Review – Castlevania Advance Collection
When it comes to metroidvanias, I have always been a bigger fan of the “Vania” part of the genre. I do like Metroid, like every other sane human out there, but the open-ended Castlevania games have always fascinated me more than anythingelse. Mostly because those were mainly released when I was a kid taking my poorly lit Game Boy Advance everywhere I’d go. Nowadays, getting a hold of these three titles in a good condition will cost you a few good hundred bucks. That isn’t the case anymore. Thanks to the fantastic Castlevania Advance Collection, we can now play these gems in more modern consoles, Switch included.
First things first, Castlevania Advance Collection is a remaster collection done by M2, the best in the business when it comes to porting old games to new hardware. They almost always create remasters that are basically the definitive way of playing said titles, all while adding tons of trinkets on the side, such as concept art, save states, fully customizable controls, and a sound test. In this particular case, they have also added a bestiary and an item glossary to each of the three main games in the collection, essentially giving you half of a Prima guide to help you out. This is particularly helpful on Circle of Moon, as it highlights which monsters can give you DSS cards. More on that later.
The tricky thing about remastering these games in particular is the fact that we’re talking about the Game Boy Advance. Don’t get me wrong, I love the GBA. That handheld was my childhood. But I have to admit that, hardware-wise, it wasn’t good at all. Many of its games had to feature stupidly bright sprites in order to make up for the lack of a backlit screen (at least until the arrival of the Game Boy Advance SP), and its sound capabilities were atrocious. M2 did a herculean task when remastering these games’ visuals and soundtracks, to mixed results that are a result of the source material, not their ability as retro developers.
Circle of the Moon is the one which, in my opinion, aged the best. The darker visuals were a nightmare to deal with back in the GBA days, but thanks to the Switch’s backlit screen, they have aged gracefully. Not only that, but I honestly think this is the only game in here with an actually good soundtrack, despite the limitations of the GBA, especially since a good chunk of the soundtrack is actually comprised of Castlevania 64 songs. Say what you want about that game, but that soundtrack was (and it still is) a banger.
What I love the most about Circle of the Moon, not only back in the day, but to this very day, is its gameplay. I know a lot of people complain about the difficulty of acquiring DSS cards, which are cards that grant you new abilities when combined, but I’ve always thought that the idea per se was possibly the best magic system implemented in any Castlevania game ever. The inclusion of the bestiary and item guide drastically reduces the hassle of collecting these cards. Jack up your Luck meter with a Luck Ring, and happy hunting!
Harmony of Dissonance is the game I’d call the black sheep of the Game Boy Advance trilogy, even though it is a freaking fantastic metroidvania in its own right. It was released before the arrival of the Game Boy Advance SP, and, as a result, featured a much brighter and saturated color palette that simply doesn’t match with the franchise’s gothic roots. Not only that, but its gameplay is a lot slower and clunkier than both Circle of the Moon and Aria of Sorrow. Speaking of which…
Aria of Sorrow is considered by many to be the second best Castlevania ever made, trailing only behind the beloved fan favorite daddy issue simulator known as Symphony of the Night. I do not agree with this statement purely out of personal preference, but I totally see the appeal. Its story is absolutely fantastic, even though it doesn’t star a Belmont. Its castle design is one of the strongest in the series. It looks pretty damn good for a GBA game, its soundtrack isn’t half-bad either, and its gameplay is solid.
That game featured one of the coolest magic systems featured in any Castlevania title. The protagonist, Soma Cruz, is able to absorb the spirits of fallen enemies, essentially allowing him to utilize their abilities in battle, with literal hundreds of different moves and perks at your disposal. This is the gameplay gimmick that inspired Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, for example. It made for an excellent combination of metroidvania exploration, as well as JRPG and Pokémon-esque collecting sensibilities.
Finally, there’s an actual fourth game in Castlevania Advance Collection: Dracula X. Yep. That Dracula X. The SNES one. For reasons beyond my comprehension, that game is featured in here. Was it because M2 and Konami did not include it on the first Castlevania collection released a few years ago? I have always seen it as the poor man’s Rondo of Blood, a game released as a stopgap for the 99.99% of people who did not own an NEC PC-CD back in the day. A decent classic-styled Castlevania, don’t get me wrong, but not exactly one I’d consider a classic. Then again, I am not going to complain about its inclusion. If anything, Dracula X feels like a bonus feature in an already packed compilation. I ain’t saying no to more bang for my buck.
I love this collection. I absolutely love that it exists and that I can finally re-play these portable classics in a cheaper and more convenient way in 2021. Regardless of if they have aged poorly in some aspects due to the GBA’s underwhelming hardware, Castlevania Advance Collection is an absolute must for fans of the metroidvania genre. You’re getting three of the best games in the franchise, as well as Dracula X. I still don’t get why the hell Konami and M2 decided to include it in here, but hey, I’m not saying no to a bonus game in an already excellent compilation.
Some of the games have aged better than others in terms of visuals. Harmony of Dissonance is too damn bright and colorful for a Castlevania game. Circle of the Moon, on the other hand, aged like a fine wine. M2’s pixel perfect visual mode is, well, pixel perfect.
The controls are fully customizable, and each game in this collection includes a bestiary and item glossary, essentially giving you a Prima guide for free. Make sure to have a joycon or a controller with a better d-pad than the standard one, though.
The Game Boy Advance was (in)famous for its terrible sound capabilities, and that is noticeable in the sound quality of the games included in here, even if M2 did manage to polish it up a bit. Circle of the Moon‘s soundtrack is still a banger, though.
Fun Factor: 9.0
Even if Harmony of Dissonance isn’t as good as I thought it would be, Circle of the Moon and Aria of Sorrow are well worth the admission ticket. Dracula X feels out of place in this collection, but I’m not going to say no to an extra game in an already fantastic package.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Castlevania Advance Collection is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on Switch.