There's been a lot of affinity for the Castlevania franchise over the past three decades. Part of it comes from the series' ability to reinvent itself on more than one occasion. While some have a particular affection for the NES and the PlayStation eras, it's easy to forget that the Castlevania games also had a pretty good run on handheld platforms. The Castlevania Advance Collection brings many of those games together and, while not all of the games are winners, they don't necessarily need to be, just because of how well one of those titles holds up.
Most of the games on the Castlevania Advance Collection list hold up pretty well. Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow are all structured fairly similarly. They're still the types of games that put the "vania" in "Metroidvania," albeit each with their own distinct gimmicks.
Circle of the Moon utilizes a Dual Set-Up System (DSS), where players combine two cards in their inventory for various effects. This was one of the first Castlevanias to experiment with new ideas and it shows, as the DSS relies too much on random drops. Worse yet, this game can be tough, with some of the bosses proving specifically brutal. It's not a game I'd go back to, but an interesting one to try out.
Harmony of Dissonance is a more straightforward Castlevania experience. Its main gimmick relies on spellbooks, each commanding various elements. The various spellbooks can be combined for some fun attacks, encouraging players to experiment with them and mix them into Juste Belmont's standard arsenal. You'll also have plenty of time for experimentation, because Harmony is a lengthy adventure. There are two giant castles to explore and running through them eventually starts to feel like a slog.
Aria of Sorrow is one of the series' boldest steps forward, following new protagonist Soma Cruz. In addition to busting enemies, the central mechanic revolves around the Tactical Soul system, which involves collecting enemy souls and using their powers. It makes Aria feel like one of the more innovative Castlevanias and mixes perfectly with the standard formula. It's certainly one of the best of the handheld Castlevanias.
Lastly, we come to Castlevania: Dracula X, which is a bit of an oddball entry. This game follows Richter Belmont and is based on the 1995 Super Nintendo title. It is not a particular good Castlevania title, largely because of Richter's slow movement and the abundance of cheap death possibilities. While the Advance games represent a step forward for the franchise, Dracula X is the opposite. It feels ancient by modern standards and feels almost out of place in this collection.
As a compilation, the Castlevania Advance Collection has a few things going for it. Every game has resolution options, save states, rewinding functions, and some of the games even have filters. Plus, some of the titles have their own game-specific options. Some are as simple as the ability to remap controls, but others go deeper, like Aria of Sorrow's option for displaying Soul indicators.
There's more than enough here to learn the ins-and-outs of each game and its creation from the Encyclopedia options that detail enemies and items to the heavily detailed Gallery. The Gallery's user interface isn't what I'd call elegant, but I can't fault the content, as there's a substantial amount of artwork on display. Of course, the Castlevania soundtracks are among the best in the world, so it's great to see a full soundtrack menu available with music from each of the games in this compilation.
There are a couple of unfortunate quirks to this collection as well. Upon starting up the collection, the player is immediately informed that headphones cannot be taken in and out during play, which feels baffling to me. Plus, as much fun as it is to be able to select between American, European, and Japanese versions of each game, save files cannot be swapped between regions, which lessens the incentive to play around and experiment.
A Sorrow-ful bundle
Honestly, I could give the the Castlevania Advance Collection a thumbs up just for Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow alone. That's a fun gem that feels like it's been lost to the ages and forgotten in a "favorite Castlevania" conversation that's often dominated by Symphony of the Night. The rest of the compilation is decent and worth trying at least once, though Dracula X is definitely on the lower end of Castlevania titles and should be sampled as a historical curiosity only.
There could have been a little more done, specifically with the user interface, but the extras that are here make this a fun collection. If you didn't get to experience this handheld era of Castlevania games, maybe take some time to see what you missed.
This review is based on a PC digital code provided by the publisher. The Castlevania Advance Collection is available now on Steam, the PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store, and Nintendo eShop for $19.99. The game is rated T.
Castlevania Advance Collection
- Aria of Sorrow holds up substantially well
- Most titles have their own strong central mechanic that stands out
- Multitude of display options
- Each game offers save states and rewind
- Wealth of extras
- Dracula X aged terribly
- Harmony of Dissonance has pacing issues
- Circle of the Moon can feel brutally tough
- User interface looks plain
- No support for switching headphones in and out during play is odd