Last week’s Nintendo Direct was full of surprises, and one of them was the launch of the Castlevania Advance Collection. It wasn’t just coming to the Switch though, as PC, Xbox and PlayStation owners also have access to one of the best retro collections in years. We went hands on with the PS4 version.
As you’d expect, the “advance” part of the title refers to the original platform these games were released on: the Game Boy Advance. So while these are likely familiar to longtime Nintendo fans, for many others this will be the first time they get to play Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance and Aria of Sorrow.
Circle of the Moon benefits greatly from the big screen transfer as the darkest of the three games (visually). Playing as Nathan Graves, you follow Dracula into his caste as the game takes on a familiar format – that of the metroidvania which was introduced to the series not long before Circle of the Moon first launched in Symphony of the Night – which was a clear inspiration to this game.
As such, the game opens up more and more as you progress, and the unique twist here is that Nathan can use magical cards to gain boosts to his characters and weapons. These can be switched out as well, giving you a great deal of opportunity for character customization.
Harmony of Dissonance reintroduces us to having a Belmont as the protagonist, while sticking with the metroidvania formula. Your main weapon is a whip, and a new system that allows you to combine spellbooks with weapons for more powerful magic feels like a natural evolution to the card system in Circle of the Moon, letting you experiment and come up with powerful combinations.
This particular game also offers a lot of replay value by letting you play it as a completely different character as well: Maxim. Maxim’s quite different with added agility, which includes a triple jump and a somersault. It’s a testament to the excellent level design that the game feels well balanced even when playing as a completely different character, which makes Harmony of Dissonance another excellent game.
The third and last Game Boy Advance game included in the collection is Aria of Sorrow, often regarded as the best of the three and one of the better games in the entire franchise. It takes a rather unique setting for the series (near future Japan) and introduces the Tactical Soul mechanic which allows you to use souls (dropped by enemies) as weapons and/or abilities. Some get used for metroidvania purposes as well, when you gain abilities that let you access previously hard to reach places.
It’s a shame that we have to do without the also excellent sequel, but that is no doubt coming to the (now) inevitable Castlevania DS Collection at some point. Aria of Sorrow is one of the best looking Advance games out there and – out of the three games included – holds up the best in 2021. And as with Harmony of Dissonance, you can head back in and play as a different character: Julius. Lastly, although we didn’t mention it before, all three games in the collection have excellent music – a staple for the series that carried over to the Advance generation as well.
That’s not all that you get though, because even though many retro compilations these days are quite bare bones, the Castlevania Advance Collection features a number of extra goodies. First and foremost among these… a whole extra game! Castlevania: Dracula X, also known as Castlevania: Vampire’s Kiss was originally launched for the SNES, but also makes it into this pack as a bonus game. It’s quite different from the Advance game in that it feels more like a classic Castlevania platformer from the early console days, but that also makes it a nice throwback in a collection of throwbacks.
Other extras reveal several features that showcase the abilities of the emulator used to run these advance games. You can even rewind the action if you’re not happy with what you just did, but more common features include the ability to change the screen size, fill up the borders (these weren’t wide screen games) and save your game with a savestate whenever you want. They’ve even tweaked the in-game experience with encyclopedia-like features that give you helpful insights that weren’t in the original games. Outside of the games, there’s an artwork gallery, a music player and scans of the original manuals. If you’re a Castlevania fan, you won’t want to miss out on this collection.