Since its inception in 1986, Konami's Castlevania has become one of gaming's most recognisable and popular franchises. Many of its instalments are considered 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 this list comes in; the ranking is based solely on votes submitted by you, our readers – and it's not static; it will change and evolve as more votes come in.
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.
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.
This ill-advised Wii spin-off from 2008 brought all your favourite characters and monsters together for a momentously rubbish one-on-one 3D fighter with awful controls and questionable character designs. Konami enlisted the assistance of Bloody Roar studio Eighting, but 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.
Castlevania Judgment was panned by critics and fans alike on release and time has done nothing to heal the wounds this one inflicted. A miserable pile, indeed.
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.
Released in the wake of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night's astonishing critical success, Castlevania Legends introduces the first mainline female hero, Sonia Belmont, who was technically, chronologically the first-ever Belmont to fight Dracula. At least she was until 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, but Legends is an inferior outing in almost every regard, bar the fact that it came with battery backup 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 brief look, but don't pay silly money for it, especially when it's available via Nintendo Switch Online.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.