Castlevania Anniversary Collection Review
For well over 30 years, the legendary Castlevania series has shared tales of the famous Belmont lineage in many different forms. While starting out as a popular side-scrolling action-platformer, we have since witnessed multiple generations of genre-changing, vampire-hunting bloodlust. It’s a series that’s partly responsible for a modern term used to describe a particular and highly popular style of gaming. It’s also a franchise that’s tried its hand as a match-three puzzler, a fighting game, a successful Netflix show, become a fresh ingredient in the Super Smash Bros. universe, and oddly enough, an “erotic violence” pachinko machine. In fact, the only genre the fang-fearing franchise hasn’t touched upon across its more than 40 titles is kart racing. Wait… scrap that, forget I even mentioned it.
Due to a long absence in recent years, the series seems to be more modernly known for birthing the trend, “Metroidvania” – a term for a genre that gets passed around like a virgin at an undead dinner table. Yet the heart and soul of this very franchise lies within its original platforming, pixel-tight calculated jumps, and incredibly well-timed whipping skills. This second collection of the three planned to mark Konami’s fiftieth anniversary touches upon just that. Along with giving us an interactive, yet highly inaccurate history lesson from the dawn of the middle ages to the shellshock time period of the first World War.
The eight-title-strong Castlevania Anniversary Collection starts off at the top of the list with the original Castlevania. Playing the part of Simon Belmont, this NES classic forced the player to cautiously step into Dracula’s castle with a restricted moveset straight into the jaws of awkward enemy patterns and a formidable learning curve. The game itself chiseled the blueprints of its iconic gameplay traits, weaponry, and awesome soundtrack that would often reprise their presence across future iterations time and time again.
It’s sequel, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, would tread more ambitiously above its predecessor by opening up a more explorative gameplay system in a similar fashion to the then recently released Metroid. What made Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest particularly different was the day and night cycle that would rotate every three minutes. Such a feature was incredibly rare at the time and would affect the gameplay as a result. However, its grindy RPG elements and convoluted level layout made it a bit more tedious to endure. It was the Zelda II: The Adventure of Link of the series, complete with townsfolk to talk to. But the English text taken from its original Japanese narrative would get so lost in translation that every conversation would end up becoming a cryptic mess. Still, you could say that this sequel was responsible for laying the foundations for the PlayStation classic, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
As for the third game in the NES trilogy, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, the gameplay would head back toward its more action-platforming roots with a non-linear twist. This time, you played as Trevor Belmont along with three companions including Sypha Belnades (Simon Belmont’s eventual mother) as well as the introduction of Dracula’s son, Alucard. It brought with it an interesting sense of diversity to the gameplay and would set the groundwork for the Netflix animated television series decades later.
The final game in the collection to represent the Nintendo home console catalog would make the leap to 16-bit with Super Castlevania IV. Swinging in as more of an overhaul remake of the original game, Super Castlevania IV would boast far better graphics over its predecessors. It probably has the best soundtrack in the series too, in my opinion, and it’s always good fun to do the helicopter dance with Simon Belmont’s Morning Star. Having the ability to deal damage in eight directions for the first time in the series with the Belmont family’s famous whip would see the difficulty toned down significantly in comparison to the earlier entries.
What makes this collection particularly interesting though, is the curious inclusion of the rest of the titles on the list. Castlevania: The Adventure and Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge happen to be the first Game Boy games to grace the Nintendo Switch console. Castlevania: Bloodlines, on the other hand, hasn’t seen a re-release since its exclusive debut on the SEGA Mega Drive system back in 1994. It’s probably the goriest entry in the collection and the first in the traditional gameplay style where you don’t play as a Belmont.
Finally, for the first time ever in English, Japanese exclusive spin-off Kid Dracula was released for the Famicom and sees Dracula’s son as the main lead in a cuter, chibi adventure. While the absent-from-the-list Game Boy variant did see a western release, it’s always cool to see an official resurrection of a game that never quite made it to our shores back in the day.
When firing up the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, we are greeted with the famous Bloody Tears anthem and some iconic artwork splashed across the title screen. Behind that, we’re taken to the main menu where the whole list of games awaits – complete with their corresponding fonts neatly compiled on the right-hand side of the screen. Each game has a brief scrolling synopsis to accompany them, along with a bonus ebook with over 70 pages the lends more insight for fans and newcomers alike. The ebook itself has some concept art to skim over, interviews with game music composer Michiru Yamane and executive producer Adi Shankar from the Netflix series, as well as a Hyrule Historia-style timeline to explore. It seems much improved from the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection‘s own ebook, with the scans seemingly at a higher resolution or just simply presented in a better layout. It’s an interesting read and certainly a valuable asset to the collection.
What is appreciated are the additions to look forward to in the near future. After the backlash of separating regional ports between the western and Japanese release of the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection, we will get the Japanese version of each game as a free download in the coming weeks. It was one of my main gripes with the first anniversary collection, so knowing that all three compilations will get both American and Japanese ports is a total win in my eyes. This is mainly because many Konami regional ports had a fair few differences between them. Many of the western versions would usually censor religious symbolism and gore to cater to Nintendo’s sterner policies at the time. The quality of the music could be very different between versions too. Considering that the Japanese versions were running on the Famicom disk system, as well as a Japan exclusive VRC6 sound chip found in the cartridge of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse the Eastern crowd had access to much better BGM as a result.
As far as being a viable compilation to celebrate the history of Konami and Castlevania, it’s as sparse in extra content as the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection – but surprisingly more fleshed out than I would initially expect at the same time. It certainly looks to have a bit more effort put into it than the PlayStation exclusive collection, Castlevania: Requiem. But the absence of both Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – now seemingly tied to that collection – feels like an unfortunate missing piece to the puzzle.
Still, its lineup maintains to be solid enough and there are various in-game options with savestates, screen orientations, a reply mode, and so on. It’s just a shame that there isn’t a dedicated music gallery to rock out to, for the Castlevania series has some of the best soundtracks in gaming history. It’s all fairly priced though, and with future version additions and an impressive legacy, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection is another welcome boost to Nintendo Switch’s ever-expanding retro library.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Konami