Round Table: Let's Talk About Castlevania

25 years of memories

This week has been Castlevania features week. We’ve picked our top ten games from the series, reviewed an awful novelisation of Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, and provided some tips for wannabe Dracula hunters. One thing that has become clear amongst the team is that this series is packed full of memories and nostalgia, as well as terrific gaming experiences. We’ve decided it’s time to sit down and talk about the impact of Castlevania on our Nintendo gaming history, covering the whole 25 years of the franchise.

Joining features editor Thomas Whitehead is editorial director Damien McFerran and downloads editor Corbie Dillard, as well as writers Christopher Ingram and Dave Frear.

Thomas Whitehead: First up, can you please introduce yourselves to our lovely readers?

Corbie Dillard: I am the Downloads Editor of Nintendo Life.

Dave Frear: I'm Dave Frear: International Man of Mystery. I also play a lot of games. Find me rambling on about things in the retro section.

Christopher Ingram: Hey guys, I'm Christopher Ingram, and I write news and reviews for Movemodo and Vitagamr, and contribute a few reviews here at Nintendo Life as well when I can.

Damien McFerran: I'm Damien, the Editorial Director of Nintendo Life.

Thomas Whitehead: To start with, what were your first experiences of the Castlevania franchise?

Dave Frear: There was a big family meet up and some people had Game Boys. I got to try out a few games I hadn't played until then, one of which was the first entry in the series: Castlevania: The Adventure. Or is it The Castlevania Adventure? Anyway, I thought the Adventure was poor. Castlevania was one of those series I'd heard good things about but based on this I couldn't see what the fuss was about. It was slow and the level design was bland. I had no interest in playing another Castlevania after that but a while later I met a friend who owned Super Castlevania IV. That one was better.

Damien McFerran: I got into the series quite late, purely because I was a Mega Drive owner back in the early '90s and bypassed the NES completely. Super Castlevania IV was my first experience of the series — I recall playing it at a friend's house and being blown away by the combination of moody visuals, amazing music and killer gameplay.

Corbie Dillard: I was saving up to buy The Legend of Zelda and when I finally had enough money and went to buy it, they were sold out. So I picked the first game that looked decent and that game was Castlevania for NES.

Damien McFerran: A fine choice!

Thomas Whitehead: Sounds like a lucky break, Corbie.

Corbie Dillard: It blew me away and I've been a huge fan of the series ever since.

Christopher Ingram: I was upstate visiting distant family when I was young, and I fondly remember entering this unknown house and seeing a group of guys huddled around a television playing NES. On the screen there was a guy swinging a whip at a bunch of flying Medusa heads and dodging rolling eyeballs. Years later I found out this was Castlevania and I instantly fell in love with the Gothic lore the series brought to the table: I still enjoy the series today.

Damien McFerran: I didn't play the NES games until much later, probably the mid-90s.

Thomas Whitehead: It's been alluded to already, but what was your initial reaction to your first Castlevania game? Was there a real 'wow' factor?

Corbie Dillard: I was absolutely blown away by the platforming elements and the amazing soundtrack. It just really pulled me in and I honestly couldn't put it down for weeks.

Thomas Whitehead: Indeed, the soundtrack is awesome in those early games in particular.

Corbie Dillard: As you said earlier, it was just a lucky break to buy the game on a whim and for it to turn into such a big part of my gaming life over the years.

Christopher Ingram: Definitely a lucky break, because buying a NES game on a whim usually ended up in controller bashing nerd rages around my house! For me, I've always enjoyed Gothic settings and this series brought Dracula to life; how can that not have a 'wow' factor?

Dave Frear: I really liked the Dracula's Curse soundtrack. Though I didn't actually play that until years later.

Damien McFerran: For me, it was Super Castlevania IV's tone that really impressed me. I'd been so used to playing cartoon-like platformers on the Mega Drive and SNES, yet here was a game that was soaked in grim, dark colours and had sombre, moody music. It was the total opposite of what I was playing at the time, yet it grabbed me from the start. It felt a lot more mature than other action games I was playing back then. Looking back further, even the NES games had that grimy, dark aesthetic to them.

Corbie Dillard: The Mode 7 stuff in Super Castlevania IV made it very cool as well.

On the screen there was a guy swinging a whip at a bunch of flying Medusa heads and dodging rolling eyeballs. Years later I found out this was Castlevania.

Thomas Whitehead: Chris has already brought us to the follow-up question. Do you think that part of the series appeal — beyond graphics, art design, soundtrack — is the Dracula story arc, in terms of setting the tone for the games?

Corbie Dillard: You can't beat a good vampire theme. But to me, the pinpoint platforming and high degree of difficulty are what brings so many fans back to the series time and time again.

Christopher Ingram: Definitely!

Damien McFerran: I think picking a well-known literary character like Dracula and fleshing out his story over the series is genius, actually. They did so much more than just use him as a Hollywood-style villain. By the time you get to the later games, his background — and the background of the Belmonts — is fleshed out beyond belief.

Dave Frear: I've never taken much interest in the story itself to be honest and couldn't tell you the reason behind the jump and whip action in most of the games — I just find them fun to play. I do think it adds to the appeal though, as it allows for a wonderful aesthetic with the large rooms and various creatures coming after you. Even with the first game there were great looking moments, like inside the clock tower towards the end, and when you go outside just before the battle and there's a simple but spooky looking sky with a crescent moon. Also, the Count's entrance is fantastic.

Thomas Whitehead: Let's work through the different styles through the series. The initial NES and SNES titles followed a linear style; what makes this work so well or, depending on your perspective, not work?

Christopher Ingram: Corbie said it all. Platforming perfection and difficulty.

Damien McFerran: Like Corbie said, the challenge factor of those 2D entries was immense. These were games that really pushed you, sometimes to the point of total frustration. When I played the first NES game in the 90s I couldn't believe how hard it was!

Corbie Dillard: The linear stuff from the early years will obviously appeal more to the arcade gamers of the time. But for gamers looking for something a bit more in-depth, the Metroidvania titles take care of that. I like that we have both, as they have various different qualities to offer.

I think as long as you continue to have the core Castlevania gameplay sensibilities, you can add in just about any types of elements, such as exploration and storytelling, and it still works for fans of the series.

Damien McFerran: I actually think the linear entries in the series stand up better than some of the Metroid-style ones. I struggle to play the recent games, because you can't just drop in and play for a few minutes. I can pop in Super Castlevania 4, Bloodlines or Rondo of Blood and enjoy them in small bites.

Corbie Dillard: I agree with that 100%.

Christopher Ingram: Me too!

Thomas Whitehead: Me three!

Corbie Dillard: Because they are everything that makes Castlevania titles so great, without all of the added filler.

Dave Frear: Yeah, I also miss having passwords. If you particularly liked a stage you could play it whenever you wanted – which adds to the replay value.

Damien McFerran: Yeah the passwords were great for the time.