Game review: Castlevania Anniversary Collection has lots to get your teeth into
Konami’s 50th anniversary celebrations continue with an impressively complete compilation of early Castlevania games.
Castlevania is in a truly bizarre position at the moment. There hasn’t been a new game since the disastrous Lords Of Shadow 2 in 2014 and there have been no officially announced plans to make any more. And yet the franchise has never been more popular. Thanks to the Netflix animated series and the cameos in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Castlevania has more mainstream recognition now than when there were new games coming out on a regular basis.
Add in the constant stream of Metroidvania games by indie developers and Castlevania must be the most influential franchise that nobody ever plays anymore. There are vague rumours that Konami are planning a next gen revival but given how few new games, of any kind, they make nowadays it’s hard not to dismiss that as wishful thinking. But they have made this compilation and that’s something at least.
This is the second of a series of 50th anniversary compilations planned by Konami, which started with the poorly curated Arcade Classic Anniversary Collection and will continue with a third centring around Contra. There are eight games in the Castlevania collection, starting with the very first entry on the NES and going as far as 1994 Mega Drive release Castlevania: The New Generation.
The original Castlevania was released in Japan in 1986, only making it to Europe in 1988. Although confusingly it was followed a month later by MSX2 game Vampire Killer, which featured the same graphics and gameplay but flip screens and a more complex level layout. It ended up being released in Europe, under its original name, before Castlevania did, but unfortunately it’s not included in this compilation. Although surprisingly it is one of the only major omissions.
Although very good for its time the original Castlevania was a fairly standard action role-player. Its horror theme was relatively unique though, as you attacked vampire, werewolves, and reanimated skeletons with… a whip. As odd a choice as your primary weapon is you also have a range of sub-weapons, such as throwing axes and holy water, which are more powerful but have limited ammo.
These gameplay mechanics have remained largely unchanged for almost all the 2D games but what changed significantly with the 1987 sequel is what is the series’ first Metroidvania title. Coming out mere weeks after the first Metroid game, the portmanteau genre name was coined given that both games are 2D action platformers with an extensive non-linear exploration element, where progress is often blocked unless you have the correct ability or weapon.
In Castlevania II there’s a world map, non-player characters to talk to, item shops to trade at, a day/night cycle that effects the strength of enemies, and a role-playing style experience system. For a NES game the ambition is extraordinary, given the limited technology of the time. And importantly it’s still perfectly playable today, even if the difficultly level is predictably extreme.
As historically important as Castlevania II became not every subsequent entry was a Metroidvania title. What pleases us about this compilation is that it includes almost every Castlevania game of the era, including the third and final NES game, the two Game Boy titles, and SNES game Super Castlevania IV – which together with Mega Drive game Castlevania: The New Generation (aka Castlevania: Bloodlines) were not Metroidvanias. Although they are very good action platformers and Super Castlevania IV in particular is a classic in its own right.
The only minor omissions in the timeline are coin-op Haunted Castle, which is included in the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection, and what is known today as Castlevania Chronicles – essentially a remake of the first NES game. It is a shame though that Castlevania: Rondo Of Blood, and SNES variant Castlevania: Dracula X, are not included as they’re the missing link between the early games and PlayStation classic Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night.
We assume they’re not present because Rondo Of Blood is part of Castlevania Requiem on the PlayStation 4, but it’s a pity that at least Dracula X wasn’t included. What you get instead though is comedic spin-off Kid Dracula, which has never been released in English before and is a great indication that Konami are actually trying to make an effort with this collection. It’s really good too, with excellent graphics for a NES game.
The presentation of the collection is still very bare bones, but there’s a variety of screen filters and a replay system, plus an ebook featuring details on all the games and a text interview with Netflix producer Adi Shankar.
What’s most interesting though is that Konami has promised to release the Japanese versions of all the games as a free update later on, which is a real boon as some of the games were heavily edited for the West because of their religious and horror themes – not to mention the Japanese versions are always easier.
Video game publishers have a terrible track record when it comes to retro compilations, always leaving out important games and often failing to provide any context or historical information. After the low-effort Arcade Classic Anniversary Collection we’re shocked this avoids most of those problems and is actually a reasonably priced, mostly definitive, celebration of early era Castlevania and the genesis of the Metroidvania genre.
Castlevania Anniversary Collection
In Short: A surprisingly thorough compilation of 8 and 16-bit Castlevanias, that illustrates the early history of one of gaming’s most influential franchises.
Pros: Very few gaps in the series’ timeline and perfect emulation. Almost all the games are still surprisingly playable. The inclusion of Kid Dracula and the Japanese versions shows real care.
Cons: Not including Vampire Killer and Rondo Of Blood/Dracula X is a shame. Very basic presentation.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC
Developer: M2 and Konami
Release Date: 16th May 2019
Age Rating: 7
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