Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is the first castlevania game for the Gameboy Advance. It features challenging combat, magic/enchantment systems, various movement abilities, an expansive circle for exploration, and a class system for new game plus.
What I enjoy most: overcoming difficult mobs and bosses with or without the help of the DSS
You play as Nathan Graves, who was from a family of vampire killers. Being aware that Dracula is coming back to life, Nathan, his mentor Morris, and Morris' son Hugh arrived at Dracula's castle. As soon as they confronted Dracula, Dracula casts Nathan and Hugh away and captured Morris. You are thereby on the path to rescue Morris and defeat Dracula.
Map, Exploration & Movement
Dracula's castle in this game is not the largest, but is very hazardous. You can obtain additional movement abilities (e.g. wall jump), which give you access to new areas - although sometimes it is not obvious where you need to go next. At the end of the day, you need to explore the whole castle and master fighting all the normal enemies. There is also a battle arena for extra challenges.
Combat & DS system
Although Nathan does not belong to the Belmont family, he is armed with a magical whip, which is his only melee weapon. Although this might seem limiting, it does highlight the importance of positioning, and provides a classic Castlevania feel. You can also spin the whip as well as enchant the whip with different elements using the Dual Set-up System (DSS).
The DSS is definitely the highlight of the combat system - although you can choose not to use it if you are good enough. The DSS consists of two sets of cards lootable from specific enemies - the first set of cards specify the action (e.g. whip enhancement, summon, etc.); the second set represents the attribute. The combination of the two gives rise to 100 different effects, from poison whip to fire aura to summoning a cockatrice. Depending on playstyle, this can be just an enhancement of your DPS, or it can be your whole combat strategy.
On top of the DSS, there is still the secondary weapon system involving magic dagger, boomerang, axe, stopwatch etc. Regardless of your character class (see below) and playstyle, Circle of the Moon is one of the most difficult of all the Metroid-style Castlevania games - more so for the scarcity of healing items and randomised nature of the DSS card drop.
New game plus & Character classes
There are a few new game plus modes available once you beaten the game once. They are magician mode (high intelligence, begins with all DSS cards), fighter mode (high strength, forbids DSS), shooter mode (more hearts, can use homing dagger) and thief mode (high luck). Although you always play as Nathan Graves, these force/promote completely different playstyles.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon is the first Castlevania after Symphony of the Night, and is less expansive and less innovative. However, what it is is a hardcore experience featuring classic gameplay, metroidvania exploration and progression, and an interesting magic system.
List of metroidvania elements
Name of game: Castlevania: Circle of the Moon
Developer / Publisher: Konami Kobe / Konami
Year of publication: 2001
Style of combat: Melee
Use of magic: Yes
Combat-focus versus Platform-focus: Combat-focus
Death mechanics: Last saved game
(Fall damage): No
Levelling / Farming for XP: Yes
Farming for Gold / Item: Yes for Gold & Item
Skill pick-up: Yes
(Stats allocation): Automatic
Gated by movement abilities: Yes
Gated by bosses: Yes
Type of world map: Single map
World generation: Fixed map