Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA) Review

Castlevania Circle of the Moon

One of my goals for this blog this year is to get rid of the “Coming Soon!” bits in the tab pages above, and to get that goal started, let’s add a Game Boy Advance game to the back catalogue! Thanks to the hype surrounding Castlevania being added to Smash Ultimate, I was in the mood for a Castlevania game beyond playing Super IV for the Smash rundown, so I decided to start with the first of the GBA games, killing two birds with one stone, plus leaving me open to play the others ones down the line… Let’s have a look then!

Background:

Castlevania Circle of the Moon 3

This boss was a pain in the arse… especially when you try to get that perfect mid-action screenshot…

Castelvania: Circle of the Moon was released for the GBA on March 21st 2001 in Japan, June 11th 2001 in the US, and June 22nd in Europe. Those dates might seem familiar (if have a great memory for console launches…) as Circle of the Moon was a GBA launch title.

That being said, ironically the game wasn’t well designed for the GBA, being far too dark to really see anything on the GBA screen, something that was fixed with later backlit GBAs (or those playing it on their TV…), but obviously a problem for those trying out the new system for the first time!

Gameplay:

Castlevania Circle of the Moon 2

Getting a rare card drop: the most satisfying feeling in the game…

Circle of the Moon is a “Metroidvania” game in the same vein as Castlevania classic “Symphony of the Night”, with an open map to uncover and explore, full of areas that you’re unable to access without certain power ups you collect throughout the game, necessitating a lot of back tracking and map checking. The actual gameplay is still a 2D action platformer with a whip-cracking protagonist (including a twirl of the whip you can do by holding the attack button down, though you can’t control like Super Castlevania… It’s handy for weaker flying enemies though!), using it to destroy an endless supply of creatures from horror movies and mythology, both regular map enemies and large bosses. There is one thing that makes Circle of the Moon different to other games in the series, past and future, and that’s the DSS system…

The Dual Set-up System has two sets of cards in a menu, which you gain as rare enemy drops. Basically one set is an effect (changes the whip’s power, increases a stat, all the way up to screen-clearing summons) and the other an element (fire, ice, plant…?) to create over 100 combinations to use. Admittedly a lot of them are pretty pointless, you’ll use a few of the whip changing ones, maybe the one that changes the weapon to a sword for some enemy types, and the ones that increase a stat like luck or heal you when you stand still. Otherwise, they’re not up to much (though the summon ones are pretty neat looking!)

Speaking of the stats, there are quite a few RPG-like things here, including leveling up with EXP, strength, health, magic, luck. You can also find armour and clothing which can permanently increase your stats without using your magic. It probably goes without saying, but I’ll also mention that this has the Castlevania trademarks of side weapons that cost collectible hearts to use, but I mean… it would, wouldn’t it? (note that the Cross is extremely rare to come across…)

There are a shit-tonne of hidden room as well, so if you want to get 100% map completion, prepare to whip every wall… or look up a guide. Not that getting 100% is really doable thanks to an optional part of the map known as “The Battle Arena”, where you have no magic and have to fight seemingly endless waves to enemies with no health pick ups… it’s… not fun at all…

Graphics and Sound:

Castlevania Circle of the Moon 4

Damn, I just missed tha actual summon as it went off the top of the screen. That’ll teach me not to look at the images until I’m done playing…

Graphically the game is fine, especially given its early days for the GBA, but I will say that blown up onto a big screen, it is noticeable that our controllable lead has no face or any really detail on his body…  The enemy sprites are much better though, and some of the backgrounds are really well done.

Music, you’ll be unsurprised to hear, is great, even if it’s almost entirely remixed classic tunes. There is a satisfying crack with your whip, and a very pleasing sound when you twirl it in place.

Story:

Castlevania Circle of the Moon 1

Nathan and Hugh recompose themselves after having fallen from a great height with no ill effect.

Dracula is resurrected once again, this time by Camilla at her castle, leading to Morris Baldwin, the man who had previously defeated Dracula, his son Hugh and his student Nathan Graves to arrive and put a stop to him once again. Dracula wishes to use Morris as a means to complete his revival, so sends Hugh and Nathan away from his throne room by breaking the floor beneath them. Hugh, who already dislikes Nathan as his father chose him as his successor and gave him the “Hunter Whip” instead of Hugh, his own son, leaves to save his father. You then control Nathan as he too wants to save his Master…

During the game Hugh will grow more and more jealous, until he is turned against you using magic. When you defeat him the spell is broken, and soon Nathan defeats Dracula while Hugh gets his father to safety. It’s a fine little story… that is sadly now non-canon according to the Castlevania series producer, Koji Igarashi, deciding that he should “honour the wishes of the development team for it to be a stand-alone title” (though most feel it was probably because it was one of the few Castlevania games he wasn’t involved with…)

Thoughts Now:

Castlevania Circle of the Moon 5

I’m glad I’m not a completionist, because screw the Battle Arena…

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is a great little Metroidvania game. I remember my friend Tom playing through it and offering to lend it to me, but I declined, as I’ve said before I was never really into handheld gaming. Playing it now on the big screen was a joy though, a reminder of a series I’ve barely touched in my life waiting to be discovered…

4 Star Game New

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