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.
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.
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.
By the time that Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia arrived on the Nintendo DS, it was clear that the series needed refreshing; while the quality of the Metroidvania titles was never in doubt, the commercial fortunes of the franchise had arguably never been lower; keen to reinvigorate Castlevania, Konami rebooted the lineage with Lords of Shadow, a game which was reportedly developed initially as a new IP before being turned into a Castlevania.
Spanish studio MercurySteam worked with producer David Cox and the legendary Hideo Kojima on what would ultimately become a 3D action title, not entirely dissimilar to Sony's God of War franchise. While the core components are in place – the Belmonts feature, as you might expect – Lords of Shadow is considered to exist within its own universe, rather than tie in directly with the main Castlevania timeline. While some hardcore fans reject the Lords of Shadow sub-series out of hand, there's no denying that it did what Konami intended; the game sold fantastically well and spawned two direct sequels.
Originally released on the Japan-only Sharp X68000 home computer in 1993 as Akumajō Dracula, Castlevania Chronicles was later remade on the PlayStation following the critical success of Symphony of the Night. The original X68000 is included, but the main draw is the updated version of the game, complete with new artwork by Ayami Kojima and an arranged soundtrack by Sōta Fujimori. Castlevania Chronicles caught some criticism at the time of release as many 'new' fans of the series were expecting a bolder Metroidvania-style adventure; however, those who adore the old-school outings will find a lot to love here.
The original and the best? Perhaps not, but Castlevania put down an enduring template that mixed Universal monster movie shlock with brilliant tunes and tight, satisfying whip-based combat. Very much like Super Mario Bros., the original Castlevania is a game that laid down the foundations of an entire series. Sure, subsequent titles have refined and evolved the core concept, but Castlevania – just like Mario's first 'Super' adventure – remains playable and enjoyable, even today. It's certainly not perfect – the difficulty is maddening at times and the controls feel incredibly stiff by modern standards – but the challenging gameplay, foreboding atmosphere and amazing soundtrack all pull together to create a true classic which has aged surprisingly well.
Part of Konami's 'ReBirth' series – which also includes Contra and Gradius – this M2-coded offering has very little to do with the Game Boy original, outside of the fact that it showcases Christopher Belmont in the lead role. A return to the hand-drawn 2D visuals of the classic entries in the series, Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth plays like a dream – although it can be somewhat brutal at points and, with only six stages, doesn't offer the same amount of content as, say, Bloodlines or Dracula X. It's also no longer available for purchase as Nintendo has long since closed the Wii eShop; fingers are firmly crossed that Konami sees sense and republishes all of the ReBirth titles on modern-day systems.
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.
Despite the sheer volume of solid gold hits in the series, Castlevania Anniversary Collection is a somewhat mixed bag from Konami in terms of games you'll actually play, as stone-cold classics share the spotlight with a couple of undead clunkers that should remain dead and buried. Still, from a completionist and preservation standpoint, the inclusion of Castlevania: The Adventure is appreciated and the 'highs' on offer are among the highest points in the entire franchise, with a Western debut for Kid Dracula being a particularly lovely treat for retro gamers looking for something new. As long as you’re willing to ignore the lesser titles in this package and you're not too bummed out by the omission of other classic entries, you’re going to have a very good time with what’s left. Best paired with Castlevania Advance Collection.
After the crushing disappointment that was Castlevania: The Adventure, Konami pulled out all of the stops with this Game Boy sequel. It plays like a dream, with highly responsive controls and some brilliantly designed levels which use vertical space just as effectively as horizontal space. The ability to choose how you tackle the stages, Mega Man-style, is also welcome, and the music is so good it's almost criminal that it's relegated to the relatively humble Game Boy audio hardware. Arguably one of the best Game Boy games of all time, Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge is an essential play for all fans of the franchise – it's also worth a fair bit on the secondary market these days.