[Correction, May 22, 2019: In this analysis, I criticized Castlevania Anniversary Collection for having a temporary quick save feature in lieu of actual save states that preserve your progress. As it turns out, Anniversary Collection does let you create one save state per game, and that state can be accessed however many times you like without deleting itself. There was some confusion because a bug erased my progress in Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest, and since the Anniversary Collection refers to its save states as "quick saves" (which is usually a term reserved for temporary saves that delete when they're loaded up), I assumed your gameplay data would be erased if you didn't make another save state. I was incorrect, and I haven't encountered the aforementioned save bug again. Happy hunting!]
The Castlevania Anniversary Collection arrived last week, and it's far from "Blaaaah!" (That's the sound vampires make in old movies, right?) Konami's round-up of retro Castlevania games spanning the series 8- and- 16-bit history is an easy recommendation thanks to its strong game line-up, solid emulation, and promises of future content.
The Castlevania Anniversary Collection still has some noticeable claw-marks marring its surface. While none of them offer reason enough to pray for the morning sun to vanquish the horrible night, they're disappointing because they stand out in a collection that's otherwise good.
Said flaws might prompt some fans to ask if the Collection is still worth buying. The easy answer to that is "Sure, go for it." For $19.99, you get eight games (including a couple of hard-to-find oddities) in one convenient space. Not a bad deal. If you want to be more scrutinizing, however, you might realize many of the games on the Collection are already on the Virtual Console, and one of its prize gems, Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Sega Genesis, will be on the highly-anticipated Sega Genesis Mini when it arrives this Fall.
Ultimately, the choice between picking up the Castlevania Anniversary Collection or leaving it to decompose is up to you, young vampire hunter. I can aid you by listing all that's holy about the Collection—and all that's evil about it, as well.
Castlevania Anniversary Collection Positives
The price is right: The Castlevania Anniversary Collection is $19.99 USD, well within manageable "impulse purchase" territory. It feels like a fair asking price for eight games and the included PDF/book detailing Castlevania's history.
Castlevania: Bloodlines is still great (if brutal), and Kid Dracula is a fun little game that reminds you why Konami had a great platforming legacy on the NES: The release of Castlevania Anniversary Collection also marks the first re-release of 1994's Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Sega Genesis. Though Bloodlines reached a limited audience in the years following its initial release, it became prized for its great graphics, excellent soundtrack, and unique gameplay options that let you play as a traditional whip-wielding Belmont or as a spear-carrier named Eric LeCarde. Now that many Castlevania fans are playing Bloodlines for the first time, they finally understand what the hype is about. Finishing some of those final levels takes some patience, though.
Whenever Bloodlines gets too intense, you can fall back to the light-hearted Kid Dracula. Whereas Bloodstained gets its first re-release in the Anniversary Collection, Kid Dracula gets its first Western release, period. It's a very cutesy adventure that's more about Mega Man-style long-range attacks than the up-close battling that defines most Castlevania games, but it's still a fun little jaunt that reminds you why Konami was renowned for its great platformers back in the NES' heyday.
A future update will offer the Japanese versions of the games on the Anniversary Collection: Castlevania fans received a tidbit of cool news last week: The Anniversary Collection is getting Japanese editions of its games as free DLC. This is a big deal that goes beyond restoring instances of censorship in the games' graphics, as Castlevania 3: Dracula's Curse for the NES is quite a different game compared to the Japanese version. Castlevania 3 (in)famously has gameplay tweaks that make the adventure difficult on a frustrating level, possibly to keep North American kids from finishing it in a weekend rental. Castlevania 3 is one of the best action games on the NES, and it'll be nice to play the more balanced version Japan enjoyed (along with the superior soundtrack that makes use of three extra sound channels the NES release lacks).
At the time of this writing, there's no word when we can expect Castlevania Anniversary Collection's Japanese content, but Konami plans it for "shortly after launch."
Playing classic Castlevania games on the Switch is cool: Well, here's a realization that's as surprising as "The sun rose today:" Classic Castlevania rocks as a handheld experience. I spent part of my weekend sitting on the couch, working through the underappreciated Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest. I enjoyed myself very much.
The Castlevania Anniversary Collection is much better than Castlevania Requiem: Talk about clearing a low bar, though. Castlevania Requiem for PlayStation 4 is another retro collection, though it barely qualifies as one with a mere two games (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood) on tap. Still, it's worth mentioning Konami rolled up its sleeves and put forth an effort this time with Anniversary Collection.
Castlevania Anniversary Collection Negatives
There's no way to hard-map your own control scheme: Hope you're a fan of the controls Konami hands to you when you play Anniversary Collection, because outside of re-mapping the button layouts in the games that allow them, there's currently no way to change your control scheme. Thankfully, the default choices aren't bad in the 16-bit games: On the Switch, "B" is jump and "Y" is attack, same as the original releases. But in the Game Boy and NES games, "Y" is jump and "B" is attack. Thankfully, there's an alternative option with "A" as jump and "X" as attack. It works, but Konami's general pooh-poohing of customizable controls is highly disappointing. Hopefully the omission will be rectified in a future update.
There are no save states, just quick saves: Warning, warning. Anniversary Collection offers one quick save file per game, and it's not the same thing as a save state. If you load your game from a save state, it's erased. You can't go back to it; you must make a new one. I learned this the hard way with Simon's Quest and lost a lot of progress. Thank God for password generators.
Many classic retro consoles and game collections have save state options. The SNES Classic, for instance, gives you four slots for every game. Konami's half-assing of something as important as saving your progress across a series of merciless retro games is a big let-down.
Border options are limited: This is a small thing, but each game in the Anniversary Collection offers the same small handful of screen borders. It'd be nice to see game-specific borders, maybe even some featuring Japanese art us North Americans missed out on the first time around.
There is an audio glitch in the original Castlevania: Some sharp-eared fans noticed the Anniversary Collection utilizes the first release of Castlevania (PRG0) instead of the second (PRG1). The first release has a glitch that causes a high-pitched beep in the game's music loop. Not a huge deal—and an easily fixable mistake M2 might address in the future—but worth a mention. For the most part M2's emulation work is great, as usual.
[Correction, May 22, 2019: According to Retro Game Audio, the problem lies with M2's emulator being unable to handle pitch 0 of the Triangle channel correctly.]
The included art book is awkward to browse through: The art book Konami included with Anniversary Collection has some great shots of rare art, but it's difficult to navigate through. The "book" is essentially a pdf that you zoom in and out of using your controller; the art isn't neatly separated and categorized the way it is in the Mega Man Anniversary Collections.
After reading all these flaws and omissions, it shouldn't come as a surprise to learn Anniversary Collection also lacks advanced amenities like a rewind feature—a feature that would be so very welcome in games as unforgiving as Castlevania and Castlevania 3. Nevertheless, I still regard it as a good collection, and I very much look forward to the upcoming Japanese content. Several of my gripes can be fixed with a patch, so if your hand is hesitating above the whip, maybe take a "wait and see" approach.