The Castlevania series has a rich history on Nintendo consoles ever since the original game came first to the Japanese Famicom Disk System way back in 1986, and then to the NES a year later. There may be a significant release or two from Konami’s vampire-killing catalogue still missing from Nintendo platforms (we’re looking at you, Symphony of the Night), but the vast majority of the series can be found on Nintendo consoles. Given the release of Netflix’s third Castlevania season today, we thought it might be fun to look back at the franchise.
But where should you start if you’re new to the Castlevania series? Which Castlevania game is the best? Those are tough questions, but we’ve done our best to whip up a ranked list of the best Castlevania games (on Nintendo consoles) below. The series has many high points (and a couple of very low ones, too) and come in two distinct flavours: the more straightforward right-to-left style of the original games or the more expansive brand of Koji Igarashi-produced games (sometimes referred to as ‘Igavanias’) which combined spiritually with Nintendo’s Metroid series to birth an entire genre of ‘Metroidvania‘ video games.
For Switch owners the Castlevania Anniversary Collection should obviously be your first port of call, and there’s always Koji Igarashi’s non-affiliated Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night once you’ve exhausted all the Belmonts below. The Switch version isn’t perfect, but it is much improved since launch and is arguably the closest thing fans will get to Symphony of the Night on Switch until Konami decides to put Symphony of the Night on Switch.
We’ve included a couple of spin-offs and oddities, but that’s more than enough waffle. Wipe away those bloody tears, and let’s go kill us some vampires.
We start with a spin-off. Set in the Castlevania universe, this 2008 Wii game brought all your favourite characters and monsters together for a momentously rubbish one-on-one 3D fighter with awful controls and questionable character designs. 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 first entry for the series on the Game Boy, and one best left forgotten, Castlevania: The Adventure is a turgid, terminally sluggish approximation of the series’ classic gameplay with repetitive, bland level design. Given the host console’s limitations, you might be tempted to give it the benefit of the doubt, but the sequel would show what the platform was truly capable of and expose this for the horror that it is. Do yourself a favour, skip this and start your portable Castlevania adventure with Belmont’s Revenge.
Available on Switch as part of Konami’s Arcade Classics Anniversary Collection, Haunted Castle is an odd duck. Made exclusively for arcades, it occupies a strange middle ground somewhere between homage, parody and port and sees Simon Belmont (with a sprite which stands a quarter of the screen tall) rescuing his new bride from the villainous clutches of the Count. The music is by far the best thing about it, but despite looking superficially ‘better’ than the original, it’s an unfairly punishing arcade experience designed to empty your pockets of shiny coins. As such, there’s not much fun to be had and ultimately it’s not a patch on the original.
If you’re interested you can check out the differences between the original NES game, its VS Castlevania arcade port and Haunted Castle in this video.
Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Nagoya
Without knowing that this was the third Castlevania for Game Boy, you could be forgiven for thinking this was the second game before Konami perfected things with Belmont’s Revenge. But no, Castlevania Legends was a late release for the ageing console (1997 in Japan, 1998 in the West) – the third and final entry and a less than auspicious farewell to Nintendo’s 8-bit handheld. Following the release of the towering Symphony of the Night on PlayStation would have been an unenviable task, to be sure, but even taking into account the platform’s inherent limitations this is an intense disappointment. With poor animation, lacklustre sprite work and equally unimpressive level design, it’s hard to believe that this came a whopping seven years after its fantastic predecessor.
Simply put, it wasn’t good enough at the time, and despite being a sought-after collectors item these days, it’s only got worse with age. Avoid.
A flawed stab at a polygonal 3D Castlevania, this isn’t ‘bad’ as much as ‘crushingly average’. Launching several years into the N64’s cycle in 1999, players expected better from a 3D game at the dawning of the new millennium. Camera issues were a perennial problem for games of the era, but the best Castlevania titles have always been characterised by tight controls and Castlevania (yes, it eschewed the ’64’ colloquially appended to its title) simply wasn’t up to snuff. We respect it – from afar – but this one’s probably best left in the crypt.
This second N64 entry released less than a year after the first and actually includes the entire first game as an unlockable bonus once you’ve completed the prequel adventure. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness is essentially the game its predecessor should have been and would no doubt be a DLC release with umpteen patches these days. It features numerous gameplay tweaks and also uses the Expansion Pak for improved visuals, but paying full price for this after putting down hard cash for its predecessor at the start of the year was painful, even for series devotees. Those N64 carts were pricey back in the day, and even in its polished form Legacy of Darkness is a long way from ‘classic’ status, in spite of our residual affection for it.
Another game we have fond memories of, despite itself. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is obtuse, infuriating and downright cheap at times… but it’s got a killer soundtrack and admirably changes things up by building on the original game with new ideas, including a day/night cycle and an intriguing (if ultimately frustrating) non-linear approach. Back in the day it would have been an absolute nightmare, and we totally understand people who lose patience with it, but if you’re not opposed to sitting down with a walkthrough and making use of save states, we’d recommend giving Simon’s Quest another chance. The soundtrack alone makes it worth a playthrough.
This MSX2 version of Castlevania was developed in tandem with the NES game and features many similarities as well as some fascinating differences from the game you’re probably familiar with. For example, it wasn’t possible to implement scrolling in the MSX2 version so each level is divided into single screens that you move between. If you’re interested in a side-by-side comparison, check out this overview video from Splash Wave.
So what’s this doing on a list of Castlevania games for Nintendo consoles, you ask. Well, Vampire Killer released on the Wii U Virtual Console in Japan, so while we may not have had the pleasure in the West, it has technically appeared on a Nintendo platform. Ergo, it’s inclusion here.
Known as Vampire’s Kiss in the EU, Castlevania: Dracula X is a Super NES remake of the PC Engine original Rondo of Blood, it doesn’t stand up to comparison with the game on which it is based, although it’s certainly not bad taken in isolation. It offers solid, old-school Castlevania fare and is worth investigating if you’ve chewed your way through better games in the series (most notably the original Rondo of Blood). If you’re new to the series, we wouldn’t start here, though.
Killer box art, mind.