Browsing the menu for this eagerly awaited collection is akin to opening a ‘Mars & Friends’ selection box at Christmas time. With so many delectable treats on offer, it’s difficult to know where to start.
There’s a trio of time-tested favourites – the Snickers, Twix, and Milky Way (the original NES trilogy), which instantly satisfy. For those with a more exotic palate, the Bounty and Topic (the Game Boy’s Castlevania: The Adventure and Castlevania II Belmont’s Revenge) are waiting. Of course, many will make a quick grab for celebrated Mars bar (Super Castlevania IV) – an often imitated but never beaten classic.
But what’s this? As your eyes glaze over the selection, your attention is drawn to the seldom seen bag of Revels (the never re-released Castlevania: Bloodlines). If you haven’t experienced its peculiar delights before, chances are you’ll find its uniqueness pleasing.
Mars, Incorporated (Konami) has even thrown in something bright, inviting, and colourful for the younger crowd – a packet of Starburst (the previously Japan-only, noncanonical, Famicom platformer Kid Dracula).
It all amounts to one appealing, moreish, package. The bad news is that it isn’t a fully comprehensive collection. Due to being re-released as a double pack on PS4 late last year, Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood are missing. Their omission is understandable, especially given this collection’s modest £15.99 price tag. Indeed, Castlevania Anniversary Collection can be perceived as a bargain.
The only real duffer here is 1989’s Castlevania: The Adventure, a rather simplistic affair with memorable music being its only noteworthy feature. Initially, we thought the emulation was shoddy, but it turns out it’s notorious for slowdown. 1991’s Castlevania II Belmont’s Revenge fares better. Not quite a hidden gem, but a huge improvement over the original all the same. The display options for these two are pretty neat – they can be displayed in black and white, with an authentic Dot Matrix green screen tint, or with a splash of Super Game Boy-style colour. As per the rest of the titles present, scanlines and frames (borders) are also an option.
There’s just one small issue with the presentation: a limit of a paltry single save file per title. This isn’t a huge issue when playing the likes of the original Castlevania and Kid Dracula, but many of the later entries in the series have branching paths and a choice of playable characters, so if you want to experiment or have multiple playthroughs on the go at once, you’re out of luck.
And while it’s true the games present have never looked better – the two 16-bit entries hold well up in HD, especially when compared to modern indie Metroidvanias – they have sounded better. The Japanese version of Castlevania III had an extra sound chip, but unlike the recent (and excellent) SNK 40th Anniversary Collection, only the ROMs for a single region are included.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel, thankfully – Konami has already announced a post-launch patch that’ll include regional variants. To hear that they’re not just listening to feedback but also acting upon it is immensely pleasing, further enforcing the fact this is a step forward for the ailing publisher.
We’d go as far to say that even if there’s just one title present that you haven’t experienced before (the Game Boy adventures notwithstanding), Castlevania Anniversary Collection is a worthwhile purchase. It’s fascinating to see the evolution of the series, with the cryptic Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest adapting the blueprint we now take for granted and later games expanding upon it.
The differences between the SNES’ Castlevania IV and the Mega Drive’s Bloodlines are fascinating too, each drawing upon the strengths of their respective systems. Bloodlines is faster paced and a tad grislier, with boss battles showcasing effects the 16-bit system could pull off when tickled in the right places, while Castlevania IV is loaded with Mode 7 trickery and a musical score that makes the SNES’ sound chip truly sing. We also approve of Bloodlines’ World War I setting, which also helps it stand out.
If there is one game fans will be unfamiliar with, it’s likely Kid Dracula – a colourful ditty from 1993, which sports chunky colourful sprites and responsive controls, pushing the 8-bit system reasonably hard.
Incidentally, the password features for each game (where applicable) are intact, so if you have a bunch of passwords jotted down in an old notebook or (God forbid) in an original instruction manual, you can continue from where you left off decades ago. Alternatively, it’s possible to cheat your way to victory in certain games by jumping to the final boss.
While the general presentation is a little slack, the games themselves elevate this collection to the point where it’s easy to forgive most of its shortcomings. Whether you’re a returning veteran or experiencing Konami’s boldest and brightest franchise for the first time, beating all eight titles is a heck of undertaking; a stiff challenge you can really sink your teeth into.
Come for Castlevania IV, stay for Bloodlines, shake your head in dismay over Castlevania: The Adventure’s general ineptness, and dabble with Kid Dracula during downtime. However you choose to play, you’re in for a remarkable journey.