Nothing Miserable About This Pile Of Secrets
HIGH Castlevania III is the greatest NES game ever made. Fight me.
LOW Trying to get excited for sub-par Game Boy games on a 4KTV.
WTF Why did it take 25 years to re-release Castlevania: Bloodlines?
It’s getting harder and harder to remember Konami as a videogame powerhouse, and not as a sad shell of its former self allegedly operating as a money laundering scheme for the Yakuza via gyms and pachinko parlors as fronts.
For those who haven’t been keeping track, there hasn’t been a proper Castlevania game released since Lords Of Shadow 2 in 2014, which should make it pretty clear that the Konami many of us grew up with isn’t coming back. 2019 actually marks the 50th anniversary of the company, and it was a surprise to see they’re celebrating with a line of reissues showcasing their extensive back catalog including the Castlevania Anniversary Collection.
The games featured here are the original NES trilogy of Castlevania, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, along with the Super Nintendo’s Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania: The Adventure & Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge on the Gameboy, Castlevania: Bloodlines from the Sega Genesis, and Kid Dracula from the original Famicom. Of course, not every Castlevania is here so calling it a ‘collection’ may be a tad disingenuous considering the astounding breadth of this franchise, but these titles represent the eight games that take place chronologically before Rondo Of Blood, so at least the lineup makes sense.
Presentation is of paramount importance when putting together a release like this, and the team at M2 have done a wonderful job preserving each of the selections. They all have a built-in menu where players can view the controls, change the aspect ratio, and can even make the games look like garbage with fake scanlines if they want a richer ‘retro’ flavor. Also, games can now be saved but there’s no option to rewind gameplay, change difficulty or add lives.
All eight games seem to be emulated flawlessly, and the menu for selecting the titles is easy to use and looks spot-on. The collection also features a cool digital book featuring tons of promotional art, design documents, and interviews with the design team. This part in particular will be extremely appealing to longtime Castlevania fans.
While it’s not part of the package as of this writing, Konami has announced that a future patch will add the international versions of the games as well, which means that western fans will finally get to play the Japanese Famicom version of Castlevania III, featuring enhanced music thanks to an added MMC5 chip not available in the western NES cartridge — it likely may have been the most technically-advanced soundtrack on the platform. As someone who sees Castlevania III as the crown jewel of the entire collection, I believe this future addition will be an outstanding one.
While most of these titles have been released repeatedly over the years, there are two in particular that series fans will appreciate seeing.
The first, and perhaps most substantial, is the inclusion of Castlevania: Bloodlines, which was a Genesis exclusive from 1994. This is the first time since the original release that Konami has made it available, which is a shame because Bloodlines is fantastic. Featuring two main characters, dastardly level design, and a soundtrack that just screams ‘Genesis’ from the mountaintop, I actually prefer Bloodlines to Super Castlevania IV. While it may not reach the graphical or audio mastery of SCIV, it maintains an old-school challenge that was lost with its SNES counterpart.
The second noteworthy inclusion (and the biggest surprise) is Kid Dracula, which has never before received a western release. It’s a chibi offshoot where players are, well, Kid Dracula. It definitely skews towards a younger crowd as it’s more forgiving than the other NES entries, but it’s a neat little bonus with some cheerful remixes of classic Castlevania tunes, and it looks great for an NES game as well.
However, they’re not all winners in this collection. While the most famous hiccup here is probably Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, it’s not as awful as it’s made out to be. However, players will need a guide as some of the puzzles are legendarily obtuse and the translation is awful and misleading. On the plus side, the controls are a step up from the first game, it maintains the franchise’s pedigree for music, and at the time it was created, it was quite daring.
The true ugly ducklings are the gameboy titles. Castlevania: The Adventure is a slow, ugly, boring mess, and it feels ancient — which makes sense since it was released near the launch of the Game Boy in 1989. Its sequel, Belmont’s Revenge, fares a tad better, but it’s still not something one would want to go back to, especially when blown up on a 55” display. I’m not angry they’re here since it’s nice to see them for historical purposes, but they’re novelties at best.
When it comes to compilations like this, there’s three criteria to meet. One, the games have to stand the test of time. Two, they have to be emulated well. And three, substantial historical features and content must be added. In all three categories, the team at M2 knocked it out of the park. While there are a couple of clunkers here, that doesn’t diminish the fact that there are four outright classics available in this package. Anyone interested in spectacular 2D action titles or in learning about Castlevania‘s history would do well to bite on this collection.
[UPDATE: As of June 18, 2019, Konami has released a patch for this collection. On top of adding the Japanese versions as previously mentioned, they’ve also added the ability to remap the controls in the options menu of each title. We at GameCritics appreciate their commitment to furthering accessibility, and our score has been changed from the original 8.0 to an 8.5 to reflect that.]
Disclosures: This game is developed/ported by M2 and published by Konami. It is currently available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4 PRO with an HDR certified 4KTV. An estimated 5 hours of play were devoted to playing through the various titles, and only Castlevania III was completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and features Blood, Fantasy Violence, and Partial Nudity. The only real objection I could see would be for parents of particular faiths who would frown upon a lot of religious imagery and maybe have a problem with something like using crosses or holy water as weapons. Other than that, the blood is fairly tame and parents shouldn’t have too many worries introducing their kids to these classics.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The early Castlevania games aren’t exactly story-intensive experiences, and what story is told comes in the form of big, blocky, old-school text that cannot be resized. The games feature no necessary audio cues, so players with hearing issues won’t have any problems. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: In the menu for each release, there is a screen where players can see and remap the controls for each title. This functionality was added in a patch post-launch.