Growing up, Mega Man was always my Nintendo series of choice. The blue bomber took precedence over other popular series’ that got their start on the Nintendo. I don’t regret this. Other gamers would mention this and that about Mario or Tetris or Final Fantasy but my focus was mostly on Mega Man. Another series during this time that had its share of chatter was Castlevania. My first true initiation was with the timeless masterpiece Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Obviously, I knew of Castlevania and witnessed others play it, but Symphony of the Night was what made me a fan. By then, the thought of playing previous entries wasn’t on my mind. Their high price tags didn’t help matters, either. Years later, we have the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. This collection of games is filled with nostalgia, history, and old-school frustrations. With the addition of some modern touches and an in-depth glossary detailing interesting tidbits about the series, this is the perfect way to enjoy early Castlevanias without the hefty price of admission.
So, what’s included in the collection? On one complete disc, cartridge, or download you get the following: Castlevania, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, Super Castlevania IV, The Castlevania Adventure, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, Castlevania: Bloodlines, and Kid Dracula. As an added bonus, you can play the Japanese versions of some of these to see how they looked before getting published/localized. Kid Dracula’s inclusion marks the game’s first official American release. Before writing this review, I went through the NA version of each game back-to-back. It was my first time experiencing most of these titles. All the good, bad, and ugly from the old-school, 2D action side-scrolling era were there. For the sake of space and time I won’t be going over each game individually.
Instead, I’ll try to highlight notable features throughout the collection. Every game has classic, timeless looks and fantastically nostalgic soundtracks. Along with being able to select from various display settings, players can save their progress midgame to pick things up later. Indeed, we have access to save states. One universal feature in each game (except for Kid Dracula – that game is easy as pie) is that they are punishingly difficult. Sometimes, it’s due to enemy placement and not having the reflexes to dodge everything they throw at you. Other times, it’s because the terrain isn’t clear. And then, there are times when the Belmont you’re controlling falls down some stairs to their death or misses a jump. No matter the issue, it’s frustrating hearing the “you died” tune play over and over. Hence the reason why I’m thankful for the addition of save states: sometimes you don’t want to start from the beginning of a level. Taking advantage of save states/trial and error makes the endeavor of finishing these challenging games more manageable.
Out of all the games in the collection, my favorite is Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge. I appreciate Dracula’s Curse and Bloodlines, but there’s something really ambitious about Belmont’s Revenge. It feels like Konami pushed the Game Boy to the limit during development. In doing so, it delivered a unique, intense and deep entry that seems to have been forgotten throughout the years. On the flipside, my least favorite game in the collection is Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. I knew of its reputation before going into it and tried my best to go in with an open mind. It was filled with neat ideas, but it was a proper pain. Out of all the games included in the collection, Simon’s Quest took me the longest to finish due to how bad it was.
Castlevania has been around for years. I think every entry – even the not so great ones – should be played by those that, like me, got their start later in the franchise’s tenure. Sometimes, playing the not-so-good makes one appreciate the good. To experience the earliest of Castlevanias, you could ride a wild emu or attempt to find a good deal online. By going the latter route, you’d have to hook up your old consoles and deal with cartridges getting dusty. Castlevania games are fun, but it’s not worth going through all that trouble. Thus, anyone that has the slightest interest in the origins of Castlevania should look into this collection. With eight games and multiple gameplay and display options, this is the ideal way to get into one of the most iconic game series’ of all time. Not all of the games have aged well but that doesn’t take away from the collection’s overall excellence.
Overall, 9/10: Interested in banishing 8-bit or 16-bit Dracula? Looking for a simple, concise way to do so? Check out the Castlevania Anniversary Collection.