Review by Raumien

"Superb 2D Platforming With RPG Elements"

The Gameboy Advance was a rare breed in gaming history to me for one reason. It had a damn good launch line-up, much stronger than the PS2, Gamecube, Dreamcast, XBox 360 and so on. One of the main reasons this line-up was so strong is this very game, Castlevania: Circle Of The Moon. This was the first game for the Advance I purchased and I was blown away at the quality and polish I found in this side-scroller. Since then it has become one of my most beloved games of all time and is the reason I'm as big of a fan of Castlevania as I am today.

The Good

-Tight, responsive controls and gameplay
-The whole castle theme is implemented and pulled off very well here. The whole game has a gothic quality to it that gives it a more serious, less kiddy feel
-Very old-school feel to the whole game without suffering from dated gameplay
-Some of the best music on the GBA to this day
-Strong replay value
-Very stylish and detailed graphics that are just packed with refinement, aside from animation issues

The Bad

-Hidden areas could of been more varied rather than just holes on the left or right side of the screen
-No shops =/
-Overall many of the animations lack a high frame count, giving characters a stiff look. Sprites are otherwise detailed well.
-When played on a GBA the graphics are incredibly dark. This isn't much of a problem with SP's and DS's out now, but if you're playing on an older system be warned

When you begin the game you're following fellow vampire hunters into Draculas lair. Your Master is captured and you and your other companion fall down a large hole. From here a short dialouge is spoken, then you begin the game descending further down the hole and whipping skeletons. You'll be able to collect hearts, find sub-weapons, use save / healing points, level up and more. The more you play the game, the more options you'll unlock as well. In most gameplay modes, enemies will drop DSS cards that let you use different magic skills when combined. DSS cards can be used for elemental attacks, summoning creatures, creating shields and more. You'll also have stats which can be altered by items the enemies drop, such as armors and accessories.

The whole nature of the game is a combination of classic Castlevania action and a Metroid style of exploration. New skills are gained after Boss Battles, such as the Double Jump skill you earn after defeating the f irst boss. This is an entertaining system because after obtaining a certain item, you can backtrack and go to new areas you saw previously, but could never access. After playing through a few times, having to backtrack through the castle back and forth does tend to get tedious though. Also, despite exploration being encouraged, often after fighting a boss, you have little elsewhere to go than the next boss to get another item, then repeating this pattern. Despite this flaw, it's still very enjoyable.

The RPG elements add a lot to the game for someone who enjoy's Role Playing games like myself. Enemies often drop armor or recovery items after defeat, giving you incentive to actually kill creatures instead of running through levels. You'll also gain EXP and level up, increasing your stats and HP / MP. This helps balance the difficulty, because if it's your third time through you can level very little for more challenge, and vice versa you can level a lot your first time through to make things a little easier. Once you beat the game, you unlock a new mode every time. Each mode is based off a traditional RPG class. Magician mode gives you increased mana and intelligence and you start out with every DSS combo card. Fighter mode takes away magic abilities and gives you high def, str and HP, and so on.

The actual gameplay is very tight and solid. When you get hit by an enemy it's generally strictly your fault. It's similar to old-school Megaman games, just pure side-scrolling action at it's core. The sheer variety of enemies keeps it entertaining throughout the game. There is such a variety of enemy patterns to face up against and memorize that makes the old-school style refreshing to play. Special moves are all easy to preform, and activating DSS magic is simple. Switching cards can get tedious after a while though if you use different magic often.

The game is real beautiful as far as audio and visual go, aside from a few technical flaws. The game at this writing is over 4 years old and still beats current GBA games in terms of audio quality. The soundtracks are memorable and well-composed, showing that the GBA has moved away from the blip-blip era. There are a variety of instruments used and they fit each section accordingly. The graphics are very dark, adding to the atmosphere of the game. Enemies all have detailed and interesting sprites using a wide variety of colors. Enemies will get slightly recycled, such as different armors. You'll see Stone Armor and Holy Armor for example, and they'll have different attacks, animations and colors. So while their sprite and movements will be similar, they still have varying attacks. There are a few complaints that need to be mentioned in this area though. Anyone playing on a regular GBA will notice the graphics are too dark for a non-backlit screen. It's possible to play, as I did when I first got the game, but it's a real pain finding good enough lighting. Also, animations frames are sorely lacking, making the graphics lack the polish most of the game possesses.

The game packs some good replay value due to the different ways one can play the game. The first time through I hardly used magic or sub-weapons. Some times I'll use mostly the cross sub-weapon, other times I'll u se the Ax or Holy Water more. You can rely heavily on magic, or just use brute strength and use magic simply for stat boosts. All the unlockable modes just push the amount you can do with the game. While the game does get old after enough replays, the multiple ways of tackling CoTM help keep it fresh longer than other games. Overall you can blast through this Castlevania slightly quicker than some of the other Castlevania titles for GBA, but it's a well-paced and incredibly addictive journey. beating this game is one of the few that actually gives you a feeling of satisfaction. You feel like you really accomplished something thanks to the difficulty level. Some may find it too difficult, but just have patience and watch the enemy patterns.

This game has a few flaws, mostly technical or small nitpicking arguments I have against it, such as the lack of shops. Otherwise it's an incredibly well-crafted adventure that I'd recommend anyone who has an interest in side-scrolling platforming to purchase. If you've enjoyed any 2D Megaman, Metroid, or Castlevania game I'd see little reason for you not to love this game. It's a masterpiece, which is surprising considering it was a launch game. Play it on an SP or DS if you can, it makes the adventure much easier on the eyes. Don't miss this, it's quite possibly the best Castlevania game out there.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/28/05


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