With the absence of a true Virtual Console on the Nintendo Switch, publishers have taken it upon themselves to release collections of classic games for the platform. Many times this allows them to include games that they might not have otherwise released, since they’re part of a bundle and can take higher risks. Another perk is that gamers can often get more bang for their buck, as is the case with Castlevania Anniversary Collection where eight titles have been gathered together for $19.99. Had these been released as separate titles on the Virtual Console service the total would have most likely been close to $40. Of course, in the end it all comes down to the selection of titles, how fun they are, and how well put together the collection is (extras, emulation, options, etc.). I’m happy to report that, for the most part, Konami has delivered the goods.
M2, the famous development team responsible for the Sega Ages retro titles, has worked their magic with this release. We know what they’re capable of, and normally they throw in a ton of extras and a bevy of options. The emulation of the games is pretty spot-on for nearly every single game. There is a slight issue with one of the stages in the original Castlevania that is annoying because they used the original ROM instead of the updated one. We hope this will be fixed with a free update. As we’ve come to expect from these retro collections, there are visual options allowing you to pick the aspect ratio (including pixel perfect) as well as a borders, scanlines, etc. You can instantly save in any of the games, making them a bit easier than they were back in the day.
However, not is all up to snuff. Perhaps the Super NES Classic has spoiled us, but there’s only a single save slot for each game, which is disappointing. My biggest issue is that there is no way to remap the buttons on the controller. This creates issues with the NES and Game Boy games because the layout of the Switch buttons differs, making it more difficult to jump and attack. In this day and age button customization should be a standard feature. [UPDATED 6/18/19]: Konami has updated the collection so players can now assign any button to any action – a very welcome fix!
One area where I spent a great deal of time was in the History of Castlevania digital book. Here we’re treated to scans of boxes, artwork, and design documents. As someone who grew up with the Castlevania series, it was fascinating to read about the development and look at some of the ideas that were scrapped for the games. There’s even an interview with one of the musicians that’s a good read as well. This type of extra is fantastic to see in these types of collections and adds even more value to the product. The only annoyance was the same music tracked looped over and over again to the point where I had to eventually mute the TV to read in peace.
Other than including every single Castlevania game ever made, no matter which games are included there’s going to be some people that are happy and others disappointed. Everyone has a favorite title or two and if those are missing it can make or break the bundle’s appeal. For the most part I think Konami nailed it. They were going for a series of Castlevania games that told the origin of the franchise.
For those that didn’t grow up in the ‘80s or haven’t gone back and played the original titles, they play very differently from the more recent ones. All of them, with the exception of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, are straight up action platform games. The second in the series was the first to borrow elements from Metroid, featuring an interconnected world that had to be explored. This style of gameplay wouldn’t return until Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, where it finally took hold and became the standard. So, I think it was a wise decision to stick to the original style of games, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed that Dracula X is missing, given that it plays like the old style. Granted, Konami had hinted that this is the first collection for the series, so perhaps they’re saving that one to go alongside the aforementioned Symphony.
But, I’m here to cover the games that ARE included in this bundle, which includes: Castlevania (NES), Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (NES), Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES), Kid Dracula (Famicom), Castlevania: The Adventure (Game Boy), Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (Game Boy), Super Castlevania IV, and Castlevania Bloodlines (Genesis). Going into this I had played six of the eight titles, with only Kid Dracula and Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge being new to me. There’s not a single horrible title in the group, but the Game Boy iterations are obviously the least impressive from a graphical point and also play very slowly when compared to the rest. That being said, for those of you who grew up playing these you’ll probably still have a blast.
The first three games in the series still hold up well today, but they aren’t easy. In fact the first and third ones are extremely difficult, especially if you have never played them before. The second game is easier in many respects, but the challenge comes in figuring out the game’s riddles and knowing where to go next. A guide or maps are almost a must for that one and the game was seemingly designed to be purposefully obtuse, just begging kids to call a 1-900 tip line. That being said, there are plenty of resources online these days to help out with that, including a plethora of YouTube walkthroughs to aid you in your quest. All three play just like you remember, with somewhat stiff controls and that god-awful hit back when you run into an enemy by mistake, which often will throw you off the ledge and into a pit. It definitely takes time to acclimate to the gameplay quirks, but I still had a great time with all of them. It should be noted that Castlevania III is the U.S. version, but apparently Konami might include the Japanese version in a free update, which would add slight improvements to the music – something I look forward to trying out at a later date.
My favorite game in the collection is Super Castlevania IV. I absolutely adore this game! It’s a sort of remake of the original NES title, but there’s so much added that it’s almost a disservice to call it that (hence the U.S. version having a proper number attached to it). It’s an early Super NES game, so it won’t be the prettiest 16-bit title out there, but it still holds up, even if it’s a bit on the pixelated side. It’s probably the easiest of the bunch (although the Game Boy games aren’t that difficult) and definitely includes the biggest move set. Simon can aim his whip in eight different directions, plus he can let the chain drop and then the player can wiggle it around to defeat enemies in near proximity. The controls are vastly improved over previous games and the sprites are bigger than any other title in this package. It also does the best job of creating a world that feels dreary and hopeless. This is in part to its color scheme, but mostly it’s the moody soundtrack that seals the deal. It’s by far one of my favorite Castlevania scores of all time and still holds up today. If you don’t own this game any other way, I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s worth the price of admission for this game alone.
The game I was most excited to play was Kid Dracula. This Famicom (NES) game never made it to the U.S. so I was very curious to give it a go. It’s the biggest departure from the group, with brighter colors, big sprites (for the NES), and a more kid-friendly atmosphere. You play as a Dracula’s kid, who is out to vanquish Garamoth, a Demon King who has conquered the realm. The game is quite unique and very fun to play. You don’t have a whip, but instead throw magic fireballs at enemies, killing them with a graphic “POW!” – just like the classic Batman TV series. You can throw your magic left, right, up, or down, and even power it up by holding down the action button. You will earn new magical powers as you progress through the game.
The game features the trademark square orange blocks to solidify it as a Castlevania game, but incorporates a ton of new graphical elements, like actual ladders instead of stairs, to make it different from the rest. In fact, as I played through it I couldn’t help but think this was a cross between the traditional games and Mega Man. Perhaps it was the upbeat music or the amount of platforming and projectile throwing, but it definitely has a very different feel to it – and it’s a great deal of fun! It also helps that the controls are spot-on and your jumps are floatier, allowing you to change direction in midair. It’s a shame this one never made it out over here before now, but it’s a great addition to this collection and even playing it for the first time ever in 2019 it’s still a fun time!
The other game that surprised me the most was Castlevania Bloodlines. I had played this back in the mid-‘90s at a friend’s house and had vague memories of it. For some reason I thought it was a subpar game in the series with average graphics and sound. Playing it again for the first time in decades I found myself really loving it! The graphics are way better than I remembered and it sports a very clean look to it. There’s a ton of parallax scrolling and the detail of animation in some of the enemies is very impressive. The skeleton that taps around his head and then eventually tears it off and throws it at you had me laughing out loud. Sure, the game does feature comically bad animation when you go up and down stairs, but other than that it really does look amazingly good for a Genesis title. The music also holds up and is way better than I thought it would be. Given that this one can be a bit difficult to find on its own, I’m super happy it was included here. Also, having two playable characters is a nice touch and gives the game a bit of variety.
Castlevania Anniversary Collection really delivers a nostalgia blast, proving that classic games can be just as fun to play today as they were 30 years ago. If you were hoping for the Metroidvania style games, you won’t find that here (with the exception of Simon’s Quest). What you will find are eight games that still deliver a challenging, but fun gameplay experience. Would I have substituted the two Game Boy games for Dracula X and Symphony of the Night? Of course! But, I completely understand the rationale behind the title choices and for $20 there’s plenty here to like. Playing these in handheld mode looks fantastic on the small screen. TV mode is just fine, but be prepared for larger than life pixels trying to scratch through your screen. If you’re and old school gamer this collection is a perfect way to relive your glory days. If you’ve never played these titles before I think this could still be a good way to spend $20, but be prepared for some hard as nails difficulty that may cause you to break a Joy-Con or two.
Castlevania Anniversary Collection Review
- Graphics - 8/108/10
- Sound - 9/109/10
- Gameplay - 7.5/107.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8/108/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Fans of the Castlevania series will surely fall in love with this collection. It chronicles the early days of the series (the first ten years) and features some amazing classics. Just the inclusion of Kid Dracula is worth checking this one out and Super Castlevania IV makes it a must-own.