I was first introduced to the Castlevania series back on the Playstation, when I rented SotN and played through it one weekend. To be perfectly honest, I've never played a game quite like it, that is, until now. I'm not sure how to describe it, but Castlevania's, as Austin Powers would put it, got the mojo.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of CotM, I doubt that anyone will disagree that the gameplay is top notch. Although long time fans of the series won't notice any immediate difference, a further look reveals much more.
Called the Dual Set-up System, you randomly collect Action and Attribute cards and link them together for devastating effects (including the coveted familiars). There isn't any guarantee that you'll get a card from beating a boss, hardly; I beat the game with half of the cards missing.
Much like SotN, every time you defeat a boss you gain a new ability through an item, in total there are eight different moves to learn.
What's odd with such great gameplay is how I had some grudges with the controls. While things were up to the quality of the rest of the game, the direction buttons seemed to have slow reaction time and while that may be the fault of the GameBoy Advance, it still affected the way I had to fight my enemies.
Putting control aside, things were pretty standard to the Castlevania 2D series (refused to play the N64 ventures), featuring everything you've come to love about side-scrolling games. While I'd like to say they were really tight and appeared to have hours of work put into them, I just can't, too many qualms exist for me to praise the system that much.
Graphically, I was more then a little upset with my first purchase on the GBA. Everything I read was putting the system on par with the SNES, and while I don't deny that CotM has splendid graphics, they look more like a first generation 16-bit game.
What's worse, the setting for the game is terribly dark, leaving you blindly moving around unless you have a great worm light (which produce less power with the GBA changes).
Besides that, there is some slowdown where I highly suspect the frame rate drops during action, but all in all the graphics are great considering where they are coming from.
Here's what I really loved, the excellent soundtrack! Konami knows how to put the single speaker of the GBA to use, providing such a great soundtrack that at times I thought I was listening to something composed by Squaresoft (no offense to the other developers, Square is just more recognized).
However, while the sound might be incredible, the story is less then stellar. It's the typical Castlevania setting, Dracula has been revived and you, the vampire hunter, have to put him to rest again while searching his castle for new powers.
Taking the role of Nathan, you get separated from your mentor, leaving you to fend for yourself, thus setting the story into place. While it wasn't amazing, it was enough to keep my interest for the 10 hours or so it took me to beat the game.
When picking up your GameBoy Advance, I highly recommend that you grab a copy of Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, its one of the better launch title despite the flaws it comes packaged with. Even with the frame rate slowdown and the tired storyline, most gamers who love the Castlevania series, and more importantly those they never gave it a shot, should find it an entertaining experience while it lasts. Like I said at the beginning of the review, CotM has the addicting factor, the "mojo".