Title: Castlevania Advance Collection
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 09/23/2021
In this second volume of Castlevania compilations, the start of the portable metroidvanias is shown here, with the three titular GBA games, along with Castlevania Dracula X (the SNES remix of Rondo of Blood) as a bonus. Less games, but longer ones: does it hold up like the first collection?
Once again, this compilation is made by M2, and as a result a lot of aspects of the presentation are similar to the ones found in their prior Contra and Castlevania collections, with some new additions to boot! The screen size options for Dracula X are pretty much 1:1 the same as in the first compilation, but the three GBA games have their own screen options. No filters or fancy console borders, but you do have a pretty great pixel perfect mode, and shockingly enough, a full-screen scaling mode that works beautifully in TV mode, leading to a great experience.
Alongside the standard display options, both Circle of the Moon and Aria of Sorrow support a new display gadget, which helps to identify enemies that can drop respective items. (DSS for COTM, Souls for Aria) It’s a super handy quality of life feature, especially for the grind-heavy Aria, and thankfully it can be disabled if the popups end up bugging you.
The game select menu is completely revamped from the last compilation, just containing the four games horizontally, along with the gallery and music player. It now even marks the last time you played a game and if you completed it or not, which is really neat. The gallery this time around isn’t too special, just containing a lot of art from the four games and scans of the manuals and boxes from them, (though not all regions are included in some cases, oddly enough) and the music player is self explanatory, though does allow you to make a custom playlist.
You know the drill with these compilation reviews, so let’s get into the basics of the compilation: you have a lot of the same features as the last compilation, including save states, replays, screen sizes, etc, but now you have the handy addition of a rewind feature, toggled by holding ZR and a direction. While I originally thought it only had merit in Dracula X, I found myself using it quite a bit in the three main games as well, since these games are pretty mazelike, and thus if you end up spending a couple of minutes trying to explore only to hit a dead-end, you can just rewind to cut out any time that would be wasted on backtracking.
Even cooler, Circle of the Moon and Aria of Sorrow benefit from this mechanic in a stupidly fun way. Since these two games rely on enemies dropping special items to obtain new mechanics and powers, you can actually use the rewind feature to manipulate RNG outright to force enemies to drop what you want, an utter godsend for cutting out excessive grinds for the rarer drops, especially considering how certain cards in Circle are completely frustrating to get to drop at all! Add the addition of more than one save state and replay slot per game, (Though it does share them with the other regional versions of the game, if you end up wanting to go through these in other languages) and you have a pretty great tweak on the last compilation’s QOL, meaning that like before, there’s no input lag or emulation bugs to worry about here.
Now for the games! Four are included, the titular Advance trilogy and the oddball remix of Rondo of Blood, Dracula X for the SNES. No Castlevania Legends from Game Boy, which is honestly baffling to me considering how that has a little more in common with these games than Dracula X, with the appearance of Alucard, character upgrades, and being a handheld game like the other three. Still, these are the four you get, and here’s what I think of all of them here.
Castlevania Dracula X (SNES, 1995) Commonly mistaken as a port attempt of Rondo Of Blood, this game is actually more of a remix, taking aspects from the PCE legend while making a completely original game out of it. No stages are remotely close to the ones from Rondo, and you don’t get a playable Maria. (in fact, her design is completely different here, and she’s a rescuable NPC only) Shockingly, the music here is still pretty incredible, even if the PCE CD can’t be topped in terms of sheer audio quality, and the game is still a lot of fun on its own merits.
However, Dracula X is incredibly difficult, and adds a ton of cheapness that Rondo was famous for not having, so unfortunately it ends up being completely unbalanced in a lot of ways, from enemies that jump up to knock you into pits, tight arenas that are near impossible to avoid damage unless you have the foresight to attack before the enemy shows up on screen, and a stupid true ending requirement that demands you not die once for nearly two entire stages, making the rewind feature very welcome here.
It does have some cool alternate bosses if you go the “normal way”, (which is incredibly easy to do on complete accident) and the controls are still super solid and fun enough to the point I prefer this over Super Castlevania IV, but it definitely doesn’t hold a candle to the PCE legend, and is better treated as a remix. The final boss alone is terribly designed to the point that I can’t recommend the game nearly as much as I want to due to the way they decide to go about adding challenge by simply spamming death pits everywhere.
Castlevania Circle of the Moon (2001, GBA) The lone title on the compilation I had no prior experience with before picking this up, and the third exploratory game in the series, Circle of the Moon is an excellent start to this portable trilogy. Being a non-canon entry to the series, this game introduces the DSS system, a set of cards you can equip and mix to pull off a variety of different effects at the cost of MP. However, said cards all come from random drops, which makes the rewind function super handy in this reissue, along with the gadget that indicates which enemies drop them.
Sure, there are some oddities, such as the constant need for double tapping to run, the title theme being a literal 1:1 copy of Rondo of Blood’s file select song, and the huge gaps between warp rooms, but otherwise this ends up being a super well-made entry in the franchise, non-canon nature be damned, and while it feels the safest of the three metroidvanias here, it still is a great launch game for the GBA.
Castlevania Harmony of Dissonance (2002, GBA) The first of the GBA trio to actually be canon, this takes place 50 years after the events of Simon’s Quest, and starred Juste Belmont and his friend Maxim as they go throughout Dracula’s Castle to save their friend. The team behind SOTN took the lead on this one, and it shows. Not only does the game feel a lot like that one in terms of design and mechanics, but it even apes the dual castle mechanic and multiple ending aspects as well! Like with SOTN, you can even unlock a side campaign where you explore the castle freely as another character (Maxim in this case), and it’s tons of fun.
While that all does lead to a very predictable story as a result, HOD is still a super damn fun game, with the only gripes I had being the obnoxious outlines on Juste and some of the characters, and the music quality being complete 8-bit weirdness after the solid themes of Circle of the Moon. It’s made even stranger when you beat the game and the credits theme is a crisp as hell rendition of one of the main songs, which makes you wonder why the rest of the OST couldn’t have sounded that great.
Still, the layouts are great, and the difficulty is a bit more fair than COTM, so you won’t really be needing to rewind much in this game at all, especially without any major items to grind for. Like Nathan, Juste only uses a whip, so all of your equipment relates to it, and thus the game is honestly the perfect Metroidvania entry I’d recommend newcomers to that style try first, especially if they played the classicvanias beforehand. I know for a fact that’s what prompted my Wii U Virtual Console purchase seven years ago, and I was very happy with this one as my starter, which led to me quickly playing…
Castlevania Aria of Sorrow (GBA, 2003) Considered the pinnacle of the Metroidvanias, if not the best game in the entire franchise by some, Aria of Sorrow takes every major aspect from the prior metroidvanias and ramps it up to the extreme. You got the multiple weapons back from Symphony, a bigger focus on story from Harmony, collectible drops from enemies from Circle, along with traditional staples such as bonus boss rush and alternate character modes.
The biggest addition to Aria by far comes from the Soul System, which acts as nifty ways to enhance and customize your character’s loadout. But unlike the DSS system, they all are actually super useful, and there’s tons upon tons of souls to obtain from the enemies. Whether it’s enhanced movement, boosted defense, powerful subweapons, or other benefits, these are pretty fun to collect, and even if you don’t go for grinding them, you’ll no doubt end up with a slightly different assortment to choose from in each playthrough due to RNG.
Of course, a true ending is available here as well, in the most cryptic fashion so far. It pretty much demands you pick three random souls just to trigger the true ending, and while the game does give you hints like it did with SOTN/HOD’s true endings, I found my original playthrough of this one to require a guide just so I could know what to grind for, so don’t hesitate to do the same so you can experience the full story, and unlock the kickass bonus mode that’ll make you over the moon if you love the Classicvania style. (one so noteworthy, fans to this day want to play the origins of the character in question) All around an awesome game and my current favorite metroidvania entry, ending this collection on a sky high note that arguably is worth the MSRP for this sole game.
In conclusion, Castlevania Advance Collection is a fantastic compilation of four great Castlevania entries, with the three excellent GBA games and the cool SNES remix of Rondo, it just leads to being a fun package with tons of hours of entertainment all around!
While it is a bummer than both Castlevania Legends and Symphony of the Night are missing (especially since both of those relate to the three advance games more than Dracula X does), what’s here is excellent, and the quality of life and scaling options make this $20 value an absolute must-own, whether you’re new to some or all of the games or someone who played these to death, there’s lots of fun action to be had here, and it’s a great starting point for this explorative style of Vania.
With the highlight game, Aria of Sorrow getting a DS sequel in 2005, I just can’t help but wonder if there’ll maybe be a DS compilation like this in the future, and I sure as well hope so, since it would make for a perfect final compilation for games in the series!
I give Castlevania Advance Collection a 9 out of 10.