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Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

Reviewed by Yardbird The Castlevania series has been around for a while now, needless to say. An installment of the series has appeared on many of the gaming systems of the last 15 years, starting with the Nintendo around 1986 or 1987. It also saw light on Nintendo's later systems, but it is perhaps a Playstation version of the game that is the most popular. Symphony of the Night was released for the PSX back around 1997 and it also the game that Circle of the Moon most resembles. In the game you take on the role of Nathan Graves. Let's pause for a moment to either laugh with the game or at for this pun they have bestowed upon us. Alright, moment over. Nathan is a vampire hunter, and he is there to stop the revival of Dracua with his master, Morris Baldwin, and Baldwin's son, Hugh. But, something happens; Hugh and Nathan are sent down a deep, dark abyss for about 400 feet. Hugh scurries away set out to complete the mission, leaving Nathan on his own as well. As you command Nathan through the dark recesses of the 1830 incarnation of Dracula's castle, you will encounter many things. First off, if you are familiar with the game play mechanics of SotN, then you are probably aware of the backtracking element that game used. This game uses that same approach. You are free to search the castle for a while, but more often than not you will find a dead end. Later on you will obtain some sort of item, whether it be something for jumping or something for moving heavy objects, but it will strike you as "hey, now I can get to aoidsjfaojd!" So, pretty much, Nathan begins with a whip and very limited jumping abilities. Later on he will obtain a dash, which allows him to get a decent run and go, which improves his jumping skill quite a lot. Then a double jump item can be found. This is great for jumping once and then jumping again while in the air, also allowing for new areas to be explored. There is also an item that allows him to jump from wall to wall and a wing that will let him jump considerably higher, and if you hit this repeatedly then there's no area in the game now out of your reach. There is nowhere to buy items in this game, so you must rely on either finding them in hidden areas, or picking them up after killing enemies. There are things to raise Nathan's hit points, heart totals, and his mind power. Mind power is what he uses to use forms of magic, and the hearts have been present since the original Castlevania, as they allow you to use the special items he can pick up. You know, break a candle - get a heart. Some things never change. He can also find meat or potions dropped by dead enemies to refill his life, but his main form of replenishing his life meter will be the save points. There are 20 of these rooms located around the castle and they allow Nathan to save his progress and completely heal. One other thing about the game is the attribute system, known as DSS. Sometimes an enemy will drop a card. These cards, when used in combination with another card, will give Nathan some sort of special ability. Some of them may change his whip into a flame whip or a whip that can turn enemies into stone. Some of the other abilities may increase his attack power, his defense, or make him invincible longer. This is a nice system, and a good thing to experiment with. If you can find all the cards, then the game will be a little easier, but good luck finding them all on your own. The game also has one optional thing. It is an area in the castle known as the Battle Arena. This area takes away all of your mind power, which means you can't use the DSS attribute system. You're in there, fighting your way through 10 rooms of enemies with nothing but your whip and whatever special attack you chose to take in there, whether it be holy water or an axe. The game is about half the size of SotN, but don't think its a short game. It will take a dozen or so hours to complete, or at least that's how long it took me. Getting all the cards and completing the battle arena will bring the hour total up even higher. To me SotN was too long anyway, because after beating the first 100% of that game I lost total interest in the other 100%. This game doesn't have that problem. It kept me entertained all the way through. There are also around five areas in the castle that can be used as a warp area, which cuts down on travel time quite a lot, but you don't have to take these. If you like walking around, and building up your levels, then take the long way. If there is one large problem I have with this game, it would be the leveling up. You do gain experience points from enemies and you level up in this game as in SotN. That's fine, but the later levels are necessary and near impossible to reach. This can make the game a few hours longer than it should be and longer for the wrong reason. The other complaint is the fact you do not save immediately after beating a boss and there is nothing to help you rebuild your energy. More often than I care to count I would beat a boss, walk back many rooms toward a save point, but die on the way. This was frustrating and sometimes it took numerous times to actually beat the boss and save before dying. As for the aesthetics of the game, the music is very melancholy, and it changes considering which area you are in. There are around a dozen areas in the game. Most of the music isn't outstanding, but it is passable. The graphics receive a passing score as well. Though this is a small game, there are some really huge looking enemies in the game, and Nathan is a fairly nice size as well. When he uses the wing to make him jump a blue streak trails behind him, possibly making the nicest graphical effect in the game. But alas, it is a rather dark and plain game, and due to the fact it's a portable, you will need to be under some strong light to see much color and detail in the items anyway. In closing, I must say this game was more enjoyable for me than Symphony of the Night. The portable factor of the game adds quite a lot to the game, as you can take on Dracula and his minions anywhere you want. This is probably the best Gameboy Advance game out so far, and definitely the best one I played. At the very least it is the best of the nearly 20 launch titles. If you have the system, then I wouldn't say no to suggesting this game as your first GBA purchase.

Overall: 8 out of 10

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