CASTLEVANIA: Circle of the Moon

(Konami, June 13, 2001)

So many game fans out there love the long running CastleVania series but when it tries to go 3D, the games haven't had much luck, eh? Even the highly anticipated 3D CastleVania: Lament of Innocence for the PS2 got mixed reviews and it's already in the some of the discount bins out there. Sure, I like playing these 3D CastleVanias myself but most hardcore fans want more 2D adventure/RPG's like the cult favourite CastleVania Symphony of the Night. "I say why wait?" Konami has been releasing great 2D CastleVania games for the Gameboy Advance for years now. For this GOTM I'm taking a look back at one awesome premiere launch game for the Gameboy Advance. CastleVania: Circle of the Moon!

In this grand adventure game you play the role of Nathan Graves, a young man who tries to help his Master and his son to prevent the resurrection of the evil Count Dracula. Unfortunately they are too late and Dracula awakes to siege control of
Europe. Before Nathan could even get a hit in the team gets split at the start of the game and Nathan's lone adventure then begins in the deadly CastleVania.

Before you fight the Count himself you have to survive his loyal minions that range from endless undead warriors to Death himself. Nathan is prepared to fight back with the traditional Belmont-style whip weapon plus he can also gain experience, equip armour, and he can upgrade his gloves so he can grow stronger with time. That isn't it for power ups though because you can even collect various new cards over the course of his long adventure to spice things up even more. The cards may not appear to do much at first but if you put two sets of cards together then you can be able to create a unique special effect. For example: the card of Salamander and the card of Mercury can give you a flaming whip that increases your attack power. There are over a whopping 70 combinations to try out in all adding a tremendous amount of depth for such a tiny Gameboy title.

Although the game play may sound a little complicated, learning the controls is a breeze. You have the usual action, jump, and menu buttons found in most action games so pro players should feel right at home with
CastleVania Circle of the Moon. Nathan will even learn more moves with new controls as the game goes now but all of them are fairly easy to master too. The game also has all the familiar sub menus, gauges and the Super Metroid-like map so that you never feel lost in this large castle.

Moving on to the game's graphics, COTM looks like a cross between CastleVania Bloodlines (released for the Sega Genesis) and CastleVania Symphony of the Night (released for the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn). The characters are well detailed but they do appear a little cartoon-like at times thanks to the black out lines plus a lot of them appear to be on the small size which makes it harder to see on the small screen. You'll see some awesome looking bosses throughout the castle like the giant twin dragons that fill the entire screen to the huge Ram beast with its fiery background. Although the game looks great, it also looks very dark most of the time and that's not good on the eyes thanks to the original Gameboy Advance's poor non-back lit screen. If you have a Gameboy Player or newer Gameboy SP or DS then this dark issue isn't going to be a problem but owners of the older GBA's are going to be in real trouble here. In other words the game needs to be in perfect light all the time or the original Gameboy Advance screen will just act like a mirror and you'll be lucky if you can see anything.

The music is a mixture of new and old stuff from previous titles as well. If you're a diehard CastleVania fan like me than you'll easily recognize some of the background sound tracks from past games like the music from the
Art Tower in CastleVania: Legacy of Darkness for the Nintendo 64. Although the music isn't quite as good as some of other tracks from the 32-bit and 64-bit games, the realistic sound effects work well for the Gameboy Advance and there's no problem the various screams and whip strikes.

When Konami first previewed their new CastleVania game for the then new Gameboy Advance, I knew it would be something special and it didn't disappoint. The game is great for fans of the series because its not only a challenging, non linear game that will take weeks to finish but it also includes a little of everything from all of the past CastleVania games. The game even has multiple secret codes where you can enter new passwords once you finish the game that adds to the replay value.
Even though the two GBA CastleVania sequels (Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow) were fantastic games, it was Circle of the Moon that originally got the ball rolling plus I actually prefer the incredible card system to the other magic set ups in those other two games. Circle of the Moon may not have the graphics and sounds to compete with those found in Symphony of the Night but if you're looking for a game that's just as deep, this game comes highly recommend!



*Battery back up game

CastleVania Circle of the Moon
overall rating: 92/100

For 1 player only
Rated (T) for Teen
graphics: 8/10
sound: 7/10
gameplay: 9/10

(Ryan Genno) 2004