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Feature: Castlevania - The Terrifying Ten

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Our favourite Dracula quests

As the dreaded night of Halloween continues to loom ever closer, we are now turning our attention to the Castlevania franchise, which recently celebrated its 25th Anniversary. All of this week there'll be features looking at the series, as we join the hunt to take Dracula down once and for all.

In previous features we've produced lists of games in no particular order, such as our N64 and GBA favourites: now we're getting off the fence with our top 10 Castlevania titles. The criteria was that only Castlevania games released on Nintendo systems could be included, which includes titles that have been released on the Wii Virtual Console, while one game that served as a spoof of the series also makes the cut. Our series experts Damien McFerran, Corbie Dilliard, Marcel van Duyn and Christopher Ingram all put forward their cases: below is the final result, in descending order.

10. Castlevania: The Adventure Rebirth (WiiWare) — For some of our younger readers, this WiiWare release is potentially their first experience of 'old-school' Castlevania gaming. Drawing on inspiration from the older titles, particularly the first entry in the series on Game Boy, this downloadable offering is a solid experience, with some wonderful 16-bit style sprites.

9. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (GBA) — A launch title for the Game Boy Advance, this entry in the series boasted strong 2D gameplay, also following the non-linear 'Metroidvania' style first pioneered in the PlayStation exclusive Symphony of the Night. The visuals didn't push the GBA hardware, but the gameplay, along with a variety of spells and items, made this a mighty exclusive for the handheld.

8. Kid Dracula (Game Boy) — Ok, so this isn't directly Castlevania, but it is a Konami produced parody. There was a NES version that was only available in Japan, but our team voted for the more commonly known Game Boy entry, as it's packed with the charm and playability so typical of the famous handheld. An awesome musical score rounds out the package, and a 3DS Virtual Console release can't come soon enough.

7. Castlevania (NES) — The original, now over 25 years old. For NES owners at the time, this is a game that was a wonder for its dark, gothic feel. The staples of the series, whipping monters, gathering hearts as item ammo, tracking down hidden pork chops to recharge health, all started here. Still fun for a retro gaming session but fiendishly difficult: all of your ninja gaming skills are needed to defeat this title.

6. Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow (DS) — We have an inkling that some will consider this a controversial choice, but the strengths of this title meant it earned its place on our list. The first Castlevania game on the DS, it carried across some features from its GBA forebears and utilised an exploratory style, along with special items and weapons. Yes, the cutscenes have a generic anime style, but we're more interested in the gameplay, which is rather magnificent.

5. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA) — The third and final entry on the GBA, Aria of Sorrow was an appropriate finale to the trilogy. With neat mechanics of soul collecting adding diversity and replay value, this title took strong elements from the previous two GBA games and produced a top-notch handheld gaming experience.

4. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (TurboGrafx-16) — For Castlevania enthusiasts in love with the classic style of gameplay, without any distracting skills or souls to collect, this title stands tall. Exclusive to the TurboGrafx-16 (also known as the PC Engine) and only originally released in Japan, this title took advantage of that console's CD based technology, along with terrific game-design, to provide a classic Castlevania experience. Not to be confused with the inferior SNES port, importers would pay as much as $250 for a copy of this game in the '90s. Thankfully, gamers in all regions can now enjoy this wonderful game, in its original glory, courtesy of the Wii Virtual Console.

3. Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge (Game Boy) — While the first Castlevania title on the Game Boy was a fairly average experience, this sequel truly got the very best out of the handheld. Impressive visuals and a terrific soundtrack were supported by exemplary gameplay. If ever proof is needed that quality gaming doesn't necessarily require technological power, this title answers any doubts.

2. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (NES) — The final entry of the NES trilogy, this title took the gameplay principles established in the original and took them forward with panasche. Longer levels, amazing 8-bit graphics, four playable characters with different sets of abilities, as well as a level of challenge suited for the most skilled gamers, this is a truly impressive achievement on modest hardware. A must for fans of the series.

1. Super Castlevania IV (SNES) — So here it is, in our opinion the finest Castlevania game to grace a Nintendo console. Following the linear gameplay of its predecessors, this title utilised every ounce of power that the SNES had to offer, and combined lovely visuals and music with gloriously crafted gameplay. An experience to be remembered from start to finish, you owe it to yourself to play this game.

So, that's our top 10 Castlevania games from Nintendo systems. In a series with such a rich history, some excellent titles were excluded, so we'd love to hear your opinions on the list or any of the games that have missed out. Sound off in the comments below, and you can also vote for your favourite on our Facebook poll.

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User Comments (60)

cheetahman91

#1

cheetahman91 said:

Great list. I've played 6 of those games (hopefully Konami will put Belmont's Revenge on the 3DS VC soon) and they were all great. Here's my top 5 for all consoles.

1. Super Castlevania IV
2. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood
3. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
4. Castlevania Rebirth
5. Castlevania III

Zach

#2

Zach said:

Another series I ought to try! Thanks for the write-up, everyone, now I know exactly how to prioritize.

shonenjump86

#4

shonenjump86 said:

I don't think this site has a review for it yet but Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia is my favorite.

SPEtheridge

#5

SPEtheridge said:

Rondo of Blood and Super are the best on this list, but it has to go to Super Castlevaina its awesome and although i do love the Metroidvania style ones, the more straight forward action ones are the best, i think anyways.

Link79

#6

Link79 said:

I can't decide which I love more between Rondo or Super Castlevania IV.
Both are so amazing! If it wasn't for the VC I may never have owned Rondo.
Thank goodness for that release! Now please Konami put Belmont's revenge on the 3DS shop!
While you're at it how about Bloodlines on Wii?
It's the only Castlevania I never owned and I want it now dammit!

Chozo85

#7

Chozo85 said:

An enjoyable read but I don't understand why you would think Dawn of Sorrow would be a controversial choice. Imo its one of the best Castlevania games and if anything should have been higher on the list. I'd maybe rank it second behind Super Castlevania IV. The anime style has absolutely no effect on the gameplay and its probably the best metroidvania apart from (maybe) SOTN.

ThomasBW84Admin

#8

ThomasBW84 said:

@Chozo85 - You may be right, but time will tell :) I guess the inclusion of that DS title, at the expense of the other two, was the main point I was making in terms of potential controversy.

Philip_J_ReedStaff

#9

Philip_J_Reed said:

YO I COULDNT HELP BUT NOTICE THERE IS NO CASTLEVANIA II SIMONS QUEST UP THERE MAYBE SOMEBODY SHOULD DO SOME KIND OF ARTICLE ABOUT THAT ONE

belmont

#10

belmont said:

I have (obviously if you see my username) played all of them. This is, with Final Fantasy, my favourite video game series.
My first one was the Adventure on Gameboy and my favourite, and best in the series IMO, is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Another one I liked a lot is Aria of Sorrow.

Link79

#11

Link79 said:

@ Chicken_Brutus
I liked Simon's quest! It was different but still enjoyable.
One of my favorites also.

TTGlider

#12

TTGlider said:

Not to be nit-picky... but why stipulate the requirement "only Nintendo-platform [including VC] titles"? Just to be the only 'Best Castlevanias' list omitting Symphony? Because what other title would bump in to this list than that one?

Chozo85

#13

Chozo85 said:

@ThomasBW84 - No worries, its all subjective and everyone's going to have different opinions. I totally agree with you that Dawn was the best of the DS games.

moomoo

#14

moomoo said:

I wish that Symphony was included, to show it would probably be #1. My list is actually alot different from this one (I'll omit symphony to be more even)
#1 Rondo of Blood
#2 Order of Ecclesia
#3 Aria of Sorrow
#4 Super Castlevania IV
#5 Dawn of Sorrow
#6 Castlevania III
#7 Portrait of Ruin
#8 Castlevania
Haven't played the others besides Symphony of the Night, which I would put at 2nd or 1st, depending on my mood.

TheGreenSpiny

#15

TheGreenSpiny said:

I hope those GBA games come to the 3DS VC. All wanted to play those but never got around to it. The carts still sell for $20-$30.

ShadowSniper7

#17

ShadowSniper7 said:

Maybe I'm just weird but I'll take Dawn of Sorrow over Symphony of the Night any day. The soul collecting in the game was just soo addicting :P

My number one favorite Castlevania game unfortunately can't be found on a Nintendo console. My vote goes to Harmony of Despair.

PSICOffee

#19

PSICOffee said:

Seriously? No Order of Ecclesia? That's one of my top fav Castlevanias, and definitely the best DS one. I agree with SCIV on top though, that battle theme with Dracula is epic!

ueI

#20

ueI said:

The only controversy surrounding Dawn of Sorrow's inclusion is that there are five games listed as better, including Aria of Sorrow (which I don't think is better).

Burn

#21

Burn said:

Seriously, no Castlevania Judgement?!

Just kidding. It's an absolutely forgettable game, you have to be a pretty big Castlevania fan to put up with it. Every single attack is done by shaking the Wii remote; my wrist was in pain for a week after a few sessions of this game.

SqueakyTheBone

#22

SqueakyTheBone said:

Gawd, I love Rondo of Blood, despite its many, many flaws. For whatever reason I always find myself returning to it.

Link79

#23

Link79 said:

@ Burn
LOL I totally agree on Judgement.
I'm one of the biggest Castlevania fans and even I could barely stand it.
Very dissapointing.

timp29

#24

timp29 said:

I downloaded Super Castlevania IV about 3 years back and played it for about 2 weeks straight. It is still a great game. PS for those first timers commit suicide at the stairs right before dracula

daznsaz

#25

daznsaz said:

ive only played one of these games.it was on the ds so was probably that sorrow one.good little platformer

warioswoods

#26

warioswoods said:

Wow, that's surprising. I wouldn't even put Super Castlevania IV in the top 5. It may have looked cool at first, but the level design and overall approach just felt wrong throughout.

Dracula's Curse is easily my favorite, with Rondo of Blood in a close second. Like many here, I would put Symphony of the Night somewhere in the top 3, if we were talking about all consoles.

And I do have a soft spot for the bizarre Simon's Quest. Here's hoping that Chicken is writing something as indicated.

FluttershyGuy

#28

FluttershyGuy said:

Of course, these lists are a matter of opinion. But usually, I look at them and rage for a time afterward at the number one pick. Not here! Super Castlevania IV is one of the finest games ever made, from top to bottom. Glorious graphics, wonderfully challenging, symphony orchestra-like music perfectly capturing the mood. In my top 10, if not top 5 games of all time! Pretty much agree with the rest of the list too. you are men of impeccable taste! :) At least according to my tastes, LOL.

By the way, where is moar Castlevania? Can Konami not decide where to take it after Lords of Shadow?

Slapshot

#29

Slapshot said:

@belmont Good taste! You indeed just listed my top two favorites on my list - in order too! :D
I kinda missed the "Nintendo platforms only part!

Emborges

#30

Emborges said:

Wonderful article!
Castlevania is my favorite game franchise of all time :D

I could never really decide wich Castlevania is my favorite. Every Castlevania game has a share of first place in my mind (except for Castlevania Judgement), but I agree with Super Castlevania IV on the 1st place, especially if we're talking about Nintendo consoles only...but I'd place it together with Castlevania SOTN (PS1) and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness(PS2) xD

Shiryu

#31

Shiryu said:

Still replay "Super Castlevania IV" every year for as long as I can recall. Yep, it's that good.

jbrodack

#34

jbrodack said:

Should have allowed non nintendo systems. Would still have been mostly nintendo games.

My biggest problem with the list is the omission of simon's quest. It might be because its the first castlevania I played but I still love that game though it's usually considered the black sheep of the original series. Great music and original setup with action and exploration. Only downfall was nonsensical clues and less impressive bosses.

Ryno

#35

Ryno said:

Hands down, Super Castlevania IV is the greatest game of all time! Great graphics, amazing music, challenging enough but not overly difficult, playability is unmatched with the 8 directional vampire killer. If you do not have this game in any form you need to drop what you are doing and get it now! I play this game all the time. B-)

Rounding out Ryno's Top 5 Castlevania games:
2) Rondo of Blood - I have always wonder what a rave hosted by Drac's would sound like and now I know
3) Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse - A challenging Son of an Alucard but the music and atmosphere are among the best of all NES games!
4) Castlevania - What can be said, this is the one that started it all for for most of us 80's kids. Well, outside of Japan anyway.
5) Castlevania II: Belmonts Revenge - Portable 8-bit Castlevania? Yes please and thank you. Amazing game really for the grey brick.

Honorable mention goes to another Castlevania II, but this time its Simon's Quest. Graphics are great and the music is once again amazing. You try and go find clues in real life from random villagers and see how much they make sense to you!

ThomasBW84Admin

#37

ThomasBW84 said:

For those referring to Simon's Quest, I urge you to check out the feature from Chicken_Brutus on Tuesday (6pm UK time), for something a bit different on that subject :)

We made the list Nintendo only because we are, you know, Nintendo Life! In all seriousness though, I appreciate the point being made in terms of platforms, but we do focus on games that are playable on Nintendo consoles.

Tasuki

#38

Tasuki said:

Good list but there were two things wrong that I found.

First wheres Symphony of the Night? I cant believe you guys left that one out seriously Kid Dracula made the list buy Symphony did not? WTF? The story for Symphony was one of the best IMO plus it gave birth to the whole Metrovania style.

Second Aria of Sorrow wasnt part of a trilogy. There were only two games in the Sorrow series Aria and Dawn on the DS.

Other than that grate list. I think I am going to pull out the Castlevanias I do have and go on a Castlevaniafest.

darklinkinfinite

#40

darklinkinfinite said:

The classic (i.e. anything lacking Igarashi) Castlevania games are some of my favorite games. My top 5 list looks a little like this:

1. Legacy of Darkness/64
2. Super Castlevania IV
3. Rondo of Blood
4. Dracula's Curse
5. Circle of the Moon

My least favorites:
Judgement (by a LOOOOONG shot)
Legend
Lament of Innocence

FluttershyGuy

#42

FluttershyGuy said:

@Ryno
I would agree with you on SCIV as greatest game ever. Except among my all-time favorites, I can't commit to one. So, I have to generalize, like saying top 5. It is one of the standard bearers for side-scrolling greatness, and in my mind the purest representation of what Castlevania is.
@Shiryu
I still play it, just out of the blue. Have for years. And I've had it since 1992.

Interesting that some of the greatest games of all time came out EARLY in SNES' lifespan. Like it's infancy! Super Mario World, A Link to the Past, Super Ghouls n' Ghosts, Actraiser, Final Fantasy II/IV, Contra III, Super Castlevania IV... All came out within the first 8 months after SNES' release. Makes other systems taking time building an A+ library (I'm looking at you, 3DS) look pretty bad.

bauckster

#44

bauckster said:

@FluttershyGuy
That's a very interesting point about some of the best SNES games coming out early in the console's lifespan. I guess one can never generalize, but it does seem that early lineups for a console can be indicative of what might come next. Hopefully I will be proven wrong in the case of the 3DS, as many feel it hasn't had the strongest of early lineups.

Anyway, I've only played the first 3 Castlevania games on NES. Castlevania III is easily my favorite. I guess I really should try Castlevania IV for the SNES...

Question: what consoles were Metroidvania games made for? And how many Castlevania games could be considered "Metroidvania" in style?

darklinkinfinite

#46

darklinkinfinite said:

@bauckster

Symphony of the Night for the Playstation was the first "Metroidvania" game in the series. Afterward came Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow for the GBA. On the DS followed Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia. In addition there's the multiplayer Harmony of Despair for the 360 and PS3. So that's 8 games by my count. The PS2 games, Lament of Innocence and Curse of Darkness (also on the XBox) had many elements in common with the Metroidvania games but different enough that I don't think they should be counted.

I'm not a fan of that style of gameplay so I hold many games in the series in much lower regard than most.

Karakato

#47

Karakato said:

My favorite was always Rondo of Blood or Darcula X if you may, Followed by Order of Ecclesia, then Symphony of the Night, then Portait of Ruin and then Aria of Sorrow. Only played the first level of Super Castlevania and it was great, too bad I don't have a Snes anymore.

I've been noticing a trend on the release of Castlevania games on the Nintendo Portables, 3 games each system, I hope this continues on the 3DS, or maybe the Vita, be it Classic-style, 3D-style or metroidvania-style Castlevania I'm buying it no matter what.

WaveWarlock

#48

WaveWarlock said:

1. SCIV
2. CIII: Dracula's Curse + Rondo of Blood
3. Castlevania
4. ReBirth
5. CII: Belmont's Revenge

If Konami doesn't release Bloodlines on the Wii's VC just in time for this Halloween, I'm going to flip like a soggy whip!

Anyways, SCIV for me is just unmatched...For me it was the definitive Castlevania experience and no other title in the franchise rocks the 8 directional whipping or the dangling whip which imo were some pretty big advancements that i desperatley miss and hiss. :p

Beechbone

#49

Beechbone said:

Super Castlevania IV, couldn't pick a better choice. I wish it apears on 3DS VC one day.

Ryno

#51

Ryno said:

52. FirebrandMustDie 18 Oct 2011, 14:57 BST
How in hell is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night not in this list?

Please read the entire article.

"The criteria was that only Castlevania games released on Nintendo systems could be included..."

@Tasuki: Regarding your post on 40 where you say, First wheres Symphony of the Night? I cant believe you guys left that one out seriously Kid Dracula made the list buy Symphony did not? WTF? The story for Symphony was one of the best IMO plus it gave birth to the whole Metrovania style." Wow, that is twice in a week or so that you have missed some vital info by just skimming these articles! :P

Mr_J

#52

Mr_J said:

Awesome choices, Castlevania has been my favorite franchise for years. :D

BRAINFOX

#53

BRAINFOX said:

@Link79
Rondo of Blood was Included with Symphony of The Night in Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP. It also includes a remade version of Rondo and it's crappy hidden game for added laughs.

bauckster

#54

bauckster said:

@darklinkinfinite
Thanks for the info! I guess of the Metroidvania games, I'm most curious about "Symphony of the Night" as I know many regard as the finest (or one of the finest) games in the whole series. I have a PS2 that will play PS1 games, but I'm guessing that it's pretty hard to track the game down...?

darklinkinfinite

#55

darklinkinfinite said:

If you have a 360 it was made available as a download for $10. In addition it has been released on disc for the 360 as part of Konami Classics vol 1, which runs for about $15 and also includes Super Contra and Frogger.

The original Playstation version has been added to PSN and the game was also included as part of Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP.

If you only have a PS2, the game was re-released as a Greatest Hits title which drove the prices down slightly. Looking on Amazon its available on the marketplace for as low as about $20, there's a buy-it-now on ebay for $30 (free shippng), and there are quite a few listings on Half.com for under $30

Henmii

#57

Henmii said:

Castlevania is one of the series I still have to try out. Rondo of blood or Super Castlevania 4 could be a good starting point, since they are easily downloaded from the Wii shop!

Maybe it isn't a bad idea either for Konami to release a handheld collection (all gba and DS titles, and maybe also some others) on the 3DS! Could be a fun purchase!

darklinkinfinite

#58

darklinkinfinite said:

While I'm not a fan of the metroidvania games, I do admit seeing all the parallax layers actually separated into 3D planes would look awesome!

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