Spending time with old friends, part 1: Full Circle (of the Moon)
As the month of September drew to a close, we finally got a well-earned reprieve from the sweltering heat of one of the hottest summer on record. We also received the exciting news that another Castlevania collection, the Castlevania Advance Collection, would be making its way to the Nintendo Switch, available later that same day.
Of course, I immediately bought it.
Although we’ve spent considerable time playing the heck out of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and its various spin-off games, there’s nothing quite like revisiting Dracula’s Old Haunts on new hardware.
Featuring the three fantastic Game Boy Advance titles—Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow—along with the Super NES title Castlevania: Dracula X, the set is a a dream come true for fans of the portable Metroidvania games. Last time we revisited these titles was a few years ago, in part three of our original Castlevania: Journey Through the Years series. Now, let’s take a look at the first title of the new collection: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon.
To begin with, having Circle of the Moon available on a larger display (including the ability to increase the display to full-screen, which I love) eliminates nearly all of the issues I had with the original GBA version, namely the poorly lit screen. Playing it on the Switch is comparable to revisiting the Wii U virtual console version, but with a few enhancements. There’s a new “gadget” feature that allows players to see which enemies drop the valuable DSS cards throughout the game. It’s pretty useful unless you’re trying to look at the map while killing enemies that drop cards.
Take the Bloody Sword enemy in the chapel, for instance. If you’re using a shield ability to easily dispatch the rusty blades, the gadget keeps notifying you of the card drop on the right side of the screen, right where the map of the chapel is located. It’s not a big deal, but it can be frustrating.
You can also record/playback re-plays, save or load at any time, change button mapping, and the screen size at will.
These are all handy features that serve to enhance the gameplay further. The DSS glitch—where you can use any card’s abilities without actually possessing the card—is also intact.
Better yet, players have the option of experiencing the Japanese version of the game and have access to a full encyclopedia for each title. These gameplay improvements eventually serve to underscore Circle of the Moon’s high quality and fun factor. It’s a truly great game that exists in a bit of a vacuum within the overall arch of the series. The visuals are a bit different, traversing the castle isn’t as fluid as other Metroidvanias, and the DSS system is completely unique from other games in the series.
The narrative, too, gives some flavor to the experience, giving it high replay value. Plus, it’s fun throwing balls of electricity or hitting enemies Ninja Gaiden-style with various DSS card combos. While it can be frustrating killing certain enemies over-and-over ad nauseum until you obtain one of the rare cards (an annoying hallmark of every modern Castlevania and Bloodstained game — seriously), it’s still a fun experience worth revisiting almost two decades later.
Wow, now we feel old. But much like Dracula rising from the depths of his banishment every century or so, we shall always rise to the occasion to play more Castlevania!
Okay, Konami, where’s Symphony of the Night?
This concludes today’s presentation, and our first installment of Castlevania: Journey Through the Years in what seems like an eternity. Aren’t you glad we resurrected it? Don’t touch that dial—we’ll be back soon with short retrospectives on the other three titles in the set as time allows. Revisiting these Castlevania titles at this moment in time is certainly interesting and immensely fun. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!