Review by Tenshi No Shi
"Who turned out the lights?"
I can't believe that the first review I'm writing for the Gameboy Advance is of a new Castlevania game. Those who have the misfortune of being acquainted with me know that Konami's vampire-hunting action/adventure series is a personal favorite franchise of mine; ranking right up there with Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Mega Man, Street Fighter and Wing Commander. So it goes without saying why I had to have Nintendo's new portable wonder when it launched in Japan. It also explains my choice for the first review to christen this new section of in control
The plot offers no surprises: Dracula is resurrected by a Countess named Carmilla so that he may begin his conquest over all things living and dead, thus become supreme ruler of the night. Enter the next generation of vampire-killers: Nathan, Hugh and Maurice. Upon hearing of the Count's return, our heroes rush out into the moonlit darkness to do battle with the army of living dead and ultimately confront the Prince of Darkness in a showdown to end all showdowns until the next Castlevania game. Not an entirely original story but the fresh characters introduced in the latest sequel are worthy additions to the series' rich history.
You'll immediately notice the difference in graphic style between the last Castlevania Gameboy entry (Castlevania: Legends) and Circle of the Moon. Though not a fair comparison (gee which'll make a purdier game: 8-bit or 32-bit?), it does show you how far both Nintendo's portable system and Konami's code-monkeys have come in just a few short years. What will surprise you is how much of a leap has been made with this game. You see, if one was to compare Circle of the Moon to any other Castlevania game ever released, the most natural choice would be Symphony of the Night on the Playstation. In fact, it would seem that Symphony of the Night was the template Konami used when designing all aspects of their first Castlevania entry on the Gameboy Advance. But you'll read more on that later. Just know that for a launch title, Circle of the Moon is very visually impressive.
The first time I booted up Circle of the Moon, a chill ran up my spine. I had a good pair of headphones strapped to my head so as to immerse myself in all that my new toy had to offer. What I heard shocked me. Could it be is it the chant from Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night? Somehow, Konami managed to take a direct sample from this hauntingly simple yet beautiful song and cram is into the teeny, tiny little Gameboy Advance cartridge. Once you start the game, the quality of sound drops ever so slightly, coming out about even with the best of the Super Nintendo's offerings. Remakes of all the best songs that the series has to offer can be found in nearly every area of the game (though it wasn't until more than half-way through that I had my favorite, Vampire Killer). The audio effects didn't impress as much as the music, but then again, audio effects rarely do. Still, if this is the quality we get from a first-generation title, I can't wait to hear what comes out next year
Before I judge the control of Circle of the Moon, I feel I should mention that it is always difficult to gauge the way a game plays on a new system; you never know if a year or two down the road some company won't perfect the timing and smoothness of the control, thus setting the systems standard. That said, Castlevania on the Gameboy Advance handles like an Italian luxury sports car- a fast and smooth ride. As expected, Circle of the Moon plays like a traditional Castlevania game with a button for jumping and another for whipping. And yes, pressing up while using the attack button causes your character to use any one of the five more-than-familiar secondary weapons. In addition, you can press select for a map (a la Super Metroid III) while the shoulder buttons are used to activate the D.D.S. (more on that below) and magical item moves. Once you begin playing the game, all these things quickly become second nature. Which is, of course, the sign of a well thought out control scheme.
The only flaw I found with this otherwise perfect game is in its design. The level design to be precise. Now granted, I haven't been to many castles in my life, but just based on the layout of previous Castlevania games (up to and including the N64 versions), the layout of this castle seems rather suspect. All of the familiar areas are here (except for the Clock Tower?!?), but the order in which they appear are odd at best. Note to Dracula: never hire a blind monkey high on crack as an architect. This in no way interferes with gameplay, but after Symphony of the Night there's no excuse. Now, on to the good stuff. A new element of gameplay introduced in Circle of the Moon (and one that will hopefully carry on in a few of the sequels) is the D.D.S. Basically, you'll collect cards left by certain enemies and combine them to produce various effects which range from whip enhancements to summoning creatures. This is a very unique ability system that goes a long way in keeping the game fresh.
While many previews leading up to the release of this game mention Hugh as a playable character, there appears to be no way (as of the writing of this review) to actually unlock him. The inverted castle, despite all evidence to the contrary, is also missing. In fact, there isn't a whole lot of anything to unlock in this game save for a few new game modes that alter your stats. I'm sure there has to be more to find, but thus far any secrets that may still be locked away remain elusive.
What else can I say about this game except 'Buy it!' The game is a little scarce now and it might be the odd-ball of the series, but Circle of the Moon brings enough uniqueness to the table that it's worth being in any fan's collection. Vampire hunters everywhere rejoice.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/12/09
Game Release: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (US, 06/10/01)
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