REVIEW: Castlevania Anniversary Collection

Friday, May 31st, 2019

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Some games transitioned to the SNES with flair, and Super Castlevania IV is certainly one of those games. They took everything that made the series iconic and seasoned it with a bunch more spice. This was the first game in the series where you could whip in multiple directions, as well as fling your whip around to block projectiles. You could also swing across gaps with it, a feature I think should have shown up in more games. But what I loved most about this entry was how huge it was. They jam packed content into this, and when I thought I was almost done, I was barely at the halfway mark.

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The experimental nature of the game was fantastic, and I loved how it really took chances with different ideas. They used Mode 7 graphics for crazy rotations and things like giant chandeliers you could stand upon. They also made it really feel like a Castlevania with lots of opportunities for a cheap death. That happened a ton in the Clock Tower, and I died several times fighting against the Mummy atop giant clock hands. They even took foes I thought of as weak in later entries like SOTN and made them a true threat. Namely, the ghostly dancers are a force to be reckoned with here. When they turned invisible and started attacking me, I nearly lost my composure. And as weak as Slogra and Gaibon were later, they were an impressive challenge here.

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Perhaps the best part of this game was the final path to Dracula. While the fight against Dracula himself isn’t my favorite in the series, it’s plenty challenging. And considering you have to brave a gauntlet of foes like Death and others to get there, it feels suitably epic. I already liked Super Castlevania IV from playing it years back on my Wii U, but after finally beating it here, it’s easily become one of my favorite entries in the long running series. So of course, my next game was one that has gotten a ton of praise as well.

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Dracula’s Curse is iconic in the Castlevania fandom, and it’s not hard to understand why. Not only did it introduce multiple characters and branching paths, it also had tight gameplay and the challenge fans have come to expect. Hell, the recently released Netflix series was heavily influenced by this game, and that wowed us fans. I had played a little of Dracula’s Curse on my 3DS, but I got frustrated by some of the bosses and hadn’t picked it up afterwards. So I figured now was as good a time as any to try again.

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Whereas the original Castlevania featured Simon Belmont, this one took place several hundred years earlier. As such, it made sense to focus on his ancestor Trevor. The curveball were the 3 other characters – Sypha, Grant and Alucard. All three have totally unique play styles and offer interesting ways to explore. That goes triple for Grant, who can hop around like a heroic Fleaman. I daresay that Symphony of the Night wouldn’t have existed without this game, and for that, I love it even more. That said, there is one thing about this game that really irritated me. Sometimes when you kill an enemy, they will drop a random sub-weapon, which I think is a feature exclusive to this game. Sounds great, except it often happens in the heat of the moment and usually gives you a sub-weapon you really don’t want. I can’t count the number of times I reloaded my save to avoid getting a shitty weapon.

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The bosses in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse are pretty tough, and the fact that you can take a variety of paths through the game makes things interesting. While they toned down some bosses, there are plenty that will cause you grief. One is the recurring Cyclops boss, another is a fight against an evil spirit who possesses multiple monsters to kill you. Even though they mellowed out Death from the first game, he also has a second, horrific form. And while I wasn’t a huge fan of the Dracula fight in Super Castlevania IV, the one here is fantastic. I can’t say I understand why he turns from a Count into a monstrous amalgamation of brains and then an angry bird statue, but the creativity and challenge impressed the hell out of me. Frankly, we’re lucky we got this game, since the one that preceded it was highly controversial. And that one’s up next.

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I’m gonna be perfectly frank, I considered skipping Simon’s Quest. While you hear nothing but good things about Castlevania III, II is the polar opposite. It’s confusing, awkwardly written and somewhat psychotic. And yet, the more I played it, the more I found weird little charming features. For one thing, the music in this game is still amazing, no matter how much of a mess everything else is. For another, aspects like leveling up and equipping items got introduced here, and without those, I never would have gotten my first Metroidvania. They introduced Churches to fully heal you here. Also, the day / night cycle was actually really cleverly used, and it made sense Dracula’s minions were more powerful at night. So much so that I kind of wish it had made it into other games, not counting the stupid N64 entries.

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With all those nice things out of the way, let’s move onto the messy bits. First and foremost, you really can’t beat this game without a guide. Or you can, but it takes blind luck and infinite patience. I am not a fan of either, so I found a guide and got playing. There’s so much that would have been improved with just a bit more clarity in this game such as what equipped items do, clear hints on where to go next etc. And this may sound like an odd critique, but I wanted more bosses in this game. There’s a total of three, including the big bat himself. That is starkly less than any other game in the series, even the Gameboy adventures.

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They also complicated things with tons of hidden items and invisible platforms. I cannot count how many times I fell through the floor, but it was definitely more than a dozen. The game seemed to delight in pulling the rug out from under us players. Especially with regard to things like kneeling to make tornadoes appear or water levels recede. It’s bonkers this game didn’t kill the entire series, charming quirks notwithstanding. But I am glad I finally got through it, doubly so cause it let me save the best for last – Castlevania Bloodlines!

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Not to immediately contradict myself, but Bloodlines wasn’t quite my favorite game in this Collection. It did come damned close though. With just a few improvements, it would have easily claimed that title. See, I grew up playing video games, but I never owned a Sega Genesis. I had a Game Gear, but that wasn’t the same thing. So I missed out on games like this when they originally released. Which is a shame, since Bloodlines had heart and creativity to spare. Not only did it expand the Castlevania universe in big ways with two playable characters, it also took the series into modern times. That’s quite cool, and part of the reason I was so impressed by this entry. Another reason was the gameplay.

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This might sound odd, but in many ways Bloodlines almost doesn’t remind me of a Castlevania game. For one thing, it’s significantly faster than the other games. Both you and your foes react quicker and have less wind-up time, which in part caused me to get burned alive by Bone Pillars on many occasions until I acclimated. For another, it is far less focused on platforming hell than other entries. And while there is the usual gothic influence here, it just feels different. In a weird way, this almost reminded me more of a Contra game. But that’s far from a bad thing, and some of the unusual foes caught my attention, such as Minotaurs and swinging plant monsters.

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As you span the globe in Bloodlines, going from Greece to France, you’ll face some really eclectic bosses and even mini-bosses. One of the weirdest ones is a pile of living gears that attacks you in Germany. An especially interesting one is a floating, ethereal maiden who transforms into a hideous moth. And the fight against Death himself is especially clever, involving Tarot cards that force you into fighting older bosses a second time. Sadly, the fight against Countess Bartley herself is a bit underwhelming, and so is the fight against Dracula. But all in all, there’s a lot more great stuff than bad stuff here. Plus, with two playable characters, you have an excuse to play through more than once to enjoy all the sights and sounds. My only real complaint about the game is how short it is, sitting at only 6 stages.

It wouldn’t be fair to talk about any collection without discussing the controls. Thankfully, I found all the controls tight and responsive. Once you get them down, you’ll be ready for each subsequent game, other than Bloodlines. That efficiency also applies to the aforementioned options. It’s handy and quick to save and load the game, as well as check the controls at any time. I didn’t really play with the other visual filters, but there’s plenty if you’re interested.

Anniversary Collection | Options

While I won’t cover the aesthetics for each of the 8 included games, I will discuss the art for the series on the whole. It’s my opinion that Castlevania started out great and only got better with age. You’d think the NES games would look ugly and blocky now, but the game has always had tons of personality and conveyed dark themes well. That’s in large part due to the color palette, which has lots of browns, reds, blacks and other dark colors, such as dark blue and forest green. Whenever they had more to work with, they managed to improve things dramatically, such as the huge character sprites in Super Castlevania IV or the complex visual effects such as bleeding fountains in Bloodlines. And perhaps one of the things I love most about the series are all the great monsters. Ranging from bone tossing skeletons to hulking Axe Knights to floating Medusa heads, there’s a ton of diversity on display. Some of the more eye catching visual effects were swinging from your whip, rotating chambers, shifting towers and even a cool mirrored effect at the end of Bloodlines. Hell, even the Gameboy games were visually appealing, and they only had two colors to work with. If I wasn’t already impressed with the art in the series, I certainly am after playing through all 8 of these games.

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Musically, this series is even more impressive. Even when they only had a few tones to work with, they managed to orchestrate complex melodies. The tunes range from hard rocking to gothic songs, and everything else in between. While there are the more iconic tracks like Bloody Tears, Theme of Simon, Vampire Killer and Wicked Child, I also liked some of the lesser known stuff. From the Gameboy games, I was fond of New Messiah and Revenge. From NES, I enjoyed Mad Forest and Silence of Daylight. From SNES, I really was impressed by both The Library and Treasury, while from Genesis, Iron-Blue Intention and The Discolored Wall stuck with me. As for Kid Dracula, the music there was totally unlike everything else, being cheerful and upbeat. A good example of which is Hop and Step Above the Clouds.

As much as I enjoyed the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, there were a couple glitches and one letdown. One glitch occurred when I exited from Simon’s Quest. When I returned to the game select screen, there was a loud static sound that muted all the music. Thankfully, restarting my game seemed to fix that. Another happened during the original Castlevania in the underground grotto level. It was a loud, recurring ding sound not unlike the ticking of a clock. Once I got past that level, it never returned, but it is worth noting. The more serious concern I had was that this collection inexplicably doesn’t have a music select which seems odd, for a couple reasons. For one, Castlevania is known for the tremendous music. For another, there is a companion called Book of the Crescent Moon, full of interviews, strange secrets and behind the scenes looks into the development process, as well as some great sketch art. While you can certainly hear all the wonderful songs while you play the game, this game absolutely deserved a way to listen to them at your leisure.

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Honestly for $19.99, it’s hard to go wrong with the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. It’s packed with great retro gaming, easily 10+ hours worth, and tons of lore about the series. It should put a smile on the faces of many fans. I definitely feel like more of a true fan after playing it, and gained new appreciation for what Konami accomplished back in their glory days. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned glitches and frankly inexcusable lack of a music select, I couldn’t give this a perfect score like I wanted. But if you’re a fan, old or new, of Castlevania and want a handy collection on any current console, you have plenty to sink your teeth into with this.

Review Score

Review Copy Purchased by Author

About Josh Speer

Josh is a passionate gamer, finding time to clock in around 30-40 hours of gaming a week. He discovered Operation Rainfall while avidly following the localization of the Big 3 Wii RPGs. He enjoys SHMUPS, Platformers, RPGs, Roguelikes and the occasional Fighter. He’s also an unashamedly giant Mega Man fan, having played the series since he was eight. As Head Editor and Review Manager, he spends far too much time editing reviews and random articles. In his limited spare time he devours indies whole and anticipates the release of quirky, unpredictable and innovative games.

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