As a series, Castlevania isn't doing so good right now. Here is a franchise that's successful both critically and commercially, yet Konami seems content to let it rest on its laurels. There hasn't been a major non-pachinko Castlevania game since 2014. Lords of Shadow 2 wasn't exactly well-received, but abandoning the franchise entirely seems like an overreaction. Wait, though - there could be undeath in the old zombie dog yet. As part of its 50th-anniversary celebrations, Konami has exhumed the corpses of eight retro Castlevania games for Castlevania Anniversary Collection.
This is the kind of collection whose name should probably precede several asterisks. There aren't any games post-Castlevania Bloodlines on Sega Genesis. There aren't any Igavania games (that's Symphony of the Night through Order of Ecclesia). Instead, Konami is strictly focusing on its side-scrolling action days. These are Castlevania adventures from before the series gave the second part of its name to the term "Metroidvania".
Of the eight games on offer, four are undisputable classics and four are curios at best. Porting work is handled by M2, a Japanese studio well-known for its emulation releases (it's worked on Sega Ages, Virtual Console games, and the 3DS' 3D Classics series). Castlevania Anniversary Collection also includes a neat little ebook with behind-the-scenes material and interviews with key personnel. Otherwise, this is a fairly sparse compilation. You won't be getting anything fancy like advanced visual filters or multiple save states.
Castlevania Anniversary Collection's Lazy Emulation
That's the first problem of Castlevania Anniversary Collection: this isn't a conversion that feels particularly well-loved. Konami doesn't currently enjoy much of a good reputation amongst gamers. A collection like this should be a victory lap for the company, a chance to show off its storied history and win some fans back. Instead, Castlevania Anniversary Collection contents itself with the bare minimum of effort.
All of the games here appear as they would have in their console days. There don't seem to have been any tweaks or changes. Technical bugs are still present in games that have them. Visual glitches that should have been stamped out are present in spades. There's still a tremendous amount of slowdown during certain visually busy sections in a couple of games. One could argue this is preservation for posterity. Still, I'm not sure any gamer is nostalgic for the days when games would slow to an agonizing crawl with more than one enemy on screen.
Castlevania Anniversary Collection Can Be A Bloody Good Time
If there is a saving grace with Castlevania Anniversary Collection, it's the games themselves. The four best games in the collection by far are the original NES Castlevania, the third game Dracula's Curse, the SNES debut Super Castlevania IV, and the Genesis outing Castlevania: Bloodlines. All four of these games are still masterpieces by anyone's reckoning, and although the earlier NES games show some rickety controls and signs of aging, they're still just great fun to play.
That leaves us with four also-rans. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest is ambitious but it's aged very poorly indeed. It's hard to imagine anyone who'd champion playing this over Symphony of the Night, even if it is something of a blueprint for Igarashi's masterpiece. The mechanics of Castlevania are still intact, and the combat is still fun in a moment-to-moment sense. Still, it doesn't take long for repetition to set in, and the truth is that Simon's Quest just has very little to offer outside of an intriguing flirtation with RPG mechanics.
Castlevania Anniversary Collection's Games Are Lacking
The two Game Boy Castlevania games are the undeniable nadir of this collection. Castlevania: The Adventure is a horrible mess, dragged kicking and screaming into Castlevania Anniversary Collection. The visuals are juddery and awkward and the gameplay is slower than a snail dragging itself through quicksand. The WiiWare version would have been a far superior inclusion, but given rights issues and the general sense that Konami doesn't care, it's absent here. The sequel, Belmont's Revenge (on whom? Dracula? Surely this should be Dracula's Revenge) is better and at times is actually fun, but still isn't much more than a diversion.
Finally, there's the intriguing curiosity Kid Dracula. This is a Japan-only Famicom game which was originally released under the name Akumajō Special: Boku Dracula-kun. There was a remake for Game Boy back in 1993 that did find its way to Western shores, but this is the original Famicom game. Players control a chibi version of Dracula who must stop the demon Galamoth from...taking over the world, presumably. Kid Dracula is a perfectly functional if unremarkable platformer that does just fine as an extra inclusion here. It won't sell the collection on its own, but it's fun.
Technical Terrors Abound In Castlevania Anniversary Collection
If you've never played any of these games, it's definitely worth picking up Castlevania Anniversary Collection just to experience them. At the time of writing, some are available in various places and others aren't. Having them all in one place is worth the asking price if you're new to the series. If you're not, there's really nothing here to tempt you back. There are no secret extra games, there are no fun extra features for the existing games, and the ebook feels more tacked-on than an integral part of proceedings.
That's without mentioning the numerous technical glitches, some of which are lethal. During several points of Castlevania: The Adventure, I attempted to access the save state menu only for Castlevania Anniversary Collection to crash. No error message accompanied these crashes. The PC version starts in windowed mode and contains no instructions or options to go full-screen. Castlevania Anniversary Collection was, it seems, in dire need of a few extra months for the sake of polish and quality control.
Castlevania Anniversary Collection Review | Final Thoughts
It's sad that Castlevania Anniversary Collection is more notable for the features it doesn't have than for those it does. Compare and contrast this with the 2007 PSP Rondo of Blood remake Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. That game constituted a full 2.5D remake of an existing title and still packed in secrets. Both the original Rondo of Blood and Symphony of the Night were unlockable extras. None of that joie de vivre is evident in Castlevania Anniversary Collection.
If you already own these games in any format, you don't need to buy Castlevania Anniversary Collection. It's a bare-bones collection of ports that offers nothing new. If you're new to Castlevania, pick this up. As flawed as it is you'll love at least four of the games here just the same. For neophytes, this is an acceptable entry point. Nevertheless, Konami needs to try much harder than this to win back gamers' favor. This is more ghoul than vampire.
- NES Castlevania Games Are Great
- Super Castlevania IV Is A Masterpiece
- Castlevania Bloodlines Is Excellent
- Mildly Interesting Ebook
- Bare-Bones, Lazy Ports
- Numerous Technical Glitches
- No Secret Extras
- Feels Rushed