Every 100 years Dracula comes back to life and is stronger than ever before, forcing mankind to call upon a saviour to save the day. The Belmont Clan are always up for a challenge as they are usually the first in line to help out. In the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, Konami has put together an assortment of eight classic Castlevania games that are as tough as nails, yet so satisfying to play – just like they were when I played them originally all those years ago.
These games are often used for inspiration, both visually and in terms of their difficulty, within the infamous ‘Metroidvania’ genre, so what’s so special about them?
The collection is made up of gems from both Nintendo (NES, Gameboy, SNES) and Sega (Genesis/Mega Drive). The only games omitted from this ‘pre-Symphony of the Night‘ collection are Dracula X for the SNES and Rondo of Blood. Rondo of Blood was likely not included as just a few months ago it was released alongside Symphony of the Night in the Castlevania Requiem Collection. It’s a little disappointing as I would’ve liked to see all of the early games in one spot, but hey, at least we get eight classic titles in one package!
So, what are the basis of each game of this marvellous collection? Here’s a brief description of each game:
Castlevania (NES, 1987/88) – You play as Simon Belmont who’s a descendant of the Belmont clan, a family of vampire hunters. He travels to Dracula’s castle in order to kill him via a very linear game that works perfectly as an introduction to the series.
Castlevania II: Simons Quest (NES, 1988/90) – This was my first Castlevania game and the first to explore a non-linear formula. It takes place not long after the events of the first game as you once again assume the role of Simon Belmont, who is on a journey to undo a curse placed on him by Dracula at the end of the first game (Spoilers!). The game consists of you looking for the 5 pieces of Dracula to hopefully undo the curse.
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES, 1990/92) – This game is widely regarded as one of the best in the series due to its story and one of the best soundtracks in gaming history. For this game, you play as Trevor Belmont and it’s set long before the events of the first two games. The game is very interesting as it combines two previous mechanics, it plays like the first game but it’s non-linear like the second as you’ll have multiple paths you can follow to get to the end of the game. Fans of Symphony of the Night will want to take note that this is the first game where we meet Alucard.
Super Castlevania IV (SNES, 1991/92) – Super Castlevania is a remake of the first Castlevania, of course with better graphics as well as a stellar soundtrack. The game is also the first to let you lash your whip in any direction you want, as well as let it ‘roll’ around. Outside of Symphony of the Night, I would personally say this game is the best in the series.
Castlevania: The Adventure (GameBoy, 1989/91) – There’s not much you can say about this game, to be honest. It takes place long before the original game and our protagonist this time is Christopher Belmont. It’s much shorter than the other games as there are only 4 levels, but don’t let that fool you. This game is tough as nails as you only get 3 lives and the levels are long.
Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (GameBoy, 1991/92) – Once again, you assume the role of Christopher Belmont. Dracula has returned (surprise, surprise) and kidnaps Christopher Belmont’s son, Soleiyu, at his coming of age feast, ultimately turning him into a demon. Using Soleiyus powers, Dracula manifests within his human form once more in order to rebuild his castle, forcing Christopher to confront Dracula once again to save his son and the world. Just like Castlevania: The Adventure, there are only 4 levels so the game is rather short.
Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis/Mega Drive, 1994) – This Castlevania is one of the more interesting games of this collection for multiple reasons. This is the first, and only, Castlevania to arrive on Sega’s 16-bit platform, it also plays a bit differently to the previous games. The story takes place in the early 1900s with the antagonist not being Dracula this time around. This time it’s Elizabeth Bartley, Dracula’s niece. Through her nefarious means, she plans to bring her uncle back to life. In Bloodlines, you have the choice of playing as either Joh Morris or his best friend Eric Lecarde. Depending on who you play as you’ll have a different path ahead of you. I really like this game as it uses the ‘Item Crash’ ability that was introduced in Rondo of Blood and we would really utilise in Symphony of the Night.
Kid Dracula (NES, 1990) – This game is rather unique for those of us in the west as we never got to play the original NES version before this collection. However, it was ported to the Gameboy in 1993, but why play it in green when you can now play it in full colour! You play as Dracula’s son who has woken from a long sleep. Swiping his father’s cape, it is up to Kid Dracula to set out on an adventure to destroy the monster Galamoth. Kid Dracula carries the goth-like visuals but in a cute way. You’ll face enemies that fans of the series will recognise, but they are presented in a ‘chibi-like’ art style.
So, now that we know what all the games in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection are, I want to talk about an obvious oversight which I had an issue with. Now, before anybody jumps down my throat to remind me that Konami won’t remake these games just for a collection, I know. The games themselves are perfectly fine, but what I felt disappointed with was the menu screens for each game… I had to laugh when I saw that in each one, they left the original platform’s controls listed within the in-game menus. You’re also unable to remap any of the buttons, so each game takes a few minutes to readjust yourself with the controls.
For example, Bloodlines (as you can see above) has the controls listed as button A, B and C – on the PS4…
Lazy porting aside, there’s so much that can be said about the great things within the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. By far the best feature added is the Save State function. If you have spent any time with a Castlevania game, you know that these games are tough as nails and so having the ability to Save/Load a quick state is nothing short of a godsend.
The ‘special’ menu within each game can be accessed by hitting L2. From here you can access the save states as well the ability to change the games display settings which include original, pixel perfect, 16:9, 4:3 scanlines, pixel-perfect scanlines, and 16:9 scanlines. The Game Boy Castlevania games have dot matrix and colour filters as well!
After playing for a while, I found that you can also find the proper PlayStation controls for each game listed in the L2 menu – this basically nullifies my complaint (kind of).
Without a shadow of doubt in my mind, one of the coolest things to appear on the Castlevania Anniversary Collection is the Bonus Book. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the series or somebody that is new to it, the Bonus Book covers a ton of interesting ground that anyone can appreciate. Included in this 80-page digital book are all the box arts for all eight games along with a brief explanation of each title.
One of my personal favourite sections was the bit where it talked about the history of the series as a whole. If there is one thing that can be said about Castlevania is that they jump around quite a bit and it can hard to follow. This section clears that up smoothly. At the end of the book, there is original concept art along with the ideas that were written down before the construction of each game. I don’t know if this book can be purchased physically, but it would be a fine addition to any fans collection if Konami released it.
The Castlevania Anniversary Collection is a fine assortment of games, presented in a way that I hope more developers mimic when compiling collections of classic games. The bonus book that is included with the game is probably one of the neatest digital books I have ever seen. The only issues I had with the game was the very little work put into porting the games themselves, as they came off as simple ROMs within an emulator.
Regardless of how they’ve been placed upon modern systems, the games are just as hard as they used to be and they’re sure to challenge old and new gamers, even with save states. Relive this classic franchise today and pick up both this and the Castlevania Requiem: Symphony of the Night & Rondo of Blood collections today.