The Belmont clan strikes once again! Find out in our Castlevania Anniversary Collection review if Dracula is worthy of being slayed.
The day has come. Konami has remembered that they have one of the greatest gaming IPs out there. And they actually did something with it! There’s nobody around here as crazy for Belmont and company as I am, so I might as well start this right now. Hope you have some chicken wall near you because after reading this Castlevania Anniversary Collection review, you’ll need to recover some energy. Let’s get ready to hunt the night!
The Grateful Eight
If Castlevania doesn’t ring any bells to you, I should give you my sympathy. Living without knowing about one of the greatest franchises of all time must be really hard. Jokes aside, the action platformer originally crafted by Akamatsu Hitoshi and his team forged the path of some titles we know today. Challenging stages with demanding boss battles thrown against players in order to prove how skilled these are. Satisfying action and enemies that will test your patience. Flea Men. All these elements blend perfectly in what I would dare to say is one of the few sagas that I never get tired of playing. As long as there are Belmont hunting the night in these games, there will be hope for the industry. However, this hope slightly faded when I started tasting this Collection on PS4. Spoilers: it needs improvement.
In this Anniversary Collection (which Konami hinted on a tweet that there could be a second one) we have eight evildoer-slayer titles. The original Castlevania NES trilogy, the two Game Boy titles, Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania Bloodlines and the exclusive Famicom title Kid Dracula. There’s no sight of Rondo of Blood, which makes my heart cry in agony and pain. At least we have the chance to play it on the Castlevania Requiem collection though. But how does each title hold up in 2019? Let’s take a look at each entry of the series with detail to see if they are still as great as in the old days.
Castlevania: Crashing the castle for the first time
The original NES title blew the minds of everyone back in 1986. Tough as nails, a catchy soundtrack and a great atmosphere were some of the things everybody loved about this action platformer. The first Castlevania laid the basis for the entire franchise as hard, yet rewarding titles to complete. And there’s no surprise by saying that even in 2019 this game is still a classic.
Simon Belmont is stiff as a rock in a pool of tar. The hunter of demons moves quite heavily without being able to do things as simple as changing its trajectory mid-jumping. Yet, despite this, there’s a small sense of comfort while playing as Simon. You feel powerful with every single whip, and watching enemies fade from existence is satisfying as hell. Add to this an amazing array of tracks and you’ll be in for quite the treat. However, not everything is perfect.
See, M2 mistakenly used the American PRG0 ROM version of Castlevania, which is notorious for being pretty unstable. This makes the game freeze and even crash at certain points of the game, making this experience not as pleasant as some wish it was. As of today, Konami has not released the patch that will fix this issue (as well as fixing some annoying audio glitches), so this makes the original title flawed. And you shouldn’t offer a flawed version of an NES Castlevania title in 2019, Konami.
Castlevania II: Simon Belmont’s Day Off
You know how the entertainment industry works already: when something makes a huge fire, you know they are going to add more fuel to keep it burning. But back in the day, companies didn’t enjoy taking the lazy “loot boxes everywhere” tactic. They actually tried new things in order to make the most interesting title ever out there. Sadly, Simon’s Quest was an experiment that felt a little bit… Lackluster.
This sequel is infamous among people due to the many issues present in the game. Its awful and cryptic NPC dialogue, the huge amount of cheap traps and the lack of enemy variety are just some of these problems. Thankfully, the Internet dwellers are always there to fix what companies don’t want to, and they released a hack called “Castlevania II: Redaction”.
While this is a huge improvement over the original title, this is not an official update. Thus, we have to deal with the vanilla version. But is it as bad as many people say it is? No, but the lack of polish is present in tons of areas. I could keep talking about this sequel, but there are some bigger elephants in this collection we should address. And if you think Simon’s Quest is a bad game, oh do I have something for you that’s even worse…
Castlevania III: Where controllers come to suffer
HA! You thought I was going to talk about The Adventure without talking about how awesome Castlevania III is? You poor devils… But yeah, the third installment of the NES trilogy kicks ass, I don’t know what else I could say. Well, aside from: ‘this game will obliterate your will’, of course.
Castlevania III puts us in the boots of Trevor Belmont, the first Belmont who fought Lord Dracula (Leon Belmont fought Mathias Cronqvist, so shut up). He and his trusty Vampire Killer will obliterate the evil forces of chaos alongside some help in the form of new playable characters. Sypha Belnades will use her powerful spells to freeze and burn everything that stands in her way. Grant Danasty will be able to release his inner Spider-Man powers and climb any type of surface with his hands. And our pretty boy Alucard (having in this title an appearance that falls more into the Bela Lugosi style rather than the one in Symphony of the Night) can turn into a bat. Each one packs their own pros and cons, so make sure you chose wisely who has to travel with Trevor.
The third entry is notorious for being hard, but I wouldn’t say it’s a “fair” type of challenge. The most noticeable change was the amount of damage enemies dealt the more you advanced through the game. In the Japanese version, everything stays pretty solid and reasonable. However, in the international versions of the game, you can get completely obliterated by a bat. Yes, a bat. There are also some differences in terms of sprites and enemies. If you are interested in this, I highly recommend taking a look at all the regional differences of the game.
Despite being hard as hell, we also have the option to play the Japanese ROM of the game (which also has the better soundtrack due to this region cartridge using a better memory chip). If you really want to get your ass kicked really hard, prepare to cry with Castlevania III. And now, let’s hit the worst game in this collection. Let’s talk about Castlevania: The Adventure.
Castlevania The Adventure: The miserable portable pile of awfulness
This game is bad. This game is REALLY bad. Castlevania: The Adventure is so awful that I didn’t even bother to take screenshots of this huge pile of garbage. This Game Boy title makes Simon’s Quest look like the Holy Grail in comparison. The first Castlevania was tough but fair and enjoyable. Its sequel was really flawed but at least it tried something new. And the third game was awfully hard but it was still a fun time once you managed to master it. But… The Adventure? There’s nothing that saves this portable mess from eternal damnation.
In The Adventure, we take control of Christopher Belmont. Descendant of Simon Belmont, Christopher will fulfill his duty as a member of the Belmont Clan by going after Lord Dracula, who has resurrected after 100 years. Same old thing, nothing new to add to this plot. However, as this is a GB title, the structure and the level design feels… Terrible. Not only there are no sub-weapons whatsoever, but we also lose our whip upgrades whenever we get hit by something. And this title features -probably- the cruelest traps I’ve ever seen in a Castlevania title. Also ropes and spikes. If you played it, you know what I’m talking about.
The Adventures will pass to Gaming History as a really bad Castlevania title. Fortunately, Belmont’s Revenge came to save the day and show that good GB Castlevanias can be made. And what a game Simon’s Revenge is.
Castlevania The Adventure II: Pocket perfection
What The Adventure screwed, Belmont’s Revenge fixed it and improved it to kingdom come. Not only this sequel of the GB entry introduces a more Megaman-ish level selection, but it also has some of the most incredible level design and music of the series. And it’s a portable Castlevania!
Everything that made the first The Adventure was patched up and improved in this sequel. The already mentioned level selection style improves replayability quite a lot, as you no longer need to do everything in order. Sub-weapons are back (although we only have Holy Water, the Axe, and the Cross if you are playing the Japanese version), the OST sounds amazing,… And can we just say how damn clever the enemy placement is in all levels? They even work as platforms in certain areas, it’s crazy!
The Adventure II was one of those titles that you think it will suck hard only to turn out to be of the best Classicvanias out there. Again, that soundtrack alone is worth experiencing the game. But I wonder: what happens when you try to translate Castlevania on the SNES?
Super Castlevania IV: Surpassing the original by 16 bits
After leaving behind the 8-bit era, Konami thought about the best way to introduce Castlevania to the new Nintendo system. Perhaps… a new entry? A more mature and evolved version of the series? Come on, leave those things to Megaman and Super Metroid, we are talking about Castlevania right here! What the SNES needs is a remake of the original. And while this may sound repetitive nowadays, we are talking about the good old Konami right here. And that’s why they made the masterpiece known as Super Castlevania IV.
If you want to start somewhere, make sure you begin with Super Castlevania IV. The remake of the original NES title is the pinnacle of movement and enjoyment for the Classicvania side of the franchise. I mean, only if we don’t talk about Rondo of Blood, of course. But yeah, it turns out that the Super Nintendo version of Simon Belmont is able to whip in all directions. Not only that but now he can use his trusty weapon as a grappling hook AND control his jump in mid-air! Add to this an amazing soundtrack (which at this point you should sense a pattern with Castlevania games having great tracks) and you get the best title in this collection. It’s fun, it’s challenging, and it’s a blast. Too bad most of the bosses are a complete joke.
Castlevania Bloodlines: Where in the world is Dracula Sandiego
Konami has always been a little bit weird in terms of sticking with one console. But hey, I don’t mind them with Bloodlines. After all, Genesis does what Nintendon’t. But the change from 16-bit to, well, 16-bit in another platform didn’t lower the quality of the franchise. In fact, it actually made it even prettier and harder than before. Many people don’t know about Bloodlines due to the lack of presence outside of Internet ROMs, and that’s quite a shame. Why? Because Bloodlines is stupid good, that’s why.
We are in the First World War. Elizabeth Bartley (a clear reference to the real Elizabeth Bathory A.K.A. The Blood Countess) wants to resurrect her dear old uncle, Dracula. Thus, she triggers the events of WWI by killing the Crown Prince of Austria because, of course, she does. History could be more enjoyable if it was told by Castlevania if you ask me. Anyway, amidst the chaos, two vampire hunters appear. John Morris, which is the son of Quincy Morris (the same one from Bram Stoker’s Dracula), and Eric Lecarde, who was born in Spain. Both warriors were related by blood to the Belmont clan, Morris wielding the Vampire Killer while Lecarde holding the Alucard Spear. And all of this to say that you can play with both characters, talk about filler.
The structure of Bloodlines is similar to the previous titles: move from stage to stage until you reach Uncle Drac. However, a big difference is that now we need to start from the very beginning if we run out of continues. It’s not brutally hard, but it sure ramps things up notably. And of course, good musical score plus a really impressive graphical display (Tower of Pisa, say hi) equals to, you guessed it: a great enjoyable title. And now we go to the last (and not actually the greatest) game of this collection.
Kid Dracula: I ran out of puns
Oh, Kid Dracula, you could have been so great, yet you are just mediocre at best. Released originally only in Japan under the title Akumajō Special: Boku Dracula-Kun, this game was a spin-off game of the franchise. This is the first time we see this title completely localized, so that’s a nice gift from Konami for sure. The game put us in control of Kid Dracula, the son of the guy that drinks blood and I’m tired of saying his name at this point. The plot is simple: Galamoth (a dinosaur who wants to take control of the Netherworld, don’t ask) has challenged Kid Dracula after he wakes up from his slumber. Thus, Lil’ Boy Drac takes his father’s cape and gets ready to kick some dino-butt. And now, the gameplay: it’s pretty boring.
Not only it never reaches levels of toughness equal to the original saga, but Kid Dracula is actually the weakest title of this collection. Sprites flickering everywhere, dull color choices and bosses that end before you can even see them. Also, the Western version doesn’t have the first boss depicted as a member of the KKK. At least let me kick some disgusting racist ass as intended Konami, that would have added more enjoyable points to the product!
Overall, there’s not much to say about Kid Dracula. It’s a joke game with only the first level being a clear reference to Castlevania while the rest of the levels are just generic. The flickering doesn’t help as well if you ask me, even if it feels “true to the original release”.
The definitive Castlevania collection?
It’s been quite a while since the Collection came out. The lack of remappable controls, some issues regarding crashes and not having the ability to play the Japanese ROMs were big problems for me. However, after a couple of weeks, Konami actually introduced and fixed all those issues, which is quite impressive. Heck, they even added not only the Japanese version of Castlevania III but the original Castlevania as well as The Adventure 1 and 2, Kid Dracula, Bloodlines and Super Castlevania IV. That’s awesome! But no matter how much they add, the question still wanders around: is Castlevania Anniversary Collection worth its price? And the answer is: of course, it’s f*cking Castlevania!
While it is true that this is not the cleanest and the most complete collection out there, it’s the only one we have for this amazing franchise. While I miss titles like Rondo of Blood or The Adventure Rebirth, we are talking about playing one of the greatest titles of gaming history. Who cares if The Adventure and Kid Dracula are just mediocre at best? We can still play Super Castlevania IV, III, Bloodlines and the original one. You can play Simon’s Quest if you are crazy too, I won’t judge! But these are titles that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. Good level design, excellent soundtrack and atmosphere and one hell of a clan always ready to hunt the night. It may not be complete, but this is the closest thing we have to play these forever-shining games nowadays.