Castlevania Anniversary Collection (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Gabriel Jones 12.06.2019 1

Review for Castlevania Anniversary Collection on Nintendo Switch

In the year 1986, Castlevania was unleashed onto the world. It sparked a revolution in side-scrolling action games. Featuring tight game-design, an awesome soundtrack, and incredible atmosphere, there was nothing else like it. Over the next several years, Konami released countless sequels and spin-offs, most of them carrying on the traits that made the original so beloved. Now, Switch owners have the perfect opportunity to revisit some of these classics. Take control of legendary heroes such as Simon Belmont and John Morris. Fight through the nightmare-laden halls of Dracula's castle. Oh and get ready to whip candles… lots and lots of candles.

Imagine a time when a person's greatest fear was a gaggle of disembodied heads, pursuing them through clock towers and dilapidated castles, until suddenly… *WHAM*. As sure as Dracula rises from the dead every 100 years, one of the floating heads has sent yet another poor soul hurtling towards their doom. Nowadays, the idea of being pushed off a ledge and into oblivion is as outdated as a triple-A release without micro-transactions. People play video games to relax, not to scream obscenities and give the middle finger to inanimate objects. With the release of Castlevania Anniversary Collection, gamers all over the world can get a front row seat to excitement and despair.

Included in this compilation are eight games. Most of them share the same basic concept. Dracula and his forces of darkness are causing trouble, and there's only one man who can stop them. Armed with the legendary whip 'Vampire Killer,' the hero must survive a series of levels, each more difficult than the last. Monsters of all shapes and sizes stalk the halls, soar through the air, and do everything in their power to kill anyone who invades their master's castle. Really, all one can do in the face of so much evil is grit their teeth and prepare for the worst. If this sounds like your idea of a good time, then read on, because there's a lot to talk about.

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Castlevania
Astonishingly enough, the first entry in Konami's whip-slinging franchise still holds up. Perhaps it's because even today it serves as an exceptional lesson in game-design. Want to know the secrets to making a good game? Then give this a couple play-throughs and take notes. Seriously, it all starts at the very beginning. Shortly after hitting the start button, players are given the chance to get acclimated with the controls, without fear of enemies. By whipping the nearby fires, they're rewarded with power-ups. From the outset, aspiring vampire hunters are taught to whip anything that moves.

Going further, this game makes the smart decision to implement mechanics in a manner that's friendly and inviting. The second level introduces moving platforms. In the first few instances, there are "safety" blocks placed just below the platform, to catch anyone that accidentally walks off the ledge. Later on, those safety measures are removed, so anyone who messes up is guaranteed to fall into a bottomless pit. The same holds true for enemies. At first, they appear in scenarios where they aren't too threatening, such as by themselves. In the later levels, one can expect to deal with multiple enemy-types at a time, while jumping across platforms. This is a simple yet effective method for helping players understand the dangerous world they're visiting.

In most respects, knowledge is guaranteed to save more lives than reflexes alone. The Castlevania series has always leaned towards methodical play. The person holding the controller is required to assess situations and look before they leap. Every move is a commitment, especially when it comes to jumping. This entry has a very consistent difficulty curve, and that's partly due to the rank system. Early on, touching a skeleton or a bat only does two points of damage. Towards the end of the game however, everything does four points. When the slightest mistake can cost a quarter of Simon's life bar, the player will immediately realize that they should keep their head on straight and not rush things.

All in all, Castlevania is a must-play. This game is still as challenging as ever, but never resorts to cheap tactics in order to beat players down. Granted, the infamous medusa and axe armour hall-way in Level 5 begs to differ, but it can be overcome. Just keep in mind that despite its age, this is one title that should never be underestimated. It doesn't matter if you can weave between millions of bullets in a Cave shmup, a single bat can spell your doom. This is a humbling, yet worthwhile experience, so give it a try.

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
This entry was already covered by yours truly awhile back. Read the full review here. Is there anything else that needs to be said? Well, if it wasn't for this entry, 'Bloody Tears' probably would've never existed. It'd be a crying shame to lose that classic tune, and the multitude of remixes that made their way into subsequent Castlevanias. Otherwise, this is a hard title to recommend, even for action-adventure fans.

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Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
For the third entry, the director put the emphasis squarely on arcade-action, while sprinkling in some adventure elements. The path to Dracula's Castle is winding and twisted, because there are now alternate routes to choose from. This allows for a different spin on traditional difficulty settings. Some levels are longer and more challenging than others. One such level, the ghost ship, is quite extensive, and has one of the hardest jumps in the entire game. There's no ideal route, but most levels tend to play towards the individual's strengths and weaknesses.

It's also worth noting that the levels are longer than before. They're a little less intense, but tend to be pretty gruelling. The idea here is to de-emphasize life-stealing scenarios and focus on tests of endurance. As per usual, the simplest mistakes are costly, so players are expected to bring their "A" game for longer periods of time. This is especially true towards the end. The second-to-last level is known for a staircase that's infested with bone pillars and gargoyles. Then there's the final boss, which has three forms and all sorts of cheap tricks.

No two play-throughs are ever really the same, thanks to the partner-system. Trevor Belmont can recruit one of three allies to assist him on his quest. Grant is the most versatile. Not only can he jump high, but he's also controllable in mid-air. Climbing walls and ceilings is another one of specialties. Try it out and you might discover a few shortcuts. Sypha's powerful spells are great for any situation. Alucard can fly, and sometimes that's all that's necessary. Whoever the player decides on, will have a significant effect on the route. Admittedly, this critic doesn't recruit Sypha very often, because the following level is always the ghost ship. Anyway, the four playable characters offer a lot of spice to an already great game.

The secret to Castlevania III's success is that it forces players to deal with numerous limitations, but is also flexible enough to still be really enjoyable. Though everyone besides Grant loses control whenever their feet are off the ground, there's just enough mobility to keep things from being unfair. Jumping over enemies and their projectiles feels as natural and easy as breathing. The subtle movements that mark the difference between survival and death are communicated extremely well. One can really appreciate moving half a step in either direction to avoid a medusa-head. This entry in the franchise is the purest example of tough yet fair. Well... the US version does go a little too far at times. There really should've been a checkpoint right before the battle with Dracula.

Oh, and one more point to add. This has one of the best first levels… ever. It's seriously impressive how in just a few minutes, everything that the player needs to know is accounted for. They'll run into many series stalwarts such as bone pillars and fleamen. Also, they'll get a taste of the gimmicks that'll be used more extensively in later levels. All of the basics are touched on, so one can be mentally prepared for the journey ahead. It's too bad that most modern games rely on overly long tutorials and a deluge of text to explain how they work. Ideally, all they really need is an expertly-crafted intro.

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Super Castlevania IV
The early days of the SNES / Super Famicom were very intriguing. Developers were still coming to the grips with the system's capabilities. Super Castlevania IV is emblematic of that experimental era. Each level is an array of ideas of themes. Instead of a consistent and upward difficulty curve, the challenge is in overcoming an almost constant series of gimmicks. There's always something new to look out for. Thankfully, messing up is liable to only cost Simon a bit of health, rather than his entire life. Enemies are often placed in locations where they can hurt, but not kill. That means they'll attack the whip-slinger when he's walking down a hallway, not when he's trying to navigate a series of tricky jumps. Of all the games featured in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, this is the most accessible.

Indeed, one could almost find themselves wondering if Dracula's minions are actually trying. In the third level, there's a bone dragon that's facing the wrong way. In the next level, there's an enemy that's so far out of reach that it takes a concerted effort just to get hurt by it. Simon also happens to be overpowered. He can swing his whip in any direction, control his jumps while in mid-air, and take quite a bit more punishment. If all that wasn't enough, he's liable to stumble upon candle drumsticks as well as wall roasts. Clearly, the vampire hunter never had it this easy.

Though this game is a bit lacking in the challenge department, it's still very good. The creativity displayed in each level is effectively managed. Outside of a couple sections in level 4, it never reaches the point of "tech demo." The less restrained controls allow for more flexibility in handling situations. Relying on reflexes instead of thinking ahead is a slightly more reliable strategy than before. Player-imposed challenge runs such as "no sub-weapons" or "no 8-way whipping" are always fun. In short, this is another classic that deserves to be enjoyed.

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Castlevania: The Adventure
As opposed to Castlevania, which is game-design 101 in a cart, Castlevania: The Adventure is a series of lessons on what not to do when creating entertainment software. At first, it doesn't seem so bad. Christopher Belmont can jump, swing a whip, and even climb ropes. Although there aren't any sub-weapons, the whip can be powered up to fire projectiles, which is pretty cool. However, the problems start cropping up as early as stage 1. Everything moves at the speed of molasses, including the hero. Also the hit-boxes are messy. Most of the time, enemies don't even have to make contact to do damage. Dodging attacks is immensely frustrating. The cool whip upgrades never last either. All it takes is a couple of hits to be back at square one.

Where this game completely falls apart is in the atrocious level-design. Stage 1 features a series of pixel-perfect jumps that must all be performed in a row. Stage 2 tops it with twisting, repetitive hallways, and a bridge that gets destroyed by exploding eyeballs. The absurdity continues in stage 3, with tons of moving spiked ceilings and floors. There's one point where it looks like there are two paths to a rope. However, one of the paths is actually a prank, as the last platform is a millimetre too high for the hero to reach. If he attempts to go that way, he'll fail to reach the rope, and get impaled by the spiked floor. By the way, every jump in the entire adventure has to be impeccably-timed. The constant slowdown can also eat inputs, so have fun trying to land those jumps.

In 2009, M2 put out Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth. For all intents and purposes, this is the Castlevania game that fans should've gotten all those years ago. Not only is it superbly-designed, it features some unique qualities that give it a special flair. It's not quite perfect, especially when one stage is an aggravating maze of similar rooms, but it's definitely worth making time for. Alas, this was a Wiiware exclusive, and the Wii shop was shut down back in 2018. Unless Konami has plans for more collections, there may never be another opportunity to play it.

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Castlevania: Belmont's Revenge
The last Game Boy Castlevania was a gigantic pile of manure. Thankfully, the sequel isn't quite as dire. In truth, it's actually good. Christopher Belmont has returned to give Dracula another bloody nose, and this time he has sub-weapons. Also, he doesn't lose his whip upgrades when he takes damage. He can even attack while holding onto a rope. Although he still walks really slowly, he's far more equipped to handle anything that crosses his path. Anyone who was soured by the previous game will quickly realize just how much of an improvement this one is.

Seeing as how the first game's biggest failing was the level-design, one would hope that the sequel improves upon it, and that's definitely the case. A number of obstacles will appear familiar, but the way they're handled is so much better. Bridge-destroying eyeballs make their return, but they're much easier to jump over. Spiked walls also make frequent appearances, but thanks to improved hit-boxes, they aren't a hassle. Even the obnoxious spike platforms can be managed. These traps are appropriately-placed and don't become repetitive. A little too much time is spent climbing ropes, but at least there are scenarios that mix things up. In one instance, Chris has to deal with rope-climbing skeletons.

Besides fixing all of the previous title's faults, there's not really all that much to Castlevania: Belmont's Revenge. It's entertaining enough while it lasts, but there's none of the replay-value or challenge that the franchise is known for. Still, this is an altogether decent adventure. It just might leave behind a pleasant memory.

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Castlevania: Bloodlines
Alternatively titled 'Castlevania: European Vacation,' this entry in the series has its protagonists whipping and stabbing their way through Europe, all in the hopes of stopping Dracula's resurrection. Though the locales vary wildly, this is still just as much a Castlevania as any other title in the collection. Both John Morris and Eric LeCarde have Belmont blood coursing through their veins. They can't change directions in mid-air, and an errant projectile or medusa-head can easily knock them into a bottom-less pit. Nevertheless, our heroes must persevere through six levels, all the while dealing with vicious fiends and precarious platforms.

Just like in Super Castlevania IV, this entry loves to play with ideas. Each level is filled with all sorts of unique enemies and obstacles. The bulk of Italy takes place in the Leaning Tower of Pisa, where loads of flying demons can be found. While in Germany, one must take care around German engineering - crushing pistons, conveyor belts, and massive blades are everywhere. The ruins of Greece are quite astonishing, but try and avoid falling beneath the waves. Neither John nor Eric ever learned how to swim. These scenarios are all self-contained and lend the game a superb identity.

This identity extends towards many other aspects of the game. The sub-weapons are more situational in their usage. They can't quickly destroy bosses, but their range and utility makes them great for any other situation. Since ammo carries over between levels, there's an incentive to hoard for the more troublesome areas. Speaking of bosses, their attack patterns tend to be more complex than usual. Figuring out the best approach is half the battle. Exceptionally-skilled players will definitely appreciate the fully-powered weapon. Though it's lost if either hero takes a single hit, its immense strength and unique sub-weapon will decimate the opposition.

At first, Castlevania: Bloodlines can seem a little a little peculiar. If the player is willing to give it enough time, they'll discover a unique and really enjoyable take on the classic series. Also, Eric LaCarde is a lot of fun to play as. Using his invincible super jump to avoid enemy attacks never gets old. John Morris is alright, but his ability to swing from ceilings is heavily underutilized.

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Kid Dracula
Taking control of the titular character, players must run and shoot through an army of monsters. Frankly, it's weird why this game is in the collection. Yes, there are some cutesy arrangements of Castlevania tunes, but the gameplay is about as far from the series as one could imagine. Whenever the Kid destroys an enemy with a charged-shot, they drop a coin. These can be spent on bonus rounds in-between levels to earn tons of extra lives. Also, with each level completed, Lil' Drac learns a new ability, like a homing shot or how to turn into a bat. Other than that, there's really not much going on. Some levels feature a fair bit of jumping and moving platforms, but anyone familiar with the Mega Man games shouldn't run into too much trouble.

All told, this little adventure isn't too bad. It doesn't have much in the way of depth, but there is some charm buried here and there. However, it does get annoying having to repeatedly press the select button to sift through the Kid's abilities. At least this can be done while the game is paused, which is convenient. There are also a few blind jumps. Long falls followed by sudden spike beds are never fun. Still, there are worse ways to spend one's time, such as playing Castlevania: The Adventure.

The Collection
Having all of these games in one set is pretty awesome, but you're more concerned with the emulation quality. Every title plays extremely well. There's no input lag or anything else that would be detrimental to one's enjoyment. As far as presentation goes, the options are fairly standard, though there's no real reason to change them, unless of course you're a fan of scanlines; the 16:9 modes stretch everything out and look awful; "pixel-perfect" seems to have been mislabelled; finally, save-states are supported. Unfortunately there's only one slot for each game. Replays can also be saved.

The biggest issue with this set is that there aren't any options for remapping buttons. Choosing "Controls" from the menu only shows the commands. This is really unfortunate because Whip is mapped to 'B' and Jump is mapped to 'Y'. Everyone knows that it's supposed to be the other way around. Alternatively, the 'X' and 'A' buttons can be used for jumping and attacking, but it's so hard to adjust to. If you happen to own an 8bitdo M30, then take advantage of it. On that controller, Whip is mapped to 'A' and Jump is mapped to 'B', and it's the perfect setup. Castlevania: Bloodlines and Super Castlevania IV will require tinkering in their respective option menus, in order to find a good button configuration. It's worth the extra time, because the default settings are rough.

One of the other noteworthy errors is that the Castlevania 1 rom included in this set is version 0. One of the differences between it and the much more common version 1 is that there is distinct high-pitched beep that occurs during certain songs. The other is that the game can crash if too many sprites are onscreen at once. This tends to happen during the final boss bout, which can be heartbreaking. This should be an easy fix.

Also, there isn't a Region-Select option, well… not yet at least. An update is in the works to add this feature. Thankfully, the differences between the US and JPN versions aren't as severe as in the Arcade Anniversary Collection. While the US versions of Castlevania: Bloodlines and Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse are more difficult, they're still playable. Hopefully the update will also address the other issues in this otherwise excellent compilation.

Also included in the set is a Bonus Book. It features interviews with famed composer Michiru Yamane and Adi Shankar, the executive producer for the Castlevania Netflix series. Also included are design archives and presentations for all eight of the games. There's a lot of interesting tidbits to be discovered here, such as concept art for additional playable characters in Castlevania: Bloodlines. Clocking in at over 70 pages, this is a pretty substantial extra.

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Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

The Castlevania Anniversary Collection is a required pick-up for fans of the classic whip-slinging series. Granted, there are a couple of minor problems with this set, most notably the lack of button-remapping. Hopefully they're being worked on. Still, it's hard to argue with having four of the all-time best action-platformers around. Plus you get four other games, which range from awful to pretty good. Whether you decide to pick this up now, or wait for the region-select and other fixes, you're guaranteed a good time.

Developer

Konami

Publisher

Konami

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Konami just patched this collection to include both region select and button remapping. 

Awesome.

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