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Circle of the Moon was a breath of fresh 2D air after too long in the 3D coffin. Since perfecting the side-on stats-and-platforming of 1997's Symphony of the Night, it was four years before Konami returned to the genre. In the meantime, fans of freeform gothic monster-stabbing made do with two ugly 3D titles - why so long until Symphony's successor?
It must have been hard enough getting such a defiantly 2D game made in the first place, at a time when everything, by law, had to be polygonal. The chances of Konami greenlighting another side-scrolling 'vania were about as likely as Apple conquering the hardware market. But in 2001 the planets aligned. Apple came out with the 'iPod', and Nintendo unleashed the GBA.
More powerful than a Game Boy, but not hefty enough to handle 3D vistas, the GBA was the perfect breeding ground for a 2D renaissance. Konami were instrumental in this, resurrecting the 'Metroidvania' template of Symphony of the Night in an arcane ritual involving blood sacrifice and several very talented sprite artists.
After Alucard's operatic, fully-voice acted adventure, Nathan Graves' mute, mostly exposition-free jaunt may have come as something of a disappointment. However, he did have one thing old anagram-face didn't: the iconic Vampire Killer whip.
The whip was your clue that Konami were delving back into their legacy, while keeping the many great features Koji Igarashi and co had introduced with Symphony of the Night. Circle felt more like a Castlevania title than its CD-based predecessor. The result was the perfect halfway house between new and old; an old school skill-based platformer doing a good impression of an RPG.
Aside from the whip, the moveset and the barely present plot, Circle's other throwback was its soundtrack, which almost wholly consisted of tunes lifted from previous games. It may not be the most stylish entry in the series, but by marrying the new with the old in such an effective manner, this is easily one of the most important