Review by RageBot
"Obviously rushed and minimalistic, but still fun to play."
Ah, the first of six handheld Castlevania titles. All of them, except for the unfortunate Harmony of Dissonance, are great in my humble opinion. However, this one is almost like a prototype, so I should expect it to be a little sub-par. In the end, this is how it turned up to be:
First of all, this game takes place in 1830. Carmilla, a woman whose heart fell down the path of evil, revives Dracula. However, soon after the three heroes appear: Morris Baldwin is the heir of the Vampire Killer after the Belmonts' lineage has ended in the end of the 18th century. Nathan Graves is his student, and the current user of the whip. He is also the character you control. Hugh is Morris's son, and he is very jealous of Nathan, because he himself wants to use the whip. Nathan needs to traverse through eight areas of the castle (Yes, only eight) in order to fell the Count. Along the way, he learns that Morris is going to be sacrificed, and Hugh's soul has been manipulated by Dracula so that he would hate Nathan. Nothing major.
One of the things that irritate me about this game is the term given to the holy whip: Hunter Whip. Why don't they call it Vampire Killer? Well, maybe it's because Morris don't want his student and son to know about the huge responsibility on their shoulders. Maybe it's because people can only use this name while the whip is in the hands of a Belmont. The hell should I know.
This game's new feature is DSS cards. There are twenty cards, ten of one group and ten of another group. Match two cards in order to have a magical effect! Using this system costs MP, of course. Where do you get these cards? Enemies drop them. Right... it's just the same as the quests in Portrait of Ruin, but here, it's a little worse, because you almost NEED the cards in order to win. The good thing is, one of the combinations, that can be earned very early in the game, boosts your luck. You'll need it to gather the cards. Aside from the cards, you can also use classic Castlevania subweapons, from Dagger to Cross.
Luck is more important here than in any other Metroidvania title, because there is no shops in this one. This means that all of your potions, you need to get from enemies. This alone makes the game much harder than it should be. I believe that the lack of a shop system is purely due to major rush towards the end of the programming. It is also worth mentioning that the game itself is hard, there are many large enemies with fierce attacks that are hard to avoid. Especially watch out for the elemental demons. One last thing to add here, is that one of the boss battles is considered one of the hardest Castlevania boss battles of all times. You have been warned.
Signs of rush are apparent all through this game. For example, all other games of this kind have a lot of items for you to use: consumable food items, armors, weapons or weapon upgrades, and sometimes even throwing items. This game has none of that, only Potions to restore health, Tonics to restore MP, and Heart items to gain more hearts. There are, however, pieces of equipment that improves the four stats (Yes, only four): Strength, Defense, Intelligence and Luck. There are a lot of breakable walls that lead to hidden rooms, much more than other games in the franchise, but they always only contain permanent upgrades for your HP, MP or hearts, guarded by a strong enemy. It gets repetitive after a while.
Another sign of rush is that there are no additional characters to control in the optional modes. See, in the rest of the games, after you finish them once, a new mode is available to play, featuring other characters to play. Usually, those characters are unable to heal themselves, use money, and gather items, but they start with all of the skills earned through the game. In this game, you would expect to be able to control Hugh, right? Wrong. All of the five modes (Yes, only... actually five is a lot, there are usually only two or three modes, including the original) feature Nathan, the same story, the same gameplay, with some tweaks. For example, in Magician mode, you are more intelligent, less strong, and possess all DSS cards from the get go. In the Shooter mode, you have a lot of hearts, and subweapons cost less hearts and do more damage.
The soundtrack also shows signs of rush. Out of all the tracks in the game, and there are not so many of them, you can enjoy two new tracks (Yes, only two). One of them is awesome, the other is a little lacking. The rest of the tracks are remakes from previous Castlevania games, mostly Castlevania 3, but 4, Bloodlines and even Castlevania 64, all share the honor. The really annoying thing is, the original awesome track is the track for the first area, which gives you the illusion that you are about to enter a world of excellent new tracks, only to shatter this spell as you listen to one remake after another. And while ranting on the presentation, I must say that this game is very dark, and it's hard to see things, which only adds to the already high-for-the-wrong-reasons difficulty.
Despite all of that, this game is as fun to play as usual, and brings something new to the table, especially when it was first out, ten years ago. Try it on your GBA if you can.
Final grade: 7.8/10
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/19/11, Updated 09/12/11
Game Release: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (US, 06/10/01)
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