The Ninjabot

Castlevania Circle of the Moon Review: Welcome to the eShop of Horrors!

Posted on October 17, 2014 at 7:37 pm by Victor Chaves

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An interesting set of games that came out for the Game Boy Advance was the three Castlevania games released for the handheld; Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow (2001, 2002, and 2003 respectively). I’ve always been a big fan of the series, and now that it’s October and Nintendo is releasing all of the GBA Castlevania games on the Wii U eShop this month, I’ve decided to make a series of reviews for these fantastic titles in order of release. Now, on no specific schedule except finish all the reviews by Halloween, here comes the vampiric month of Octobervania!

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Dracula is Back! Again!

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is probably the most basic of the GBA Castlevania games; the story is that Camilla raises Dracula from the dead, with Dracula requiring a human sacrifice under the full moon to fully resurrect. Luckily three men appear, Morris Baldwin, Morris’ son Hugh Baldwin, and Nathan Graves (the hero). Dracula recognizes Morris as an old rival, and send the other two away, setting the stage for Nathan to explore the castle and try to save Morris. The rest of the game only reveals plot prior to boss battles, where some bosses will mention Hugh being jealous. In the end, the story is as deep as a Google search that ends at page 1, not deep at all.

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Yet, story is not what people play this game for; gameplay is king in Circle of the Moon, and while Nathan has his standard whip to use and spin in place as well as a slide move, he also earns several other moves throughout the game like shoulder tackling, wall-jumping, and double-jumping. The weirdest of these actions he earns is simply pushing; some areas can be blocked off by crates, and Nathan can’t move those crates until he earns the skill—even though he can kill thousands of demons. There is also a dash mechanic where double-tapping left or right has Nathan speeding along, as well as a rocket-jump that propels Nathan hundreds of feet in the air (super fun to use).

DSS, One of the Worst Castlevania Features Ever

There is also a Dual Set-Up System (DSS) feature where the player can choose two cards from two separate decks to create combinations of magical weapons, tools, and powers. Some combo examples include modding your whip to turn into fire, an ice sword that freezes enemies, as well as being able to summon creatures. As cool as all this sounds, the implementation is surprisingly terrible. For one, Cards are randomly dropped by specific fallen enemies, so you have to spend time killing the same enemies to earn a Card. Which wouldn’t be so bad except the game doesn’t tell you how to use the Cards without successfully using the Card first! Which means spending a lot of time guessing what Card combinations do what, especially the ones with weird activation requirements. Guessing what the Cards themselves did was absolutely no fun, mainly because the player has already done the hard work of grinding to get the Card, and spending several minutes of having to figure out what card does is not rewarding. To equate this experience, imagine trying to plug in a USB device, only to have it upside-down, fail again, and then realize it was right-side-up to begin with! I remember one combo took forever to figure out, and finally after just standing still from taking a moment to look at my phone, I find that the combo I had rejuvenated my health when I’m not moving. That’s great! But couldn’t I have just been told that without spending ten minutes trying to figure it out? Furthermore, good luck trying to find out which enemy drops specific cards, the game gives no hint of that. What a terrible, terrible piece of gameplay design.

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Thankfully exploring Dracula’s castle was pretty fun. Konami seems to have made a great layout of enemies and hidden rooms to discover, and running through the levels the first time is a blast. Like Dark Souls, there is a great sense of relief whenever reaching a save point, and that feeling does a great job of carrying you through to the end. However, when I reached the end I noticed there was a huge flaw in the map design, and it is the layout of the teleports, where there are no teleport rooms in the bottom half of the castle, and none in the top-left. Basically, no shortcuts to at least 66% of the game. I understand backtracking is a common thing in these Metroidvania types of games, but the unforgiving nature of the final castle layout made the experience just that much more sour.

A Boring Final Hour

Grinding becomes an issue at the end of the game, where unlike every boss where I didn’t need to grind, in order to fight Dracula I needed to level up at least five more times. It was rather jarring, as when I realized I needed to grind, all the fun in the game drained instantly, as exploring for Cards in the DSS was not fun, and the castle was already mostly uncovered. This basically told me that the fun of Circle of the Moon is defined by the exploration of the castle. As mentioned earlier, it was a great thrill to barely dive into a save room when I was under 90% of my health, but now there was no save room to find, only Dracula. The game basically turned from chewing steak, to chewing gristle.

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What also communicated to me during that last hour of grinding was that the combat wasn’t necessarily fun, because there wasn’t any real defensive or tactical measures to perform, like the dodge mechanics in other Castlevania titles. The whip only attacks straight-forward and misses almost all the time, DSS elements barely do anything, and if you think I’m going to switch out my DSS Cards every time a different enemy appears to match what elements they are weak against, then you probably think pausing every minute or so to equip and unequip the Iron Boots in Zelda: Ocarina of Time as fun. It’s not.

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Final Thoughts

There is a lot to say about Castlevania: Circle of the Moon even though it’s just an average game, mainly because you can see there are a lot of design decisions they can do to make the game way more fun; give descriptions to DSS Cards so as the player knows how to use them, give hints to what enemies have the Cards you are missing, add at least two teleport locations to the map, and have some directional attacks. The DSS system is really what brings this game down, but other than that the castle is well-made, the music is awesome, and the art is pretty good as well. The game is worth getting and playing, but maybe having a strategy guide available will make the game much more bearable to beat. For now, it can really only get an okay score.

Presentation: 7

Gameplay: 6

Replay: 4

LEGACY SCORE: 5.7

Geek Legacy’s review scores are on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest possible score.

All screenshots except for the title screen are attributed to gamefaqs.com.

Follow Victor on Twitter @fake_brasilian to see him in a fetal position wondering if he got accepted to the University of Washington.

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