This was my first exposure to the Castlevania series. I once peered over someone’s shoulder playing Game Boy Advance in a library and watched him navigate hallways, attack enemies with a whip, and occasionally switch to a view of a map. I was intrigued. This was unlike any other platformer I had ever seen. I asked what I was looking at, and learned that it was called Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. I purchased it not long after.
This is far from the first entry in the Castlevania series, but it is the second entry for the series in the genre. The predecessor was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which was dubbed a “Metroidvania”, still holding on to the Castlevania-style, but incorporating elements of the series Metroid as well. Specific Metroid elements include a massive map, areas that aren’t quite accessible without certain items, and a leveling up system which was most likely borrowed from the role-playing genre.
The massive map is the biggest change. It is divided into squares, and you can go up, down, left, and right from one square to the next. Save points are highlighted as are other key sections you find later in the game. Though not visible in Circle of the Moon’s map, the map is further subdivided into regions that have unique names., including “Catacomb” and “Chapel Tower.”
Boss fights are fairly common with each region of the map having its own boss. To the novice, leveling up outside of a boss’s chambers is a must. If you’re more experienced, you’ll notice that the cards you collect throughout the adventure can be combined to have lethal power against individual bosses. Each boss is most susceptible to one specific card combination, and finding that combination is a guessing game that can be tried in the field. There is no wrong answer, though this strategy lasts to the final boss.
The character leveling up mechanic is pretty simple. Crack your whip on enough enemies and time briefly freezes, letting you know you’re one level higher. Checking the pause screen shows you the allocation of points between Strength, Defense, Intelligence, and Luck. You have no control over how these points are spent, but this is still a platformer, not an RPG.
You can equip your character with items like gauntlets and chest plates, though the only non-card system attack item is your trusty whip. The whip is still a holdover from older Castlevania’s, and future games allow for different weapons. Strangely, however, the previous entry allows for a number of unique weapons. It should be noted, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was developed by Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo, while Castlevania: Circle of the Moon was made by Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe. Both studios have shut down, as Konami more recently faltered in the development industry.
This is either my second or third time beating Circle of the Moon. You really need to see Castlevania: Circle of the Moon to be aware of its greatness. So far from being a simplistic platformer like Mario, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon combines so many elements from other genres that it is a genre unto itself. I’m aware this is the second game of its kind, and that the fourth one goes so much further to define a new genre. As the first Castlevania that I’ve played to completion, realizing the fun factor of a newer genre, it’s a five star entry.