Castlevania
Image: Time Extension / Damien McFerran

Since its inception way back in 1986, Konami's Castlevania has become one of gaming's most recognisable and popular franchises. Many of its instalments are considered to be amongst the best games of all time, and its impact has been felt well beyond the realm of interactive entertainment – it has recently been turned into a hit animated Netflix series, for example.

However, if you're approaching Castlevania with a fresh pair of eyes, it can be quite daunting; where do you even begin? Which game should you play first? Which should you avoid entirely? That's where we come in; we've ranked all of the Castlevania games so you can focus on the good stuff and take a step around the stinkers – because, believe it or not, Konami's vampire-slaying series has seen a fair few of those, too.

30. Haunted Castle (Arcade)

Haunted Castle (Arcade)
Haunted Castle (Arcade)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: Feb 1988 (USA) / Nov 1988 (UK/EU)

Released in arcades when the Castlevania series was still in its infancy, Haunted Castle is notorious for being one of the worst games in the franchise. It starts off well enough; the sprites are nice and large (a fact that makes it hard to avoid danger) and there are some amazing tunes here. However, the brutal difficulty level is clearly designed to suck in coins, and the controls feel stiff and awkward. Haunted Castle was never ported at the time of release, but would eventually get a PS2 release in Japan some years later. It was included on the Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection in 2019, and got a stand-alone release as part of Hamster's Arcade Archives range shortly afterwards. Outside of saying you've played it, there's little reason to seek this one out. It's dreadful.

29. Castlevania: The Adventure (GB)

Castlevania: The Adventure (GB)
Castlevania: The Adventure (GB)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: 10th Dec 1989 (USA) / 10th Dec 1989 (UK/EU)

When Nintendo released the Game Boy in 1989, it took a while for developers to really get to grips with the limitations of the system's monochrome screen. Titles like Super Mario Land kept sprites small and backgrounds plain to avoid issues with blur, while Konami opted to slow things down for one of its first Game Boy outings, Castlevania: The Adventure. Despite Masato Maegawa's involvement (he would go on to co-found Treasure not long afterwards), Castlevania: The Adventure has to rank as one of the worst entries in the series. The gameplay is sluggish, the level design uninspired and the controls painful. Only a decent soundtrack saves this one from the scrapheap. Japanese developer M2 would later remake the game as Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth, but it shares few similarities with the Game Boy original, beyond its title and lead character, Christopher Belmont.

28. Castlevania Judgment (Wii)

Castlevania Judgment (Wii)
Castlevania Judgment (Wii)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: 18th Nov 2008 (USA) / 20th Mar 2009 (UK/EU)

This ill-advised spin-off tried to take the Castlevania universe into the realm of one-on-one fighters, and Konami even went as far as to enlist the assistance of Bloody Roar studio Eighting. The end result was a truly disastrous attempt to broaden the appeal of the franchise; Castlevania Judgment's full-3D control method means it feels more like Power Stone than Virtua Fighter, and it's often hard to keep track of what's going on. The motion controls feel tacked on, too, while the fighting action lacks impact and excitement. To cap it all off, the character designs by Takeshi Obata (Death Note) are totally at odds with the traditional look of the series. A critical and commercial bomb at release, Castlevania Judgment is effortlessly one of the worst games in the entire franchise. One to avoid.

27. Vampire Killer (MSX)

Vampire Killer (MSX)
Vampire Killer (MSX)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: 1987 (UK/EU)

Released on the MSX2 home computer system around the same time that Castlevania hit the Famicom Disk System in Japan, Vampire Killer – to give the game its European title – is a rather unusual attempt to expand the original game in new and interesting ways, and proves that right from the beginning, Konami was clearly aware that Castlevania was a franchise which could easily evolve beyond its action-platforming origins. The problem is that this attempt to create a sort of action-RPG hybrid is badly undone by its non-linear structure (which involves searching looping levels in order to find keys) and the MSX2's infamous inability to handle smooth scrolling – screens 'flip' from one to the other when you reach the edge of a room. It's an interesting historical footnote, but beyond that, Vampire Killer isn't worth the eye-watering price the original version now changes hands for.

26. Castlevania Legends (GB)

Castlevania Legends (GB)
Castlevania Legends (GB)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Nagoya
Release Date: 11th Mar 1998 (USA) / 11th Mar 1998 (UK/EU)

Released in the wake of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night's astonishing critical success, Castlevania Legends introduces the first mainline female hero, Sonia Belmont – she's also technically the first-ever Belmont to fight Dracula, although this particular plot point was revoked when Koji Igarashi became the producer of the series, and the game's story became non-canon. Following the amazing Belmont's Revenge was no easy task, and in all fairness, Legends is an inferior outing in almost every regard, bar the fact that it came with battery back-up so you could save your progress. The visuals, controls and music are all worse than they are in Belmont's Revenge, but that hasn't stopped Legends from becoming one of the most desirable and expensive Game Boy games. It's worth a look, but only via emulation.

25. Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (PS3)

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (PS3)
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair (PS3)
Developer: Konami
Release Date: 27th Sep 2011 (USA) / 12th Oct 2011 (UK/EU)
Available On: PS+ Premium

Upon first inspection, one might assume that this title marks a return to Castlevania's glorious 2D roots, but Castlevania: Harmony of Despair is actually a multiplayer-focused action title that encourages you to seek loot as you explore each of the six available stages. While the ability to play with friends is fun, it never really gets close to capturing that classic Castlevania 'feel', and ends up being more of an experiment with Monster Hunter-style team-based mechanics. If you own an Xbox One of Series X/S, then you can play Castlevania: Harmony of Despair via the wonders of backwards compatibility – but we wouldn't suggest for a second you should go out of your way in order to do so.

24. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (PS3)

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (PS3)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 (PS3)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: MercurySteam
Release Date: 25th Feb 2014 (USA) / 28th Feb 2014 (UK/EU)
Available On: PS+ Premium

The commercial success of the original Lords of Shadow gave Konami the belief that this sub-series could become a popular franchise in its own right, and the company quickly commissioned MercurySteam to work on a sequel (as well as a side-story in the form of Mirror of Fate for the Nintendo 3DS). The twist here is that the original game's hero, Gabriel Belmont, has become Dracula himself (something that was only revealed in Lord of Shadow's DLC expansion), and the storyline switches between the distant past and present-day. There are some very cool ideas in play here – unlocking Dracula's arsenal of powers is fascinating – but the execution is shoddy, and some of the stealth sections are utterly laughable. Lords of Shadow 2 reviewed poorly upon its release and failed to recapture the commercial success of its predecessor, essentially putting an end to the sub-series and placing the Castlevania franchise in stasis.

23. Castlevania: Dracula X (SNES)

Castlevania: Dracula X (SNES)
Castlevania: Dracula X (SNES)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: 1st Sep 1995 (USA) / 1st Sep 1995 (UK/EU)

Although it's described by many as a 'port' of the PC Engine Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, Castlevania: Dracula X (Castlevania: Vampire's Kiss in Europe) is more of a complete re-imagining. Some elements are similar – the opening stage, for example – but, for the most part, this SNES title radically changes things, and not always for the better. The branching levels are gone, as is the ability to play as Maria (and save the other female hostages). Some of the redesigned levels simply don't work, making them an exercise in frustration. On the bright side, it's visually quite appealing – especially when you consider that Konami didn't have the vast storage space that a CD affords here – and the music is wonderful. The Castlevania name means that second-hand copies of this are expensive in all of its region variants, but it was thankfully included on the Castlevania Advance Collection, so you don't have to spend a fortune to check it out.

22. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES)

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES)
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: 1st Dec 1988 (USA) / 27th Apr 1990 (UK/EU)

While Vampire Killer on the MSX2 was a bold stab at turning Castlevania into an RPG-like experience that ultimately failed, Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest is far more successful, even if it doesn't quite stick the landing. The level-by-level structure of the original game is gone, with the player capable of exploring a non-linear 2D landscape at will. There are townspeople to converse with (most of whom spout nonsense), items to collect and even a day-and-night cycle to contend with. The big issues are that the game is ridiculously obtuse, with some form of walkthrough guide being a must, and there are large portions of the game which simply aren't enjoyable. Simon's Quest is saved by its amazing music and totally unique premise; it's amazing that Konami was so keen to experiment with the series at such an early juncture, and while it would revert to a more 'traditional' approach for subsequent entries, Simon's Quest was clearly an influence when it came to creating 1997's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

21. Castlevania (N64)

Castlevania (N64)
Castlevania (N64)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: 31st Dec 1998 (USA) / 11th Mar 1999 (UK/EU)

With Symphony of the Night reinventing the Castlevania series, much was expected of this, the first full-3D entry in the lineage and the first Castlevania title for Nintendo's shiny new N64 home console. Ultimately though, Castlevania on the N64 is a disappointment; the visuals haven't aged well, the gameplay is awkward and frustrating (especially during the ham-fisted platforming sections) and the whole thing feels somewhat half-finished – which is because it is half-finished. N64 sequel Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness isn't really a follow-up, but more like "Castlevania 64 1.5", as it contains many elements which were cut from the original game due to time constraints – so much so that it's perhaps best that this version is ignored and you play Legacy of Darkness instead. Despite its myriad failings, Castlevania 64 is still worth a look for fans of the franchise, as long as you enter into the game with low expectations.

20. Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (PS2)

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (PS2)
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (PS2)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: 21st Oct 2003 (USA) / 13th Feb 2004 (UK/EU)

It's fair to say that the two N64 Castlevania titles were fairly awkward attempts to reimagine the series in 3D, but that didn't put Konami off. With Koji Igarashi and his Konami Tokyo team at the helm – and Ayami Kojima on board for character design work – Castlevania: Lament of Innocence was subject to considerable hype prior to release; could this finally be the game that took the Metroidvania template and bring it into the third dimension? Sadly, it wasn't the case – but it's not like the game is a complete write-off. Leon Belmont, the hero, controls especially well here, with Igarashi clearly taking a leaf out of Devil May Cry's book when it comes to combat. Michiru Yamane's music is also excellent, and the game generally nails the Castlevania vibe pretty effectively. The glaring issue is that the castle you explore isn't some massive, interconnected location, but rather individual stages – and they're all quite boring to explore. The RPG elements introduced in Symphony of the Night have also been scaled back dramatically, giving you little reason to investigate the nooks and crannies of the fortress; instead, the game has to fall back on the aforementioned combat, which, while well-designed, isn't enough to carry the entire game. Like the N64 titles, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is still worth a play, but it's sadly nowhere near the classic it could have been.

19. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (N64)

Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (N64)
Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (N64)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: 30th Nov 1999 (USA) / 3rd Mar 2000 (UK/EU)

Outside of the addition of Cornell, this really isn't a full sequel to Castlevania 64, but more of an enhanced version. Much of the game remains unchanged, which means that most people should pick this over the original if they're interested in either title, as Legacy of Darkness really does make its predecessor redundant. While having another storyline to play through is welcome, Legacy of Darkness doesn't do a great deal to correct what was wrong with Castlevania 64, and the attempts it does make at providing something superior – such as support for the N64's RAM upgrade for higher resolution – are undone; the game's frame rate tanks when the RAM pak is installed, making it hard to play. Time has not been kind to either of the N64 Castlevania entries, but it's unfair to write them off entirely.

18. Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (PS2)

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (PS2)
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (PS2)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: 1st Nov 2005 (USA) / 17th Feb 2006 (UK/EU)

Perhaps stung by the lukewarm reception afforded to Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, Koji Igarashi redoubled his efforts with another 3D action-adventure, this time set soon after the events of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse – a game Igarashi has a particular fondness for. You're not controlling a Belmont this time (although Trevor Belmont does become playable in the game); instead, you assume the role of Hector, a former ally of Dracula who just so happens to look a bit like Alucard (Ayami Kojima sure does like to draw men with long white hair). The combat has been improved over Lament of Innocent, and the RPG elements which were missing from that game have returned, but Igarashi and his team still didn't give the player a fun world to explore. Castlevania: Curse of Darkness' levels are mostly barren and uninteresting, making them a real chore to navigate – especially when you consider that Hector doesn't move as quickly as you'd like. While the game introduces many characters who have since become famous thanks to Netflix Castlevania series – including Hector's foe Issac and the mysterious Saint-Germain – Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is yet another title in the series which can't quite match the glory of its 8, 16-bit and 32-bit predecessors, despite running on superior hardware. As a side note, the game was also released on the Xbox, but it's sadly not backwards-compatible so you can't play it on your Xbox 360, Xbox One or Xbox Series X/S.

17. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate (3DS)

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate (3DS)
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate (3DS)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: MercurySteam
Release Date: 5th Mar 2013 (USA) / 8th Mar 2013 (UK/EU)

Nestled in-between the events of the original Lords of Shadow and its disappointing sequel, Mirror of Fate returns to the Metroidvania roots of the GBA and DS entries. Assuming the roles of three heroes, you must battle your way through Dracula's fortress in a trio of timelines. The heavy focus on combat is carried over from the mainline Lords of Shadow games, and many reviewers took issue with the way in which this slowed down the gameplay. However, the visuals remain incredible and the production values are stunning. While it's arguably not as polished as the likes of Dawn of Sorrow or Portrait of Ruin, Mirror of Fate is still worth a look – and it's worth noting that developer MercurySteam has since gone on to find great success in this genre with Metroid: Samus Returns (also on the 3DS) and Metroid Dread on the Switch.

16. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA)

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA)
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA)
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami
Release Date: 11th Jun 2001 (USA) / 21st Mar 2001 (UK/EU)

Just like it did with the original Game Boy, Konami was an early supporter of the Game Boy Advance, supplying Konami Krazy Racers and Castlevania: Circle of the Moon for the system's launch. The latter gained the most interest back in 2001, largely because it was the first Castlevania to emulate the 'Metroidvania' approach that Symphony of the Night had popularized in 1997, although it's worth noting that the development team was different, with Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe in charge instead of Konami's Toyko studio. Despite some dark visuals (which were frustratingly hard to see on the unilluminated display of the original Game Boy Advance) and some simplified mechanics, Circle of the Moon is a decent attempt at taking the Metroidvania concept into the portable realm; while it pales in comparison to Symphony of the Night and some of its later Metroidvania successors, it's still an entertaining romp, and can be played on modern systems as part of the Castlevania Advance Collection.