Castlevania Advance Collection Review – Your Dracula is in Another Castle
Developed and published by Konami Digital Entertainment
Available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 ,PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
One of my first exposures to horror came in the late nineties with the one-two punch of Resident Evil and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation. While Resident Evil was more out-and-out horror, SoTN offered a dark fantasy world, brimming with beasts and creatures of all sorts. It was absolutely gorgeous and remains one of my favorite games to this day. Following the success of SoTN, Konami wanted to capitalize on its success by bringing Castlevania to the GameBoy Advance. The GBA got 3 Castlevania games altogether, all of which followed a simple rule set by SoTN: Exploration above all. I played all of these games at one point or another on the GBA. Recently released, the Castlevania Advance Collection, well, collects all of these games in one package. Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, Aria of Sorrow, heck, we even get Dracula X as a fun little addition.
I thought a lot about how I could review this collection. I would love to deep dive on each title, citing the pros and cons of each handheld iteration. That would, unfortunately, take about 10,000 words. As I want to continue enjoying the game and let you get out of here without reading a novel about Castlevania Advance Collection, I think I’ve got you covered. First off, I must say that the main advantage the games have in this collection is that I don’t need to angle a GBA to see them. Some of us never owned the backlit Game Boy Advance SP and were thus forced to experience Castlevania via a muddled GBA screen, yearning for better lighting.
I started off with a personal favorite; Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. In this game you play as Nathan Graves, a decidedly non-Belmont character. The game stands out for its creative use of the DSS system. What is the DSS system? It’s a system where you use combinations of cards to power up your character. As Circle of the Moon was originally envisioned as a game unrelated to Castlevania, the card system sticks out to some as not conforming with the series’ aesthetic and gameplay. I tend to lean towards disagreeing with that assumption. It’s weird, but so is the whole series. The most important thing to me is finally seeing Circle of the Moon the way it was meant to be seen all of those years ago. Clear, crisp, and lit very well. Thanks, Castlevania Advance Collection.
Every game in Castlevania Advance Collection has the option of full screen, windowed, and pixel perfect. Pixel perfect gives you the games exactly as they were at release. No stretch, no compression, just the pure pixel goodness of their initial outings. I played on full screen for 3 of the 4 games, because I’m not a purist. The only game I made sure was pixel perfect was Circle of the Moon. The gameplay of Circle of the Moon is tight, fast, and at times difficult. The Castlevania Advance Collection has you covered, though. A rewind feature has been added to help with those particularly sticky spots of gameplay. By holding the right trigger (Please play these games with a controller, for your sanity), you’re presented with an option to scrub back and forth through your last bit of gameplay.
The rewind feature is just one of the many quality of life features offered in the Castlevania Advance Collection. For Circle of the Moon, where you’re constantly defeating enemies and hoping they drop their corresponding card, there is now a handy tool that gives you a visual indicator on the side of the screen that lets you know whether or not you have the card from that enemy. This keeps you from having to beat down on an enemy over and over hoping they actually drop a card. In Harmony of Dissonance, there’s a tool that tracks whether you’ve collected the power-ups and furniture from the area you’re in. If you think that you’re cheating the game, and yourself, by using these tools, they can be turned off in the options.
Another excellent addition is the ability to save whenever you want. Save rooms in each game still work, of course. It’s just there in case you want to step away from Castlevania Advance Collection, and can’t find one of those pesky save rooms. Each game has its own save slots in the menu, and they can be accessed based on the game you’re playing at the time. The options menu is actually fairly robust, offering an encyclopedia of creatures and characters for you to peruse at your leisure. It provides the items they drop, and their health pools, including bosses. This is information that you can find in the game after defeating enemies, but in a game like Circle of the Moon where you might be hunting a particular item, it’s nice to have a reference point in the menu.
The sheer amount of content in the Castlevania Advance Collection is staggering. It took me 9 hours to beat Circle of the Moon, and I’m amazing at games. It will more than likely take you 12-14 to complete it without the almost supernatural power of games journalism. If you can waltz through these games like me, have no fear. In the ever-referenced menu, you can change the region of each game. This allows you to see what the Japanese version of Dracula X looks like. It’s hard, that’s all you really need to know about the Japanese version of Dracula X.
The menu from the start of Castlevania Advance Collection where you pick your games also has some very interesting bits for Castlevania fans. There is a gallery, which shows off concept art for all four games, along with all of the covers, cases, and even detailed shots of all of the instruction booklets that would have come with the game at release. There is also a music player, that allows you to pick your favorite tracks from each game and add them to a playlist that will play while you’re on the main menu of the collection. If you’re like me, you’ll just put every permutation of Vampire Killer on your playlist and let it serenade you while you check out concept art.
I don’t even feel like I’m going out on a limb when I say that the Castlevania Advance Collection is 100 percent the optimal way to play these games. You will find no better way. I would even put this collection above the originals just because of its dedication to retaining the original feel, while also adding a huge touch of quality of life updates. I can’t stop playing it. I actually had to stop myself 3 quarters of the way through a Harmony of Dissonance run to write this review. If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have stopped myself until I was well into Aria of Sorrow or Dracula X. If you like Castlevania, or sidescrollers, or metroidvania (this is the namesake of that sub-genre) these you absolutely owe it to yourself to pick up this collection. I’ve written enough, it’s time to go fight Dracula again.