The Adventure.
It’s easy to think of portable iterations of any popular series as quick cash grabs, and I admit I didn’t expect much of anything from Castlevania the Adventure. Luckily, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Because while the classic Gameboy wasn’t capable of the visual feats of the NES, Konami seemed to take that as a challenge to pack as much awesome into this tiny adventure as possible. Though it only includes 4 levels, no doubt due to the limitations of said platform, they are each multi-tiered and full of challenging platforming and nasty beasts. There’s everything from Punaguchi (Bone Pillars) to Mudmen to what I assume must be the ancestors of Fleamen. While falling into bottomless pits was frustrating, it was made less so with the advent of save states. I actually stumbled upon that feature, discovering it was available for all the games in this Collection. I quickly grew to love its inclusion, since you can press ZL at any time to freeze the game, and then either save or load your progress. You might think that made things too easy, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Saving at the wrong time, such as when at low health or equipped with a bad sub-weapon, made things much harder, so I grew to time my saves carefully. They were a necessity, especially when facing challenges like instant death spike walls chasing me through levels. You’re welcome to play without any saves, but that should only be reserved for the most hardcore of fans.
The bosses in this game were also surprisingly impressive. Though simplistic, they offered a robust challenge, especially the room full of Goblins (they’re really Fleamen) jumping out of holes. As for Dracula himself, being on the Gameboy didn’t sap any of his challenge. He managed to teleport all about hurling waves of fire at me, and as if that wasn’t enough, transformed into a giant, deadly bat for the final confrontation. I was really quite impressed by Castlevania the Adventure, but felt I needed a break from Gameboy graphics afterwards. And so, I decided next to try a game that just now officially made its stateside debut…
I had actually heard a lot about Kid Dracula over the years, but there’s a big difference between hearing secondhand and playing firsthand. What I never could have guessed was how truly weird and innovative the game was. First off, while most Castlevania games are dark and brooding, this side story is light and cheery. You play the titular Kid Drac (not clear if he’s supposed to be a young Dracula or Alucard, but that’s not really important) on his quest to oust a pretender to his monster throne. That’s about as serious as things get, and I quickly was met with how absurd this game was.
For one thing, every monster in this game is a cutesy and cartoony one. There are adorable little witches, goofy skeletons, cheerful bats and much more. But don’t let that fool you, this game is far from easy. If I had felt any guilt about using save states in Castlevania the Adventure, that completely left me here. Kid Dracula doesn’t really believe in checkpoints, so often if you get killed, it’s back to the very beginning of a stage. That’s made more difficult by the fact many of the bosses here are large threats who like to cheat. The most mellow is a happy ghost who looks creepily similar to a Klansman, and even he killed me a couple of times. Pretty much the only boss who won’t pose a challenge is the Statue of Liberty (no, you didn’t hear that wrong), since you just need to beat her quiz show to win the “battle”.
What makes this game a treat though are all the weird combat conventions. Each time you beat one of the 9 stages, Kid Drac gets a new power which he can scroll through at will. If that sounds like Mega Man, just you wait. He can also charge all of his attacks by holding the attack button, though some of his fully charged powers double as new ways to traverse your environment, such as transforming into a bat or flipping onto the ceiling. Which is my way of saying that there’s a lot of complexity to the game, and no shortage of challenge. Turning into a bat didn’t keep me from dying dozens of times, and in a game with this many stages, you’d better be ready to die. The only thing at your disposal to earn more lives are the totally random minigames, such as guessing the color of dancing girl’s panties, stabbing a skeleton or various games of chance. If nothing else, Kid Dracula is worth playing just to see how full of deliciously crazy Japanese flavor it was. After beating it, I needed something a bit more grounded, so let’s return to the years of the Gameboy.
Everything that impressed me about the original Gameboy outing was enhanced in Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge. It continues the story of Christopher Belmont, who was victorious, defeating Dracula in Castlevania The Adventure. But you can’t keep a good vampire down, and this story has the ghastly spirit of the Count take possession of Christopher’s son, Soleil Belmont. Symphony of the Night flashbacks aside, I was not expecting this much lore in the game. After all, the first one was pretty basic, but there’s some intense father / son drama in the game, not to mention the first true boss fight against a human in the series, serving as a progenitor for fights against the likes of Juste, Richter and Maxim later on.
One of the reasons I enjoyed Belmont’s Revenge was that it took all the things that were good about the first outing, and smoothed over the rough edges. Sure you can and still will die, but you have a bit more breathing room. And the bosses were wildly creative, in my opinion. You have an elemental wizard, a fight against two living statues, an armored demon, a creepy wall monster, a super difficult bone dragon, Dracula himself and even your son, Soleil. What gives you a fighting chance, unlike in Castlevania The Adventure, here you have access to a couple of sub-weapons – the axe and holy water. Being accustomed to the later games, I thought the water was the way to go, but to my great surprise, the axe was my go-to weapon of choice. Being able to hit things at odd angles was a constant life saver.
As much as I loved most things about this game, there was one sticking point – the final bosses. The fight against Soleil was incredibly difficult, but not as tough as Dracula. Mostly because the good Count fired rotating balls of death, and finding a safe place to avoid them required much patience on my part. The only upside is this time there was only one phase to the Dracula fight, so it wasn’t impossible. Overall though, this was the better of the portable entries included in the Collection. Next up, we’ll go back to where it all started on the NES.
There’s a reason I took my time getting to the original Castlevania, and that reason is simple – fear. I worried I wouldn’t be up to the task of tackling the game that started it all without the modern conventions I’ve grown accustomed to. You can’t level up and you’re totally reliant on timing and having the right sub-weapon equipped. I also was concerned the platforming would be too much for me. Thankfully, those fears were mostly unfounded. Sure, the original game is hard, but it also has some sections that are surprisingly easy. Furthermore, most of the bosses in the game are a cakewalk, with the notable exceptions of Death and Dracula, who are both unrelenting bastards.
I learned a lot of lessons after playing the first Castlevania. First off, I learned Dracula’s design has changed wildly over the years. I always thought of him as the dapper caped gentleman with long hair, but here he looks far more ghastly and demonic (and that’s before he transforms). I also learned that the bad writing for the plot isn’t a bug, but a series feature. And that Fleamen are horrible in any game, but doubly so when you have limited evasive movement. And lastly I discovered that some of the most iconic bosses, such as Medusa and the Mummy, start out as pushovers. There are also weird discrepancies, such as Dracula’s fireballs having homing capability. That said, I had a lot more fun with the first game than I expected. But after all that retro, I wanted something a bit more updated, so I moved on with Super Castlevania IV.
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