Review by DJellybean

"Passing up this gem of a game is almost a crime."

People have called it a portable Symphony of the Night, the best Gameboy Advance game to launch, and one of the best side scrollers ever. They are right in every argument.

Graphics
COTM is very reminiscent of Symphony of the Night, the scrolling backgrounds, the character designs and detail along with the bright and bold colors to the dark and gritty colors...it's SOTN all over again. If there was one thing to complain about in the graphics department, it would be the lack of animation of Nathan, the game's main character. Two frames make up his entire running animation and 3-4 frames make up his whipping action, but it's nothing to really gripe about anyways since the gameplay will make you forget about lack of animation.

Music and Sound
While not as memorable nor in the same quality as SOTN, COTM provides one of the best musical scores ever to hit a portable system. Classical beats and orchestrated themes are filled throughout the game and it seems like whatever score Konami throws into the game and area, they all seem to fit well quite nicely...even if the themes were arranged for each area the overall score would match every area as well as they do now.

Sound effects are very nice for a portable system, while not as crystal clear as SOTN, COTM has some nice added sound effects. With glass shattering and Nathan grunting occassionally with every action he takes, the only thing missing from the game are dialogue voice overs.

Replay Value
The game isn't too high on replay value, but there is one side area that's rather difficult(and entertaining) to complete. The Battle Arena allows Nathan to battle without his DSS cards to reach the best armor in the game, while there isn't really much more to that...the Battle Arena itself is quite challenging and provides at least an hour of extra fun.

Gameplay
Castlevania is much like Street Fighter and Final Fantasy, we've all played the title before many times...yet with every new title that comes out...we just want more of it. Castlevania is no different as the whole gameplay scene is much like a 90% mimic of Symphony of the Night. COTM is one giant castle for Nathan Graves to explore as many areas are restricted to Nathan at first...but with new items that either enhances or gives Nathan a new ability allows for him to advance to areas where he could never have reached before.

Along with the highly addicting Super Metroid-esque type of gameplay, COTM does what SOTN did...add an RPG like system to the game. I don't recall in any other game where earning levels couldn't be more fun. As Nathan slashes his enemies with a whip and suceeds in killing them, experience points are added to this total and reduces the total amount of experience points needed to reach the next level. Along with that, sometimes the enemies he kills can drop items such as a Jupiter Card or a Potion. Magic points are also used in the game, but they gradually refill by itself as long as you stop using anything that requires magic points. Like previous Castlevania's, sub-weapons can also be used by pressing Up and the attack button at the same time. Unfortunately, the Item Crash feature(for those who saw Richter in Symphony of the Night, prepare to cry) has been taken out of the game...in order to make the game more difficult.

New to the game is the Dual Setup System(DSS), which allows Nathan to gain a special set of abilities to his current state. Either enhancing his weapon with thorns or allowing him to regenerate his HP while standing still, these abilities are all the result of cards, cards that you can find throughout the castle...many of them are dropped by opponents you defeat(which is an extra incentive NOT to skip by monsters). There are roughly two sets of cards in the game, Action cards and Attribute cards.

Action cards provoke well...actions, but each card can be mixed with another attribute card, 10 cards in each set totalling 100 abilities. For instance, one card allows Nathan to attack with a plant whip, while another card allows Nathan to have poison powder constantly spring off him acting as a shield to enemies(though it is relatively weak). This eliminates the use of different weapons, but it uses MP...either when you whip, stand still, or if your shield does damage to the enemies.

With the DSS system, Nathan can also carry different sets of armor...Bronze Armor to the Magic Guantlet to the Cotton Robe all make up what Nathan can equip. Obviously each item will raise or hinder the current stats of Nathan...while not as deep as Symphony of the Night, this feature is nothing to complain about.

The Magic Items that Nathan acquires through the game allows him to get to the next area, whether it be the triangle jump off a narrow wall or a shoulder dash used to break boulders, these items are acquired through each boss you defeat. These are pretty much what you can call Relics, items that enhance the overall performance of Nathan's current status.

The game isn't filled with text however, the action speaks for the story and you save the game using any one of the eight slots provided by the game inside. Much like Symphony of the Night, depending on how many blue squares you fill in the game(rooms), the higher your percentage will go. The game itself is very non-linear, but overall...it's just one path...and that's the path leading to Dracula. The game is about half the size of Symphony of the Night, which is still INCREDIBLY big, and is definitely a lot of fun to explore.

Let's face it, the whip-holders will never be as agile and easy to control as Alucard, but the controls in COTM are dead on and most of the times it's your fault if you lose...not the control's. There is one rather large gripe about COTM, and that lies on the Gameboy Advance itself, not the game. The GBA has one of the most horrible screens in recent memory as you must either buy a Worm Light or adjust the contrast ont he back of the GBA to even have hopes of seeing at least something in the game. Playing this game with a lot of light is a huge must since the GBA has no backlight. Then again, the ROM is always an alternative...but that kills the idea of portability.

Overall
Circle of the Moon is by far the best Gameboy Advance launch game out there, and it can easily become one fo the best portable games of all time. It's been praised and saluted...all for good reason. Graphics, music, and gameplay makes this one of the most solid and well-rounded games ever...console, PC, or portable.

If you have a Gameboy Advance, missing out on this game would simply be foolish.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/05/01, Updated 07/05/01


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