Release Date: May 16, 2019Platform: PC (reviewed), PS4, XBO, SwitchDeveloper: KonamiPublisher: KonamiGenre: Platformer
The Castlevania Anniversary Collection has little in the way of extras, but the strength of the games featured in the bundle makes it an excellent value for retro fans. Eight games from series’ 8- and 16-bit eras make up the collection, including Castlevania (NES), Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest (NES), Castlevania 2: Belmont’s Revenge (Game Boy), Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse (NES), Super Castlevania 4 (SNES), Castlevania: Bloodlines (Sega Genesis), Kid Dracula (Game Boy), and Castlevania: The Adventure (Game Boy).
But the true highlights are Super Castlevania IV, originally released for SNES in 1991, and Castlevania: Bloodlines, a 1994 Sega Genesis release. As the most recent titles here, they unsurprisingly feature the most refined whip-slinging gameplay and a bevvy of graphical effects that simply weren’t available for the older titles. Going through the levels in these games is a real visual treat, even more than two decades later. These titles also feature not just the best music in the collection, but some of the best tunes of the entire 16-bit era. And with more precise and faster controls than earlier games in the series, these are the easiest titles to get back into.
After all, these eight games are not the Metroidvania titles that the series is best known for. These are tough-as-nails old school platformers, although hints of the RPG mechanics and sprawling maps of more recent Castlevania games can be found as far back as Castlevania II on the NES.
The NES trilogy, also present in pixel-perfect form, hasn’t aged quite as gracefully but is still easy to recommend. With its then-unique horror atmosphere and a soundtrack that even now will get stuck in your head, the original Castlevania remains an iconic experience that every gamer needs to play at least once.
Castlevania II was something of a misstep for the series, adding confusing puzzles and RPG elements that still don’t quite work, but it’s still worth spending some time with if you’re a completionist. At least now it’s easy to find a walkthrough to help you clear the most difficult sections.
Though often overlooked, Castlevania III feels like a game way ahead of its time, thanks to nonlinear levels, multiple playable characters, and some of the best graphical effects on the NES. This game also featured the debut of Alucard, the protagonist of the beloved Symphony of the Night, and in many ways, it feels the most like a Metroidvania title of all the offerings in the collection, even if it lacks many modern touches.
Rounding out the anthology are a pair of Game Boy titles: Castlevania: The Adventure and Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge. The Adventure is easily the weakest game of the bunch due to poor graphics, music, and level design, and a lack of subweapons. On the other hand, Belmont’s Revenge saw the return of subweapons, improved graphics, and surprisingly good music considering the Game Boy’s limitations. This is the title most Castlevania fans have probably missed and it’s definitely worth a playthrough now.
Finally, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection sees the official North American release of the NES version of Kid Dracula, a parody of the Castlevania series featuring a chibi-fied Alucard, big, bright sprites, and much easier platforming than the main series. It’s an interesting piece of Castlevania’s legacy now, and though it’s a welcome addition, it didn’t do much to hold my attention.
In terms of special features, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection features promotional art for each game and text interviews with the developers, so while what’s here is good, it’s not the most feature-packed collection.
Each game has save states to make the difficulty much more manageable, plus several resolution options and the Game Boy games offer the best options of the bunch. You can tweak the screen to make it appear more green or gray, and even add a faux Super Game Boy effect.
Surprisingly, Konami didn’t include an option for controller remapping within the collection. Playing the PC version with an Xbox 360 controller, X is jump and A is whip in the NES and Game Boy games. It’s not a deal breaker, but an annoying oversight that I’m surprised wasn’t corrected before release.
Despite that one glaring issue, this is a strong collection of one of gaming’s greatest series. As with most of these retro collections, you could argue that a few titles should have been included (Rondo of Blood, Legends, or Chronicles), but the eight games included feel like a complete experience that should please longtime fans and those visiting Dracula’s Castle for the first time.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.