Castlevania Anniversary Collection gathers up some wonderful pieces of gaming history, offering eight action horror titles (of debatably varying quality) for potential vampire hunters to test their skills. It’s great to see many of these games collected together, especially the Genesis Castlevania Bloodlines and the never-released-in-English Kid Dracula, giving players the opportunity to really explore this franchise’s history.
These eight games form the backbone of much of the franchise’s history, allowing players to see its growth throughout the NES, SNES, Genesis, and Game Boy era. The gloom and decay of Dracula’s domain only seemed to spread and grow stronger over the years, its ruthless challenges drawing in many players looking to see if they could survive their onslaught of new horrors.
You can expect to be tested if you pick up the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. These games were not easy when they came out, and haven’t gotten any easier over time. Part of that comes from the game’s whip animation, which requires a bit of a wind-up to use. Unlike Mega Man’s cannon, which fires instantly, the whip requires forethought to use. You need to know your swing well to time it right, or else you’ll find yourself dead in a hurry.
This brings a special feel to Castlevania’s challenges throughout the series’ many iterations. You cannot panic in a world where monsters are lunging at you. You have to calmly approach each situation as the ground crumbles and beasts crawl up from the very floorboards. You’ll often see this demand for a clear head in many challenging modern games, and this approach to challenge gives the series a continued appeal even today.
This kind of challenge is built to overwhelm you as you learn its patterns, though. It’s designed to crush the player’s spirit beneath the heels of werewolves and mummies. If you find its challenges too overwhelming, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection features save states at any time, allowing you to save particular runs or reload if you accidentally lose your good subweapon. It’s a nice touch that allows players to experience each game in full at their own pace, or they can ignore the feature and go in for the challenge as intended. It’s always great to see both play styles being allowed.
The collection also adds a lovely book on the series’ history and its creators, offering design images and interviews with those responsible for making the series as appealing as it is. It’s great to be able to walk through some of these unseen pieces of the franchise’s history, as well as read stories from developers and composers to learn how they breathed life into the undead franchise.
More impressive is the odd nature of the included titles in this collection. The Mega Man Legacy Collection didn’t exactly bring out the Game Boy titles, did it? That the Castlevania Anniversary Collection brings together Game Boy, Genesis, and Famicom titles along with its NES and SNES games is an extremely welcome touch, showcasing some of the wild variety the series saw throughout its years.
Kid Dracula is a wonderful addition to the series, showing off a sense of humour you don’t often see in the hyper-serious vampire-hunting titles. It plays more like a sidescrolling shooter filled with cartoonish renditions of horror enemies, but it is a product of Konami at the height of the NES/Famicom era. Its music is great, the platforming is sharp, and the levels show off a great variety of locales and moments. Plus, it’s super cute, and honestly really funny to see these foes in such lighthearted situations.
The Genesis’ Castlevania: Bloodlines is another nice touch. The game plays far faster than the slow-paced Castlevania titles of the NES/SNES/Game Boy, which makes it a great chaser for when you want something a bit quicker. The Genesis sound and visual style also makes for a widely different look than the others, again showing a strength in variety for those poking through the series.
All of these games make the Castlevania Anniversary Collection seem like a thorough look at the series’ history, but there are some strange omissions. The last of the Game Boy Castlevanias, Castlevania Legends, isn’t on here for some reason (and that certainly isn’t quality, or else you wouldn’t see the lackluster Castlevania: The Adventure on here). The SNES’ Castlevania: Dracula X isn’t here either. While a lot is on offer anyway, I’m sad to not see these titles on here to round out the era.
Even so, the collection doesn’t shy away from showcasing the series’ poorly-received games, allowing players to experience them anew and perhaps develop a new appreciation for them. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest may be often maligned for its challenging translation and less-than-challenging play style, but its raw ambition with an open world, day/night cycles, and upgrade systems makes it a game more players should appreciate, if only for its historical importance. I may see many flaws with Castlevania: The Adventure, but it’s impressive to see what the developers were fighting to do with such new hardware.
Still, it’s when the games are good that the Castlevania Anniversary Collection really shines. When you’re weaving between Death’s scythes, desperately flicking your whip into its grinning skull. When you’re rushing across crumbling bridges of bone, or you narrowly duck under a smirking medusa head as it weaves over you. It’s in the moment when the sun bursts in on Dracula, the day reducing his form to dust after a long-fought slog through vicious, monstrous bosses, that you can see the appeal of this long-lasting series.
Nostalgia may fuel a lot of your enjoyment of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, but these games also offer a thoughtful difficulty that has lasting appeal today. The collection offers a thorough look at the series’ history, for good or bad, allowing players to draw their own conclusions about the ambitions the developers have had for it over the years. It’s a vital collection of the games that made action and horror the genres they are today.