Thirty years after it first debuted, Castlevania is back in the spotlight thanks to a recent animated series that resurrected Dracula yet again for a new war on mankind. Three decades and a helluva lot of games later, which Castlevania titles have managed to stand the test of time? Which games still have a well-oiled whip in comparison to the cracked leather of lesser entries in the series? These ten, of course:
Castlevania – 1986
The original, and still the best…at being a frustrating bastard at times. Konami’s first stab at mashing together the supernatural with whip-quick action may be dated by today’s standards, but it was still a masterpiece of level design and merciless challenges. 1986 saw the template for Castlevania cemented, as players picked up the Vampire-Killer for the first time and wielded it against Dracula’s army of the night.
Ported to just about every console under the sun in the last three decades, Castlevania is just as relentless today as it was back in the mid-80s. F*** those bats that got me every time I wanted to make a crucial jump.
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse – 1990
If the first Castlevania got the ball rolling on whipping your way past the hordes of horror that Dracula had unleashed, then Castlevania II: Simon’s quest intercepted that ball and utterly fumbled the catch. The third proper Castlevania was an apology to fans, a return to the roots of the first game but with a few new tricks in its bag. Platforming was back, the RPG elements were chucked out and Trevor Belmont made the first of many appearances in the series.
Trevor (not that one) wasn’t alone however, as Dracula’s Curse gave players a chance to plunder the infamous Transylvanian castle as three other protagonists: Magic-wielding Sypha Belnades, the wall-crawling Grant Danasty and the son of the vampire lord himself, Alucard. With four characters, plenty of new weapons and a revamped castle, Dracula’s latest return was more of a gift than a curse.
Castlevania: Bloodlines – 1994
It’s 1994, and the SEGA Genesis is in need of a killer title. Was Castlevania: Bloodlines that game? Kind of! Sometimes flawed in its execution, sometimes ahead of the platforming curve, Bloodlines was a mixed bag that didn’t find much of an audience on the SEGA console. What it did do however, was deviate from the series formula by chucking players out of Dracula’s castle and embark on a global tour instead.
Players could alternate between whip-wielding John Morris as the Belmonts took a backseat to the action or the revenge-driven Eric LeCarde who shoved a heavy lance into the face of any vampire foolish enough to cross his path. Bloodlines was an interesting departure from the series norm, showing that there was still plenty of blood left in the franchise when explored from other angles.
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood – 1993
If you were one of the few people who bought a TurboGrafx 32 in the early 90s, then Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was a game worth bragging about on that system. While it was as technically polished as previous games, a then fantastic visual design that included layered stages and levels which pushed the hardware to the bleeding edge made this a graphical stunner that outperformed the best that the Nintendo and Sega Genesis consoles had to offer. It’s just a pity that this version was played by few and ruined with the shoddy Dracula X port.
Super Castlevania IV – 1993
Super Castlevania IV always felt like an anomaly. A remake of the original that Konami America marketed as a sequel to Simon’s Quest and returned Simon Belmont to the spotlight, its place in the official lore of the franchise is spotty at best. Beyond that conundrum, Super Castlevania IV lived up to its name. If Rondo of Blood was a showcase for what the TurboGrafx 32 could produce, then this was the game that made the Super Nintendo Entertainment System shine on TV.
Able to swing his whip in numerous directions, Simon was a force to be reckoned with, as the new level design made crafty use of his new skills with slinging leather around.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – 2010
Castlevania may have attempted to flesh out its lore over numerous entries, but 2010’s entire reimagining took the series right back to the beginning. A three-dimensional mix of action and platforming that the N64 never managed to produce before the turn of the century, Lords of Shadow was a rough gem that set the stage for almost 25 years worth of Castlevania history, creating an origin point for every game to trace its lineage back to.
A pity then, that its successor Lords of Shadow 2 was an absolutely dismal follow-up to such a promising reimagining.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow – 2003
Nintendo’s handhelds were possibly home to an era of the finest Castlevania games. Starring a reincarnated Dracula in the year 2035, Aria of Sorrow was a thriller, as Soma Cruz found himself retracing his legacy back to his old haunting grounds while sinister forces manipulated him from the shadows. If fans had been waiting for the perfect sequel to 1996’s landmark Symphony of the night, then Aria of Sorrow was just the beginning of a trilogy that would build on that foundation with two more outstanding sequels over the years.
By combining a selection of weapons with the souls of vanquished enemies to combo in some unique combinations, Aria of Sorrow felt both modern and retro in its approach to the standard Castlevania formula. The best, was yet to come after this Gameboy Advance game set the stage for the future…
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness – 2005
Castlevania at its best, has always liberally borrowed a few idea from other games and repurposed them in a new fashion. With Devil May Cry being an incredible action experience and the memories of the dismal N64 3D Castlevania games still being fresh, Konami wanted to revive the series with a new stab at glory.
The following result was Lament of Innocence in 2003, which nailed the formula for translating Castlevania’s action to a more three dimensional arena of conflict. Not exactly perfect, it was still fun and glorious in its approach to over the top action. Curse of Darkness bettered that setup, placing players in the boots of Hector a few years after the events of Castlevania III. A devil forgemaster with an array of skills at his beck and call, the PlayStation 2 era of Castlevania is very much the living definition of cult classic.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – 1997
You mention Castlevania, and you can’t help but wax lyrical about Symphony of the Night. It’s impact on the series was felt for years after it first launched, creating a formula that would give birth to the outstanding GBA and DS entries, while also giving birth to the phrase “Metroidvania”. What Symphony of the Night is, is a mix-tape. It was everything that made Castlevania special, reimagined and brought kicking and screaming into a more modern age.
“What is a man, but a miserable pile of secrets?” Dracula would bellow in one memorable sequence. Moody and packed with secrets, Symphony of the Night was a game of growth and backtracking, of loss and blood. While it’s regarded as the best Castlevania game ever made, it still only comes second to the ground-breaking…
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia – 2008
If you’re looking for the one Castlevania game that truly defines the series, then Order of Ecclesia is worth racking down. Gorgeous, focused and starring Shanoa as she seeks to destroy Dracula once again after the Belmonts were all but wiped out, Order of Ecclesia is a masterpiece. The tightest of controls, the massively deep Glyph system and levels which pushed the Nintendo DS to the edge and back again.
Order of Ecclesia may have been a challenging beast, but it was also fun and layered with secrets that hungry fans couldn’t get enough of. The definitive Castlevania, playable at home and on the go.
Last Updated: July 14, 2017