Castlevania: Circle of the Moon was the first Castlevania game released for the Game Boy Advance. In this installment, you are Nathan Graves, the chosen successor of the famous Hunter\'s Whip, used by Vampire hunters for generations. You witness your friend\'s father and your mentor, Morris Baldwin, being captured by Dracula as Morris, his son Hugh, and yourself approach him. Dracula discards you and Hugh as children, and you both fall far into the catacombs. Hugh decides to leave to find his father, and there, alone the adventure begins.

What is the Gameplay like?

This game is a 2D action/adventure platform game with RPG elements in it. In some ways, this game fits into the typical Castlevania mold - run, duck, jump, whack enemies with your whip, throw daggers, holy water, or other subweapons, etc. In addition to these basic elements, you can slide attack (down + jump), and hold down your whip to spin it in a circle and hit enemies around you. As you progress in the game, you gain many more abilities, in the form of Magic Items. These include: * Dash Boots (Running/Dashing) * Double (Double Jump) * Tackle (Tackle enemies and break certain blocks) * Kick Boots (Jump-kick off of walls) * Heavy Ring (Push certain heavy objects) * Cleaning (Clean dirty water (to access one area)) * Roc Wing (Fly straight up into the air (can be chained - go as high as you like!)) * Last Key (The ability to face Dracula. :) The available subweapons are dagger, axe, holy water, cross, and the clock. Daggers shoot straight ahead (weak), the axe shoots above you in an arc (med.damage), holy water drops in front of you and burns (good damage over time), and the cross acts like a boomerang (by far best damage). The clock stops the enemies nearby, or at least slows them down. Does not work on bosses. There is also the DSS (Dual Setup System) for magic. When you kill certain enemies, there is a random chance that they will drop a DSS card. If you have two or more (at least one of the action and attribute card - only two of one category won\'t help you) they can be paired up and, when activated, they can have special effects. One turns your whip into a fire whip, another makes balls of ice swirl around you, while another summons a monster to attack, with another summoning a fimiliar to help you fight. There are these and many more effects to help you in the game, as long as you find the appropriate cards to unlock the combination you need for the effect you like. With ten cards of each category, that\'s a lot of combinations to choose from! As you kill enemies, you gain experience, which can help you gain levels. Each level, all of your attributes go up. This can make a big difference in your strength; if you are too weak for an area (you die too much), a few levels can make all the difference. You do noticably more damage after each level. As a result, some enemies may go from four to three hits needed to be killed, and a few levels later, down to two hits needed, etc. Dracula\'s castle is quite large, and has lots of areas. The difficulty of this game is pretty high; if, like me, you prefer a challenge, then you may be playing this game for a long time as it offers plenty. Some areas are quite difficult (Battle Arena, for example). The game is pretty open ended as you can explore as much as you like, and when you find the boss area, beat him/her, and then at your leasure explore the new areas that have opened up for you. When I say \'opened up\' it\'s not usually a new open door (though that is the case a few times), but it\'s usually a new area you can explore because of the new ability you have recieved. For example, once you get double jump you can reach areas you couldn\'t before, and that\'s even more true once you get kick boots, and again with tackle, heavy ring, and so forth. Roc Wing is, of course, the most fun. :) This game offers great replay value by unlocking new modes once you beat the game. Once beaten in \'normal\' (a.k.a Vampire Killer) mode, it unlocks a Magician mode, where your whip is half strength, but you start with all DSS cards and have lots of intelligence and magic points. Once beaten in that mode, you unlock Fighter mode - where you have no DSS at all, but Lots of strength and defense. Then it unlocks Shooter mode, where all subweapons take half hearts, and it makes some more powerful. Once beaten, it finally unlocks Thief mode, which makes you weak, but you have incredibly high luck - so that finding every item in the game will be a piece of cake. Though I am only on Magician mode now, I look forward to seeing what each mode is like personally, instead of hearing about it second hand.

How are the Graphics?

The graphics in this game are pretty good. Not the best Game Boy Advance game I have seen graphically, but not the worst, either. The character animation is okay, though nothing exceptional; Nathan could use a few more frames of animation to makes his motion smoother. The enemies look good, and are generally well animated, though not too much better than Nathan. Other than that nitpicking, the backgrounds are very nice looking, and some monsters look really good as well. The biggest complaint about this game is that for those without GBA SP models, the graphics are very dark. If you do not have an SP model Game Boy Advance, then expect to need very good light in order to be able to enjoy this game fully. I have a Game Boy Advance SP, so I found the graphics to be quite fitting - and despite the things mentioned here, it did not detract from the gameplay at all.

How is the Sound and Music?

This is an area where this game really shines. Though the sound effects work quite well and are very fitting, the music is really great. I have found myself humming the tunes in between game sessions, and turning it up while playing - I really enjoyed the music a lot. It really adds a lot of fun and atmosphere to the game. Great job here!

How appropriate is this game for Christians?

This is probably the area where this game falters the most. The setting is mythological, being 1830 Transylvania, in Dracula\'s castle. As such, you fight many nasty enemies, including lots of undead including, mummies, skeletons, ghouls, poltergeists, zombies, and other things of that nature. There are also Dragons, Demons, Were-Wolfs and other Were creatures, Harpies, Gargoyles, Bats, and other things of this type. There are also a few exotic monsters like Fallen Angels, Succubus, and others. Though it certainly makes sense that Dracula would have evil things in his castle, and you are fighting against them, it is still inundated with dark things. There is also summoning which you can perform, and you can have familiars fight for you, which is another occult-like concept. Also some enemies which are female (Succubus, and others) are not obviously clothed, but they are also very small on the screen, so they are not obviously unclothed, either. My wife and I both didn\'t think that the graphics in this area were clear enough to make a call one way or the other, but I felt it was important to mention here. All in all, the problems are not too surprising given the setting and all, but it doesn\'t excuse the problems it does have with appropriateness for Christians. Think carefully before getting this game.

Overall & Conclusion

This is a very fun game that I enjoyed highly, and yet it has its flaws. The dark setting may be very off-putting for some, and they should avoid this game outright. Others who are comfortable with the contents may want to look at this game, as it is a lot of fun, despite its flaws. If you have a Game Boy Advance (non-SP) without a good light, you may want to pass this up for another game that looks better on your platform. All in all, it\'s a good game that I enjoyed, and you probably will, too - but it\'s not without issues.

Final Ratings

Game Play A Sound A Graphics B Interface A Appropriate D-

Overall 79%


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