Release date: May 16th, 2019
Platform: Xbox One (Reviewed,) PS4, Switch, PC
For fans of the Castlevania series in the late 2010s, things are a very mixed bag; with the release of a cliche and corny Western-made anime series recently released, the fairly disappointing Castlevania Requiem collection being released last year, and spiritual successors like Bloodstained surpassing much of what the Castlevania series had accomplished.
With how much Konami generally mistreats the series’ name nowadays, it was a bit of a surprise that they announced this Anniversary Collection just a month or two ago, touting that it would contain many of the older games from the series, and it seemed like something that would be pretty hard to mess up, and to some extent, that is correct.
Its initial announcement was enough to call my attention, given that they stated it would contain a few of my favorite games from the series, with Castlevania, Castlevania 3, Super Castlevania 4, and Castlevania 2: Belmont’s Revenge being included in the original announcement. This announcement also claimed that there would be 4 more games announced before release, and just a few weeks later, they filled it in with the final titles, those being Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, Castlevania: The Adventure, Castlevania Bloodlines, and Kid Dracula.
This full list is thankfully an extremely robust package that spans four different classic gaming consoles and contains the true foundation of what made the series great. The other main factor to consider here is how well the included games are emulated and presented in this new version, which is unfortunately a little bit of a mixed bag, though not a total disaster, and this is fairly par for the course with these types of collections anymore.
Konami partnered with the historically wonderful classic gaming port developer, M2, for this release, so most people familiar with their previous work had pretty high hopes for this collection, and in large part, they did not disappoint, with most of the games looking and sounding just right, and mostly feeling right as well, but I’ll go into a little more detail about each game here to clarify all this.
Castlevania, the title that started it all, is presented here with the Western NES version, which unfortunately uses the original buggy code that the first-released cartridge had, but the bugs generally do not detract from the gameplay experience. (Note: Though the versions of most games included here currently vary between which region you purchase this collection in, Konami has stated they will patch in selectable different region versions into all versions of this collection in the near future.)
The controls feel tight and responsive in general, but there is currently one major oversight concerning the controls for most games in this collection, which is that there is no option for customizing your control setup, and the default button layout is oddly opposite of how the NES and Game Boy games were originally set up. It’s a bit puzzling how something like this could happen, but this is the case for every NES and Game Boy game in this collection, though hopefully it will be fixed with a patch in the near future.
There is also a strange bug in the emulation for CV1 here, affecting the audio on certain music tracks in a very strange way, which can get annoying, but is not something that will kill your entire experience. Again, it’s just strange how things like this can slip through the cracks.
While we’re here in the beginning, I can also mention that the interface in general for all games is fairly well done, with the pause menu containing several options for each game, including save state options, various display options, save replay options, and the main menu also features a digital “book” that contains lots of extra info, history, and concept art for each of the games in the collection. Even this feels more robust than the lacking presentation on Castlevania Requiem from last year and wraps everything up into a nice and visually consistent package.
Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest is the next game here, and thankfully, there is not much to report here, as there are no major glitches or issues. Simon’s Quest was the start of the series presenting a non-linear progression system and a more RPG-style format, serving as a pre-cursor for later games like Symphony of the Night and the many Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS titles. The game looks and plays just like it’s original version, also based on the Western NES release. It will be nice to also have access to the original Famicom Disk System version of the game when it is patched in later, which contains different music, a save system, and a few other interesting differences from the Western release.
Next up is Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse, presented here in its original Western NES release version, which brings up an issue here for series completionists like myself. While CV3 is certainly one of the most groundbreaking entries in the series, the Western release was a huge downgrade from the original Famicom version in Japan. The music is entirely different, since the Japanese cartridge had an extra sound chip installed to have extra sound channels and music complexity, and the game is also censored and re-arranged in some small ways as well. This will be much more satisfactory once the Japanese version is patched in soon, but CV3‘s Western release always leaves a bad taste in my mouth ever since experiencing the original Famicom version.
As far as how it plays, there are no issues with control or visuals, so my version nitpicks are the only major complaint here. This is also easily the most challenging game in this collection, which I feel has made the game age somewhat badly in general, though that’s another story for another time, but in any case, also be ready for the absolutely unrelenting difficulty, especially in the US version.
Next in line is Super Castlevania 4, originally on the SNES console, which is still one of the best games in the series to date, featuring a plethora of vast improvements in every aspect of the series, from gameplay and control to the visuals and music being leaps and bounds above what the NES games accomplished. Everything plays and feels great here and CV4 is always one of my favorites to revisit, with a great balance in difficulty that was also not generally found in any of the NES games.
This is also based on the Western release, which has some slight censorship issues compared to the Japanese release, but nothing major and certainly nothing that impairs the gaming experience.
Next we have what I consider to the the official train wreck of the Castlevania series; The Adventure. This was a very early game released for Nintendo’s Game Boy console, and it makes it painfully obvious that the developers had not fully grasped how to make games for the hardware yet. The Adventure runs extremely slow and choppy and the controls feel quite sluggish, which makes it a real negative when considering that the series is all about action and platforming, which require precise timing and maneuvering. The Adventure specifically also contains many time-based traps that the previous games did not have, which just makes matters worse when the timing of your movements don’t work out well.
Aside from the awful quality of the game itself, and the puzzling question of why the vastly superior remake of this game (The Adventure ReBirth, from 2009) was not included here, especially since M2 themselves developed it, the game is actually emulated very well; probably too well for its own good. The Dot Matrix visual filter included for the two Game Boy games in this collection is extremely well-done and re-creates the experience of playing on the original Game Boy screen very well.
After the mess that was The Adventure, the developers sought to right their wrongs with the follow-up Game Boy game, Belmont’s Revenge. This game fixes most of what was wrong with Adventure and ends up being one of the best platformers for Game Boy as a whole. The game is presented here perfectly, and with the previously mentioned Dot Matrix filter, it really holds up and re-creates the experience of this game very well. Thankfully, there’s not much else to say here, besides that you should play this if you never have before.
Finally we arrive at what I consider to be one of the absolute best entries in the series, Castlevania Bloodlines from the Sega Genesis. Bloodlines pushed things even further than CV4‘s vast improvements, refining the gameplay, having even more intense and forward-thinking visual effects and level designs, and having some of the best music out of any entry.
The emulation here is perfect, and the game plays and runs just like on the original hardware, so nothing negative to report here. This also marks the first time this game has been officially re-released on any platform other than the original Genesis, so do yourself a favor and play this if you never got a chance.
Lastly, we have a sort of odd duck of the series, the cutesy spin-off game originally released on Famicom and only in Japan, Kid Dracula (originally Boku Dracula-kun.) The Famicom version of Kid Dracula is presented here for the first time officially outside of Japan, with a brand new translation, nearly 30 years after its initial release, which is a pretty cool thing (though it did have a port on Game Boy that made it to the West back in the 90s, but is a pretty different game.)
Kid Dracula‘s gameplay is fairly simple and a bit different from the main Castlevania games, though it’s still an action platformer, but the original game itself was rife with technical problems, with lots of slowdown and graphical glitches throughout, and unfortunately, those were all preserved here perfectly, so the gameplay doesn’t hold up terribly well. Despite that, it’s still a fun little game anyway, and has a great soundtrack that features lots of cute-ified versions of songs from the main Castlevania games.
Compiling and paying tribute to one of the greatest game series of all time is a mighty difficult task, though Konami and M2 managed to fudge their way through it with pretty decent results here, all nitpicks aside.
The reality is, if you don’t have access to the original consoles and games and you don’t want to download emulators and roms for four different consoles, this collection does provide a very nice solution to be able to play all these classics for just $19.99, so I’d have to say the value is definitely there, even if there are some small things that need fixing, but hopefully those will be addressed pretty soon with the already-announced patches.
Whether you’re a series fan or a newcomer looking to experience the history of the series for yourself, I’d say the value is definitely here for either camp and you’d do well to check this collection out.
Final Score: 4.25 out of 5