It's barely about games.
Metroidvanias have quickly become a favorite genre of mine. I got very into the GBA Metroids and Touhou Luna Nights recently, for example. The latter half of that nomenclature, the ‘vania’, stems from Castlevania, and mostly refers to the more recent, sprawling entries in the franchise. Castlevania’s roots are more linear, but have tight, rewarding gameplay still worth experiencing today. My personal Castlevania experience is a bit backwards, having started with the DS titles, but going back to these games in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection Konami has recently released was still an enjoyable time, and gave plenty of context to the groundwork that an amazing series and genre was built on.
This collection is relatively no-frills. In this case, it’s a small detriment. Recent collections (such as Digital Eclipse’s SNK Collection) have not only shown off old games in well-emulated formats, but also gave context to the releases with historical documents and a deep care in presentation. In lieu of that, Konami gives us a single digital booklet that includes interviews with composer (whose only game in this collection is Bloodlines, but sure) Michiru Yamane and Netflix producer Adi Shankar. The book also contains a handful of design documents, as well as some editorial on Castlevania’s design. While this effort isn’t unappreciated, comparing this to the vast array of detailed historical documents and celebration sewn throughout games like the Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection or the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection highlights a contrast between Konami’s collection and others in the medium. It’s not bad, we just know it could be much, much better.
The games themselves are totally fine. Konami chose titles based on history and not quality, so a few stinkers snuck in. However, it ultimately works out for the best since there’s absolutely zero reason anyone should pay money to buy Simon’s Quest by itself. This allows folks the ability to check out the series’ curiosities while pairing them with tried-and-true classics, like Super Castlevania IV. A big draw in this collection is Kid Dracula, a Famicom game that has never been officially released outside of Japan. It’s been fully translated here, and is a blast to play, so if you’re looking for a brand new platforming experience and are open to something that’s not in the Classic-vania formula, there’s a real treat in this set.
The emulation, handled by renowned group M2, is passable. There is occasional slowdown, which isn’t a complete deal-breaker, but it is a surprise coming from M2. Otherwise, the games run smoothly and without error. The built-in save states allow for enjoyable bite-sized portable gameplay on Switch, and with how frustrating some of these games can get at times (I’m looking at you, medusa heads), it’s a great option to treat the games as pick-up-and-play adventures. Multiple display options are also included with 4:3, 16:9, and pixel-perfect size options and optional scanlines as a cherry on top. Empty space filling borders are also in the menu, but there are only three, one pure black, one red and signewy, and one with the cover of Castlevania 1 on it. It’s pretty disappointing they couldn’t even be bothered to make borders for each individual game, but it gets the job done and the games still look just as good as you remember.
— John “Danger?!” Michonski (@john_michonski) May 21, 2019
Despite these gripes, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection still has a bunch of excellent games. Castlevania, Castlevania III, Super Castlevania IV, Castlevania: Bloodlines, Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge, and Kid Dracula are all excellent titles, and it’s still worth poking around at Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and Castlevania: The Adventure, just to see what’s up with those messes. While the obvious omission of Rondo of Blood is a downer, there is still hope that it and the Iga games will release in another collection in the future. Hell, they should put Castlevania 64 in a collection some day and remind all of us how hard it was to be a console focused Castlevania fan after Symphony.
Even if it’s not a stellar release, the Castlevania Anniversary Collection is still worth your time if you’re either a fan of these titles who wants them all in one place, or just want to try them for the first time. The historical context could be added to, and the emulation could have some more bells and whistles to bump it above what is offered just by downloading the ROMs, but this is still a well-priced collection of bonafide classics, and no amount of nitpicking can change that. Konami promises that the Japanese versions of the titles will be coming as a free patch, meaning far better music quality for games such as Castlevania III, so that is most welcome. If Konami really wants people to believe they care about their games, however, they’ll need to continue to support them well into the future, treating the titles like the classics they are.