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Castlevania Anniversary Collection

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: May 16, 2019

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Xbox One Review - 'Castlevania Anniversary Collection'

by Adam Pavlacka on July 30, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

The Castlevania Anniversary Collection follows the epic story of the Belmont Clan and their struggle with Dracula and his cadre of sinister minions and contains titles like Castlevania, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge, and more.

To call the Castlevania games iconic would be something of an understatement. While the 3D games in the franchise never quite hit the high notes of the earlier titles, the majority of the 2D console games are landmarks in gaming. Each pushed the limits and set the standard for others to follow. More importantly, with the exception of the first Game Boy game, most of the titles are still genuinely fun to play today.

Notably missing from the collection are Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Both of these are often considered the pinnacle of 2D Castlevania. PlayStation 4 players can get ports of the two games in Castlevania Requiem, while Xbox One players can play the Xbox 360 version of Symphony of the Night via backward compatibility.

The eight games included in the Castlevania Classics Anniversary Collection are:

  • Castlevania (1987 - NES)
  • Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (1988 - NES)
  • Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (1990 - NES)
  • Super Castlevania IV (1991 - SNES)
  • Castlevania: The Adventure (1989 - GB)
  • Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge (1991 - GB)
  • Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994 - GEN)
  • Kid Dracula (2019 - NES)

When the collection was first released, only the North American versions were available to North American and European players. After getting negative feedback, Konami added the Japanese versions of all the games (with the exception of Castlevania II: Simon's Quest) in a post-release patch. The Japanese versions are the same core games, but there are some differences in difficulty, balance, sound, and visuals, depending on the title.

Castlevania
The original game that defined the core style of the franchise. Though the Famicom and MSX versions debuted in Japan around the same time, it was the Famicom version of Castlevania that would later be ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in North America and wow 8-bit gamers with its gothic look, sharp controls, and challenging difficulty. All three points combined to make Castlevania a hit, with the difficulty being smartly balanced, so it never felt cheap or unfair. Progression could be harsh in the original, as game over meant starting over, but the forced replays trained players to be better on each run. Save states in the collection knock down the challenge a notch, but the game is still just as enjoyable as the day it debuted.

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
The second game in the series took a different approach than the first, introducing a non-linear world for players to explore. Reactions on the game were mixed. Some found the non-linear approach intriguing, while others found the clues to be overly obtuse. Simon's Quest is a noticeably easier game than the original, as far as combat is concerned. This is the only game in the collection that is only available in English. Even the Japanese release includes the North American ROM by default.


Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
By the time Dracula's Curse released, Konami's programmers had gotten quite experienced with the 8-bit NES hardware, and it shows. There is a noticeable improvement in quality all around with this installment. In addition to the audio and visual upgrades, Dracula's Curse also features four playable characters, three of which are unlockable during play. Each of the unlockable characters possesses a different set of skills, changing how the game played. There are two main paths through the game, along with multiple endings, which meant solid replay value. Dracula's Curse is also notable for featuring the first appearance of Alucard, who would later go on to be the main character in Symphony of the Night.

Be sure to check out the Japanese version of the game, as it featured a custom sound chip that was not compatible with the North American NES. As a result, the music in the North American ROM is generally considered to be a bit of a downgrade from the Japanese release.

Super Castlevania IV
The first Castlevania game to debut on the 16-bit Super Nintendo (SNES), Super Castlevania IV was both a retelling of the first game as well as a technical showcase. Perhaps the easiest of the Castlevania games in terms of difficulty, Super Castlevania IV stands out for its overall immersion. The game deftly mixes visual design with superb audio to draw the player into the world. This is easily the highlight of the collection, marred only by a small audio glitch that pops up from time to time.


Castlevania: The Adventure
If Super Castlevania IV is the highlight of the collection, The Adventure is the bottom of the barrel. This game is here more as a historical curiosity than anything else, as it was done on the original Game Boy. It's difficult with sluggish controls, and it's seemingly designed to frustrate for no particular reason. Every other game in the collection can be played without save states. You're probably going to want them for this one. Play it, just to say you tried it, and then move on.

Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge
All the bad stuff I just said about The Adventure? Forget it. Belmont's Revenge may be a Game Boy game, but it is night and day when compared to its predecessor. If ever there was an example of a development team learning from past mistakes, this is it. The graphics are improved, control (while not perfect) is better, you get a password to save progress, and subweapons are once again part of your weapons. The subweapon choice varies between the North American and Japanese versions of the game, so be sure to give both versions a go.

Castlevania: Bloodlines
While not the best game in the franchise, for many years, Bloodlines was something of a holy grail to fans, as it only saw a release on the SEGA Genesis. Up until the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, Bloodlines has never been re-released. Unlike most Castlevania games, Bloodlines doesn't feature a Belmont. Instead, it features two new playable characters, a new villain, and multiple locations across Europe. It's a departure from the classic Castlevania style, but it's not so different that it feels unfamiliar.


Kid Dracula
Unless you imported the Famicom game back in the day, Kid Dracula is going to be an all-new experience for North American players. The Game Boy game made it to these shores, but the 8-bit version never got localized for the NES. This is almost guaranteed to be a new experience for players, as it is the first time the game has appeared in English. A spin-off that riffs on the Castlevania tropes, Kid Dracula may be cute, but that doesn't mean it lacks challenge. It can be as difficult as any of the mainline Castlevania games. After the first level, the game drops the Castlevania theming and explores other environments and spoofs other things.

Overall
As a package, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection is a solid choice both for fans of the franchise and those new to the series. It certainly doesn't have every 2D Castlevania game — aside from Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night, the most glaring omissions are the SNES "port" of Rondo as Dracula-X and Castlevania Legends on Game Boy — but it does have the core games that made the franchise a powerhouse.

It doesn't hurt that the emulation is generally solid all around, with controls that feel responsive and visually pleasing display options. The console titles can be played in their original aspect ratio, in pixel perfect mode, or with scan lines. The two Game Boy games can also be played with a dot matrix filter that has just the right hint of puke green. It may be an off-putting color, but it's accurate to the original experience of an original Game Boy screen.


What's odd is that both Game Boy games also have an option for a color filter, but it's not Game Boy Color support. Instead, it looks like the default palette used on the Super Game Boy when played on the SNES. This was a little disappointing, as both Game Boy games did get Game Boy Color native releases, but only in Europe. This would have been a great way to bring those versions to North America for the first time.

I found the default control scheme to work for the games, but if you prefer a different setup, the collection allows you to remap button inputs for most of the games. Castlevania: Bloodlines and Super Castlevania IV allow for button remapping within the actual games, so it's left out of the emulator options on those titles.

Other quality of life settings include a save state (a nice plus if a specific section is difficult) and a replay save for each game. The replay save allows you to save the last few minutes of play (enough to capture everything from the start of the original game to the first boss fight) to show off at any time. You can playback at multiple speeds, including frame by frame, for that perfect capture. You're only allowed one save state and one replay save per game, though, so save wisely.


Finally, in addition to the games, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection also contains a digital e-book that provides an overview of the games, some interviews, and a bunch of design documents. The design sketches and behind-the-scenes information provides a peek into the creation of these iconic titles. You'll find hand-drawn maps, early UI mockups, and subweapons that didn't quite make the cut. It's too bad the book is only available via the game UI and not as a separate PDF for offline browsing.

Playing through the games on offer in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection is somewhat like opening a time capsule. Those old enough to remember the original releases of these titles will enjoy going through them again, while players who grew up on PlayStation and Xbox get to enjoy these classics as they were meant to be played. Either way, there is plenty of value here for your gaming dollar.

Score: 8.5/10



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