Every one of the retro game compilations is a museum. Each one is a way to live through history. Games that might have been lost in time due to limited releases, hardware that is difficult to find, expensive secondhand markets, or localization decisions are getting second chances. Konami has attempted to make good, as of late, by showing support behind Castlevania. While it has been a while since a new, real installment, we’re beginning to see the older games again. First, with Castlevania Requiem, which brought Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood to more people. Now, eight more classics have returned with Castlevania Anniversary Collection. We’ve already talked about everything Kid Dracula brings to a new, larger audience. But every one of the other games also helps keep history alive. They are important and have an undeniable value.
The Castlevania Anniversary Collection guides us through the series as it finds its footing. It begins with the very first Castlevania, for the NES, and introduces us to Simon Belmont. We get to see the beginnings of whip-slinging action and the initial concept of a castle to explore. It’s linear in a way older series aren’t and is often more about ambiance as you head through stages. It establishes the series, so that Castlevania II can experiment further. It brings in an open area, where Simon goes through multiple areas and grows in power as he explores. He can talk to people and acquire items, which are hints of things to come. Castlevania III introduces multiple characters, letting people be Alucard, Grant, and Sypha in addition to Simon, and let people choose their course and path to Dracula. With Super Castlevania IV, we see what the original Castlevania looked like on more modern hardware, with new control and attack options and embellishments that weren’t possible at the time. Though, since only the localized version is accessible in the collection for now, we are seeing the version that behaves as though it is a follow-up to Castlevania II, rather than a remake of the original.
With the two Game Boy installments, Castlevania: The Adventure and Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, we see what had to be done to make it work under the circumstances. We saw a return to the stage-based format, which was embraced in both of them and took you to different themed areas. Since we couldn’t have stairs, we watched both include ropes for Christopher to climb. (The ones with spikes at the bottom that automatically rise once you get onto them can be intimidating until you get the hang of them.) The first one didn’t even have sub-weapons. In each one, precision was critical and sprites had to be adjusted to make the most of what was there.
Then, there is Castlevania: Bloodlines. It is one of this compilation’s gems. It just does so much different, while also including those elements people appreciate and love about the series. You can play as John Morris, a traditional whip-wielder, or the spear-holding Eric Lecarde. There are stages the likes of which we hadn’t ever seen in a Castlevania game before. Most notably, the third stage takes people to the Tower of Pisa, which actually constantly shifts back and forth. People have to take that into account while ascending and dealing with enemies. It is a gorgeous game with an incredible soundtrack that was so unexpected.
It is a bit skimpy, when it comes to other means of appreciating Castlevania’s history beyond actually playing the games. There is a supplemental book in there that looks at the box art, controls for games, has interviews with composer Michiru Yamane and Castlevania Netflix showrunner and executive producer Adi Shankar, includes five research reports, and has a few pages of design archives for each game. It is unfortunately a bit difficult to navigate and not as user-friendly as, say, the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection museum sections. Still, we do have helpful and insightful looks behind the scenes of the series, here.
The bonus features for each game are skimpy as well. We have six different display options for each game, allowing people to go with options like original, pixel perfect, and 16:9 both with or without scanlines for console games and the handheld offering different Game Boy effects. Each game has three frames to choose from, should you choose a display that leaves room on the side, however one is just plain black and only one of the other two has actual Castlevania art. You can also save a replay, which you can choose from the main menu of a game, or create a single save state. (In this situation, including more save states should definitely have been a priority.)
The heart and soul of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection is in these eight games. Each one of them has merit and value. Every one of them shows the creativity and ingenuity of the series, and how it would adjust and adapt to different platforms. We see how it worked on the NES and SNES. We watched how the Genesis prequel used different special effects and music. We were able to see what was most important and preserved in the stripped down Game Boy titles. We even watched things get silly with Kid Dracula. Some additional effects and bonus features would have been nice, but just having these eight games easily accessible is a joy. (Especially if you own Castlevania Requiem too!)
Castlevania Anniversary Collection is available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.