WHAT?!?! Dracula resurrected again? Never fear, I have my trusted whip.
Circle of the Moon was the first Castlevania game for the GBA. You play as Nathan Graves, a Vampire Killer in training, separated from his master by the evil (or possibly just misunderstood ) Dracula and left alone in the bowels of old Drac's castle, with only his trusty whip to guide him.
The gameplay is pretty standard to most Castlevanias. You have the normal items to use (crosses, daggers, stopwatch, etc.) and various other gameplay commonalities. Circle of the Moon introduces a unique ability system that uses two sets of cards collected from defeated enemies, which are randomly dropped. When combined, these cards produce a variety of effects to help you defeat some villainous villains deep in Count Batty's castle. These abilities are well designed and quite useful, ranging from stat boosting, to damage dealing, to good old fashioned healing. The only downside is the rate of drop these cards have from enemies. You can spend a full 45 minutes of minion slaying just to acquire one of them.
One thing that really bothered me about CotM was some of the flying monsters. They had a tendency to rise up just as fast as you do when you jump at them, which keeps them just out of your reach the entire time. All the while, they are firing various sorts of projectiles at you, almost mockingly. Luckily, there are only a few areas of these flying monstrosities, so you won't have to deal with them too much (unless you want something from them ).
The controls are well done, if a bit cramped feeling (played it on an SP). My only beef was having to tap the direction button to run, which meant I was tapping about twice every three seconds.
The graphics are rather nice, character designs are detailed, and Nathan's movement flows smoothly. A few of the monsters seem to be reused from Symphony of the Night, but for the good. Special effects are appropriate to what they are representing. Overall, I was pleased.
Typical of all Castlevania games, the sound and music are very ambient. Dark, moody background music, and creepy sound effects do well to support the story and theme. Could have used a little more variety in the soundtrack, but hey, can't have everything.
The learning curve in CotM, is a little odd, The boss battles early on are horrendously tough, the middle boss battles are even tougher, but the close-to-the-end boss battles are too easy. It was a little frustrating getting killed on a certain boss 15 or so times before I figured out his pattern, but the challenge was there, and it was definitely worth it.
Lastly, there are lots of extra modes to be unlocked, which adds greatly to the replay value of the game. And since it only takes about 8 hours to complete, you may want to play through it a few times just so you can get everything.
All in all, Circle of the Moon is another magnificent addition to the already fantastic Castlevania series.