Very few series have held up as well as Castlevania and you can now play every Game Boy Advance title in one awesome collection.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
First, we have Circle of the Moon which, to be honest, I don't have fond memories of. Back when it released, I was incredibly excited as Symphony of the Night was my favourite game of all time (it still is) and this was the first Castlevania game to follow the Metroidvania formula since. Considering I didn't have much cash, I actually traded my Super Famicom and a Japanese copy of Final Fantasy VI for a GBA so I could play Circle of the Moon. As soon as I booted it up, I remember squinting because the debut Game Boy Advance model was super-dim and this game is quite dark. Not only that; its gameplay was very stiff compared to what I expected after finishing SotN countless times and its weird card-based DSS ability system felt out of place. Don't even get me started with its odd difficulty curve.
With all of that in mind, I finally decided to give it a second chance thanks to this Castlevania Advance Collection and I'm happy to say that I actually finished it and had a lot of fun doing so. The criticisms from my younger self remain true yet it's still a highly enjoyable game with memorable locales and satisfying movement abilities that allow you to zip around the environments. Of course, it has its issues like how collecting DSS cards is excruciatingly random and the heal items are practically useless but there's still great times to be had.
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
Ah, Harmony of Dissonance; one of my favourites! Although it's not often regarded as one of the greats in the series, I remember picking up a copy of Harmony of Dissonance on release day and it completely brought me back to why I love Castlevania. For starters, you play as a Belmont named Juste who wields a whip and looks like Alucard. That's awesome enough but when you factor in the gameplay, it really starts to shine. Running around the environments while slaying monsters with a whip is undeniably old-school yet the Metroidvania aspect makes it feel fresh and exciting. Speaking of which, the fact that you can combine spellbooks with sub-weapons to cast elemental spells makes experimenting with different combinations a joy, especially whenever you stumble across a particularly deadly combo.
Although all of this is awesome, my favourite aspect about Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is the fact that you can play through the entire game as Maxim which is a whole new experience as he moves very fast and can triple-jump. He also has an arsenal of cool abilities such as a mid-air somersault and a devastating attack that damages every onscreen enemy. He really ratchets up the action!
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow
Without a doubt, the highlight of Castlevania Advance Collection is Aria of Sorrow. In fact, it's one of the greatest video games ever made. Whereas Harmony of Dissonance was a welcome throwback for Castlevania fans, Aria of Sorrow is its own amazing game thanks to its unorthodox premise of being set in 2035 Japan and its Tactical Soul system. This allows you to equip souls that every single enemy type has a chance to spawn upon defeat and they essentially act as sub-weapons as well as active and passive abilities. Plus, some of them are story-based such as the abilities to hover and walk on water. I remember spending hours upon hours trying to collect all of the souls while experimenting with what they're capable of. It's such a clever game that Aria of Sorrow actually got a direct sequel.
The fantastic soul system isn't the only noteworthy component of Aria of Sorrow; it also has gorgeous and detailed visuals complete with fluid animations and memorable enemies and it all holds up beautifully. I should also mention that every featured game in this collection has outstanding music, too. Anyway, you can play through the whole game again as Julius who offers action-packed gameplay just like Maxim did in Harmony of Dissonance. The only downside to AoS is that collecting souls can be exceptionally tedious. Oh, and I got lost in these games more often than I thought I would but with some exploring and perseverance, you'll eventually find your way.
Castlevania: Dracula X
Did I mention that Castlevania Advance Collection has a bonus game in the form of Castlevania: Dracula X? Well, it does and that's wonderful. Now, many people dislike this 16-bit whip-wielding adventure because it's not as good as Rondo of Blood and that's a sentiment that I agree with. However, I find Dracula X to be far from a butchered port as many gamers like to say it is. In fact, it's a very different game in almost every regard. For starters, its gameplay is undeniably old-school and it feels like a more fluid iteration of the NES Castlevania games but with Richter having some nifty new moves like a back-flip and the ability to Item Crush sub-weapons for devastating attacks. Its music is spectacular as well and I still love playing through this classic. Heck, I even reviewed it back in 2014.Castlevania: Dracula X Review
To my delight, Castlevania Advance Collection features a decent assortment of extras. Up first, let's discuss its in-game options. The most notable inclusion are assist gadgets for each of the 3 main games that display information pop-ups for monster cards in Circle of the Moon, area collectibles in Harmony of Dissonance, and enemy souls in Aria of Sorrow. Each game also has its own encyclopedia that's full of useful information and it's impressively well-organised. You can also adjust controls, select from screen sizes, and implement various wallpapers to fill any empty borders. Oh, and you can save whenever and rewind after you make a mistake; if only I had that back in the day...
When it comes to museum-style content, you get a gallery, music player, and the ability to swap between the American, European, and Japanese versions of each game. The gallery is cool and features some great character art as well as box and manual scans but there's no menu which is weird. Meanwhile, the music player includes the soundtracks for all 4 games and it has a simple interface which allows you to make your own playlist. Overall, I'm quite pleased with the amount of additional options and bonus content in this compilation.
If you enjoy Metroidvania games even a little bit then picking up Castlevania Advance Collection should be a no-brainer. The included titles have held up beautifully and they're each jam-packed with monster-slaying good times. Here's hoping for Castlevania DS Collection!
- + 3 absolutely incredible Metroidvanias that you could spend dozens of hours with
- + Dracula X is a welcome bonus inclusion
- + Decent amount of options and extras
- - Some parts can be kind of confusing
- - Frustrating RNG for completionists