Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.
Koji Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night made waves in the gaming press for being one of the more successful video game Kickstarters ever. With it, the tried and tested Metroidvania genre is looking to receive a monumental resurgence. Igarashi is one of the leading pioneers of the concept behind this genre, and produced constant hits for Nintendo handhelds when he was still with Konami and in charge of the Castlevania franchise. That being said, there is one revered entry in the franchise that did not have his involvement, and that was Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. No developer has a taint-free track record, and Koji Igarashi’s opinion on Circle of the Moon has landed him on the naughty list of many a Castlevania fan. Circle of the Moon is so heavily disliked by Igarashi that he even decided to drop the title from the series’ official timeline canon. His sheer prejudice against Circle of the Moon is almost petty, especially considering that it was an excellent title that simply didn’t have his involvement as a producer. Canon or not, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is one of the best games in the series, if not one of the best you will ever play.
The Game Boy Advance launched in North America back in 2001, a much hyped successor to the hugely successful but rapidly aging Game Boy Color. The then dubbed “32-bit” handheld saw a fairly impressive launch with the likes of Super Mario Advance and Pinobee, but no launch title was as lavishly produced and impressive as Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. It’s not often that a system’s launch title ends up being one of its top ten must have titles; the Xbox has Halo: Combat Evolved, the Nintendo 64 has Super Mario 64 and the Game Boy Advance has Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. Perhaps one of the criticisms at the time was something that wasn’t so much the fault of the game itself, but rather the hardware. The original Game Boy Advance model was notorious for its dark screen, and this was something that did not complement the dark, gritty and artistically detailed aesthetic of Circle of the Moon. That being said, as uncomfortable as it was, the game wasn’t unplayable as long as you had the right lighting. Subsequent GBA hardware revisions would fix that dark screen issue, making Circle of the Moon a more comfortable portable experience.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is quite simply the cream of the crop. When you consider things like progression, pacing and overall level design, few video games come together as flawlessly as Circle of the Moon does. With a constant challenge, treacherous boss battles and an evolving RPG system that has players experiment with different cards to create some cool spells, Circle of the Moon captivates from the very first screen and holds that attention until the end. Visually and musically, it’s one of the most memorable entries in the franchise, with some songs staying with you years after you’ve completed the game, and it helps that the soundtrack contains special remixes of many classic tunes from the series’ history.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon can now be picked up with ease from the Wii U’s ever growing Virtual Console library and it looks mighty fine on the Game Pad too. Circle of the Moon might possibly be the best game in the series, arguably even better than Symphony of the Night…and maybe that’s what keeps Iga awake at night.