Review by Pancakes

"The Castlevania legacy lives on!"

Introduction:

Well, we all know that Castlevania has been around for a long time: 3 titles on NES, 2 titles on GameBoy, 1 title on Super NES, 1 title on Playstation, 2 titles on N64, and now the Legacy continues on GameBoy Advance! While Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (COTM) may not be the greatest in this marvelous series of games, it's definitely among the best.


The Story:

The year is 1830. In an ancient castle on the outskirts of the Austrian empire, a demon lord that would unite the powers of darkness was being resurrected at the hand of a fiend yearning for chaos.

At this demonic castle, Camilla, one of Dracula’s minions, began the incarnation of a ritual to bring her lord Dracula back to life.

The vampire hunter Morris and his two apprentices, Nathan and Hugh, sensed an abnormality in the balance of nature and rushed to prevent Dracula’s unholy reemergence.
“That unholy monster must never return!”

However, they arrived too late to prevent Dracula’s return from his confinement. Dracula used his magical powers to imprison Morris, and cast Nathan and Hugh into a graveyard underneath the demonic castle.

Together the two began to search through the castle in order to vanquish Dracula and to rescue their master.


Game Features:
- All-new Castlevania adventure
- New DSS card feature
- Cross of platforming and role-playing
- Huge adventure with over 20 hours of gameplay
- Game save feature (8 slots)
- Only for GameBoy Advance


Graphics:

COTM features some impressive graphics in the area of color, depth, and detail. As you are strolling along in the game's enormous castle, the background scrolls as your character moves. This graphical feature is greatly effective, presenting a feeling of depth. Your character is decently detailed, as are the environments around you and the many enemies you will encounter. Colors are realistic as well.

The graphics do fail in a few areas though. It sometimes seems as though everything could have been a bit bigger and should have more of a 3D look to it. After seeing sidescrolling games for the GBA like Pinobee and Rayman, we know the level of detail could be even better than it already is. Another graphical disappointment, and I'm sure you've heard it before, it that the game is extremely dark. No, I'm not talkin' about the storyline, I'm talkin' about in general. You're going to need a spotlight in order to see the action. Though the game is definitely worth this small handicap, it just didn't have to be this dark! The final fault in the graphics is the framerate, which is at an unacceptably low level of quality. Your character runs on a three-frame cycle, running or walking in a very choppy manner. This is totally inexcusable, as we know this area of the game could have been so much better. Enemy movement is just as choppy, comparing to the framerate of a character like Mario in Mario Bros. for the NES. Shame to you, Konami!


Music and Sound:

Music is definitely one the greatest features of COTM. You'll be treating your ears to various tunes, ranging from upbeat symphony music to mellow-dramatic orchestras. The music quality is incredibly superb. You'll be speechless when you hear the opening choir as you enter the title screen; it's very eerie. Where this area of the game loses 0.5 points (see Ratings below) is the fact that the music is quite repetitive, constantly playing the same tune in the castle’s specific areas. Though this may not be a problem for some, others will find it annoying.

The game's sound effects definitely get the job done. From the crack of your whip to the screaming of enemies as the meet their demise, everything is realistic and in good shape. Nothing to complain about here.


Play Controls:

COTM's controls do exactly what you'd expect them to. The default config works best: jump with A, swing your whip with B, use special items with R, and activate DSS cards with L. Sub-weapons are used by holding up and pressing the action button. This is the only area where the controls lose 0.1 points. You'll become confused and perhaps want to use R for your sub weapon, like in Super Castlevania IV for the Super NES. This is just nitpicking, but it should be mentioned. Everything else is perfectly translated, providing easy performance and great hit detection. Good job, guys!


Gameplay:

The gameplay featured in COTM is superb. The entirety of this platformer is, at its core, a Castlevania game, but as you really get into the action, things start to heat up and get very intriguing. First of all, this game is a cross of a platforming game and a role-playing game. You work yourself through different sections (not levels, like other Castlevania games) of Dracula's castle, destroying beasts and gaining experience points, MP (Mind Power), HP (Hit Ponts), and Heart upgrades along the way. This creative combination is executed very well. Secondly, you'll occasionally receive what are known as dual setup system (DSS) cards. There are a total of 20 cards to collect, which contain the power of various Gods, such as Mandragora, Apollo, and Golem. Using the Dual Setup System, you can combine the cards to create up to 100 different spell effects, ranging from fire whips to meteor showers. This new addition to the Castlevania universe is very innovative, giving it a feel of adventure and collection.

This game is fairly similar to a previous Castlevania game for the Playstation known as Symphony of the Night (which may be the greatest Castlevania created thus far). You will traverse over one gigantic map, much like the maps in Metroid games. (Another way this game can be compared to Metroid is in the collection of certain magical items. You’ll receive items, such as dash boots and double jump, that allow you to visit places you could not access before.) The game is not separated into levels, like previous Castlevania games, all the action takes place in one big castle. The makers of the game provided warp points within the game that act as an easier way of getting from place to place. These warps are a bit few-and-far-between, being somewhat inconveniently placed.

Save points are scattered throughout the castle as well, so you can return to where you left off any time you want. These save points have been perfectly set, as you'll seem to run into them at just the right time.

Where the gameplay department drops a tad is in two areas. First, the screen’s darkness makes the game hard to enjoy unless you have a perfectly positioned (and BRIGHT) light source. So much for GBA's highly reflective screen, the game is just too unreasonably dark. It's also a bit hard to play this game in the car, unless the sun is at just the right spot. This is too bad, for this makes a terrific travel cartridge for long trips. Worm lights and screen magnifiers just don't seem to work at all, so keep a power inverter and a bed-lamp in the car for those trips to Grandma's. The second fall is in the area of repetitiveness. You'll sometimes get a headache from slappin' so many monsters in areas that are similar in the feel, not always in the look though. This hurdle can be jumped by taking breaks from the game when you feel you've had enough. Also, the story is almost non-existent, with little dialogue.

One final note here. Not often mentioned in Castlevania reviews is the design and difficulty of Dracula. I find that most, if not all, Castlevania games feature poorly-designed and easy-to-defeat Draculas. Unfortunately, this game is no exception. Dracula’s look in the end of the game still fails to bring the demon to life. As you enter the game’s final chamber, you’ll be face-to-face with lord Dracula in a simple state. He basically looks like an eight-foot-tall figure. This identity of Dracula is excellent, greatly depicting what Dracula is supposed to look like in his normal state. The moment is ruined when Dracula transforms into a giant…thing. Now, the look of this “thing” isn’t quite as bad as his dragon form that seems to appear in most Castlevania games, but it’s not what Dracula is supposed to look like. (I won’t go into detail.) Also, he is just too darn easy! Come on folks, this is the Lord or Darkness for crying out loud! I have never once fought a Dracula with palms sweating and fingers moving faster than light, much like I want to look forward to. What is it going to take to get y’all to use your brains and come up with the ultimate Dracula? All Draculas I have fought are based on the repetition of moves and contain absolutely no AI. COTM’s Dracula is one of the easiest, which is highly disappointing.


Replay Value:

First off, this game is gigantic. My total game time was 12 hours and 43 minutes; adding this to all the time I spent dying results in almost 25 hours. This is certainly the biggest portable video-game I have played. Now, the probability that anyone is going to want to play this game again right after you beat it depends on the type of person you are. If you love big adventures, you may want to pop this one in again every once in awhile. The map is big enough to warrant a few more than just one play before you put the game away.

The DSS card feature also adds a bit of replay value to the game. Collectors may feel compelled to collect every card in the game. There is nothing really revolutionary about the replay value of this game, it is what you would expect from an adventure.


Ratings

Graphics: 8.0/10

+ Realistic colors and decently detailed surroundings. Scrolling backgrounds add a feeling of depth.

- Bigger, more detailed characters and surroundings would have been better. The screen is just too dark to see anything, the use of a very bright light is needed. Framerate is poor and could have been so much better.

Music and sound: 9.5/10

+ Music quality is spectacular. The opening choir at the beginning is incredible. Use headphones! Stereo sound is amazing.

- Music may be repetitious to some.

Play Control: 9.9/10

+ Controls are tight and do what you’d expect them to. Hit detection is good.

- Using up plus the action button to use sub-weapons can be confusing.

Gameplay: 9.2/10

+ Exciting adventure that will last you a few weeks. Combination of platforming and role-playing is pulled off very well. DSS feature is innovative and fun. Save feature allows you to return to the game any time you want.

- Darkness subtracts from the overall gameplay. Hard to see in a car, though it makes a great travel game. Some may find levels and enemies repetitious. Very little dialogue. Dracula is too easy (again)!

Replay Value: 7.5/10

+ Big adventure beckons some to play again. HP, MP, Heart upgrades, and the collection of items add to the replay as well. Some may want to collect all 20 DSS cards.

- Repetitiveness may be too annoying for some to want to play again. Nothing totally revolutionary here.


Overall: 9.0/10 (Not an average)

It’s time to wrap things up. As you can see, this is a game you’re not going to want to pass up. Graphics are impressive, gameplay is outstanding, and the music just seems to stick out. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is not only one of the best of the GameBoy Advance launch titles, it is also among the top Castlevania games (#3 on my list). This is certainly the largest and most inventive portable cartridge to date. It is truly a brilliant addition to the Castlevania family, though I am still waiting for the perfect Dracula. Castlevania is one of the greatest-standing series of games of today, as I find that I have thoroughly enjoyed each and every release. This certainly lives up to, and beyond, its legacy. This is only the beginning…keep it up, Konami!


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 08/31/01, Updated 08/31/01


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