Warm up your fingers for a comment brawl, because chances are that if you’re a Castlevania fan, you won’t agree with my list.
Note: Only Castlevania games released in North America were taken into consideration for this article.
First off, I’m dividing the series into a delta attack of genres: 2D action, 2D adventure, and 3D. 2D action is like the original Castlevania game: straight-forward, explicit stages, a timer, etc. 2D adventure is like Symphony of the Night: wander around, open up areas with different items, and basically steal some core mechanics from Metroid. 3D is, as you might expect, all the 3D Castlevania games.
Since my true favorites all fall into one of these genres, instead of just listing out those three, I’ll pick the one that I liked the best in each genre.
We’ll start with the lamest of these genres.
3D: Just Because We Can Doesn’t Mean We Should
Thinking of 3D Castlevania games reminds me of Jurassic Park, when Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) said, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” True for dinosaurs and true for 3D games. Just because the technology became available to move Castlevania to 3D doesn’t mean that it was necessary. The decision was akin to creating New Coke. Dude, no, we already have Coke. Enough said.
So, though it’s like picking through a pile of turds for the awesomest one, here are the contenders for Best 3D Castlevania Game, in chronological order of release:
- Castlevania (Nintendo 64)
- Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (Nintendo 64)
- Castlevania: Lament of Innocence (PlayStation 2)
- Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (PlayStation 2, Xbox)
- Castlevania: Judgment (Wii)
And the winner is…
Lament of Innocence. This is the shiniest turd in the bunch. Though the gameplay suffered from being 3D, like the rest, at least this one had a soundtrack that was often excellent and some levels that were pretty cool. If you have to go 3D, this is the one to play.
2D Action: These Roots Run Deep
Like the Tree of Life from Avatar, the Castlevania series has roots that run deep. Going back nearly 25 years, Castlevania is one of the longest-running series in video game history.
Released in 1986, the first Castlevania was simple in design and difficult by today’s standards, but it was the earliest ancestor of the series that many of us have loved for years. Based on that alone, it deserves our respect.
Including the first Castlevania game, here are the candidates for Best 2D Action Castlevania Game, again in chrono order:
- Castlevania (NES)
- Castlevania: The Adventure (Game Boy)
- Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (NES)
- Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (Game Boy)
- Super Castlevania IV (Super Nintendo)
- Castlevania: Bloodlines (Sega Genesis)
- Castlevania: Dracula X (Super Nintendo)
- Castlevania Legends (Game Boy)
- Castlevania Chronicles (PlayStation)
- Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles (PlayStation Portable)
- Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth (WiiWare)
And the winner is…
Super Castlevania IV. One of the earliest games released on the Super Nintendo, the graphics were amazing at the time, including a stage with a rolling cylindrical background, one with giant swinging chandeliers, and one where the entire background would rotate 90° while you hung suspended from iron rings on your whip. Though not as hard as most others in this genre, Super Castlevania IV had the trifecta of great graphics, music, and level design.
Other noteworthy titles in this genre include: Castlevania, for reasons mentioned previously; Castlevania III, as it had multiple playable characters and branching map paths; and Castlevania: Dracula X, since it combined the great graphics possible on the Super Nintendo with the increased difficulty of its NES predecessors.
2D Adventure: Castlevania at its Best
Those of you who played Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest back in the day will recall that it was vastly different from the first Castlevania. No timer, no stage numbers, purchasable items and upgrades, the freedom to wander in non-linear stages, items required to access certain areas of the map… the game was a revolution compared to the first offering in the series.
Borrowing some of the mechanics of Metroid, it was the first entry in a Castlevania genre that would, like Dracula, lie dormant for many moons.
Almost 10 years later, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was released. In an era where 3D was considered by most to be the latest and greatest, it showed that 2D could still be awesome. Symphony of the Night took the “Metroidvania” formula from Simon’s Quest and massively retooled it. The resulting game is considered by many to be the best in the series and one of the best video games of all time.
Here are the nominees for Best 2D Adventure Castlevania Game:
- Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (NES)
- Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation)
- Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (Game Boy Advance)
- Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (Game Boy Advance)
- Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (Game Boy Advance)
- Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (Nintendo DS)
- Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin (Nintendo DS)
- Castlevania: Order of Shadows (mobile phone)
- Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (Nintendo DS)
And the winner is…
Portrait of Ruin. Clean the furious spittle off of your monitor and hear me out. Though Symphony of the Night paved the way, Portrait of Ruin nearly perfected what Konami intended with Symphony of the Night.
Portrait of Ruin used paintings to access different worlds, not unlike Super Mario 64. The worlds differed in motif, offering themes such as Egyptian deserts, an English town circa 1944, a haunted academy, and an evil circus. The variety of environments made each new painting you found exciting and mysterious.
In terms of gameplay, Portrait of Ruin introduced a two-character system. Not only could you switch between characters freely to make use of their unique skills, but you needed to use the characters in tandem to overcome certain platforming puzzles.
The use of two screens allowed for better continuity of gameplay, as the top screen could be used for character stats or the display of the map. Not having to pause the game to check the map, as with Symphony of the Night, was a huge plus.
Symphony of the Night has a special place in my heart, there’s no doubt of that. But going back and playing both it and Portrait of Ruin, there’s also no doubt that Portrait of Ruin is the better game. If you disagree, feel free to share your thoughts.
Other titles in the 2D adventure genre that are worth mentioning include: Simon’s Quest, for birthing the genre; Circle of the Moon, as it was almost as good as Symphony of the Night but you could play it portable; and Aria/Dawn of Sorrow, since they were also improvements on the genre formula.
Thank You For Playing
Many thanks for reading this far. Castlevania is one of my favorite video game series and I very much enjoyed writing this article. I hope you enjoyed reading it.
About the Author
|Markham Asylum is a founding member of Delta Attack. His tier-1 favorite genres are role-playing, puzzle, and strategy. His tier-2 are adventure, shooter, and platformer. He strives to provide spoiler-free postings whenever possible.
Markham Asylum has written 424 posts on Delta Attack.