Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe | Publisher: Konami | Release Date: 2001 | Genre: Platformer / Adventure | Website: n/a | Purchase: Amazon
The year is 1830 and deep in the heart of Austria Count Dracula rises again. Vampire hunter Morris Baldwin along with his son Hugh and apprentice Nathan Graves rushes to the castle but arrive too late. Underestimating the power of their arch nemesis Morris is captured while Hugh and Nathan is dropped deep into the catacombs beneath the castle. Bitter about his father bestowing the legendary “Hunters Whip” to Nathan instead of his own son, Hugh sets off on his own to rescue his father. Nathan whose parents were killed by Dracula many years ago while fighting alongside Morris sets off for vengeance and rescue as well. So begins the very first Castlevania on Gameboy Advance.
Right from the start its clear to see that Circle Of The Moon was heavily influenced by the classic PSone title, Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night. Since SOTN is probably the most beloved entry in the series this is not a bad thing and COTM brings some of its own innovations to the table.
Unlike most 2D platform games that have linear stages in COTM you are thrown into a sprawling castle maze and are free to go in any direction you wish. Many areas will be inaccessible until the proper skill or equipment to reach them have been found which can lead to a lot of backtracking and repetition but luckily the game has a full Automap to help you out.
You are going to need all the help that you can get as this is definitely one of the most challenging entries in the franchise. Save spots are few and far between not to mention health drops being a rare commodity only left behind by foes if you are very lucky. Navigating a maze while confronted by powerful enemies that respawn every time you leave a room also makes for a stiff challenge. The usual Castlevania foes like mummies, skeletons and bats are still abound as well as the more annoying foes that attack from all angles. It’s also still possible to get knocked back a great distance when hit which is seriously annoying when all you want to do is reach the nearest save spot.
Those who played any of the previous titles will be very familiar with the gameplay mechanics and while you still have to kill bosses to unlock new skills like double jumping, underwater breathing and dash attacks there is also a new system called DSS (Duel Setup System) which is activated by cards that enemies drop. Combining these cards can have lots of beneficial effects like elemental powers for your whip but it takes some trial and error to figure out all the effects. Card drops are quite rare though and very dependant on luck so its possible to finish the game without seeing even half the cards and their effects.
Besides your trusty whip you still have your stalwart secondary weapons like daggers, axes and holy water that is powered by hearts that can be found by whipping candles dotted throughout the castle. Don’t expect the range of weapons that was available in SOTN though. You can pick up some equipment to improve your stats but nothing on the scale of SOTN and no primary weapons beside the whip you start with. Experience points are earned by killing enemies to level up and this is vital in order to face the bosses. Trust me these guys are no joke and you don’t want to face them at too low a level. This grinding just to progress can be a bit tedious though and wont be everyone’s cup of tea.
On the original Gameboy Advance the visuals are a bit on the dark side but that was the limitation of the system not being back-lit and on the GBA SP everything looks crisp and clear. Enemies and levels look great but poor Nathan suffers from somewhat limited animations. This is especially apparent when compared to the excellent enemy animations. The games soundtrack consist of remixed tracks from past Castlevania games and suit the action perfectly.
If you can handle the challenge then Circle Of The Moon comes highly recommended and while it doesn’t eclipse the awesome SOTN this is a great start for the series on Gameboy Advance.
*Review originally published 2001.