The original and the best? Well, obviously not seeing as we're not at number 1 yet. Still, Castlevania put down an enduring template that mixed Universal monster movie shlock with brilliant tunes and tight, satisfying whip-based combat. Like so many 8-bit originals, it may be jarring to return to in a modern context (just as the original Metroid can feel cumbersome and restrictive after years of refinement and iteration), but the base gameplay is as solid as ever and it's a must-play if you're interested in seeing how the series has evolved since 1986.
If this is too much fun for you, consider filling your boots with the arcade VS. Castlevania version instead, available on Switch as part of Hamster's Arcade Archives collection. It's like this (almost exactly the same, in fact), but enemies deal more damage and the game gives you less time to enjoy whipping all those candles. Whip it, whip it good.
If you had only experienced the first and third Game Boy Castlevania entries (Kid Dracula notwithstanding), you'd be forgiven for thinking the underpowered handheld hardware just couldn't do the series' mechanics justice. Fortunately, Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge is a remarkable entry that proves not only that the OG Game Boy could handle an intricate, deep Castlevania game, but also that such a game could stand proud alongside its home console brethren. Sure, it forgoes some of the bells and whistles that have been added to the formula in the past 30 years, but the foundation here is exceptionally strong. It's best experienced on a chunky old-school Game Boy, but it's easily available on modern hardware via the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. So what are you waiting for?
The first DS entry in the series (if Dawn of Sorrow hadn't clued you in already), this saw Soma Cruz return in a fantastic game which continued the proud tradition of the GBA titles on its successor. Dawn of Sorrow's implementation of the console's touch screen (the Seal system) felt needlessly complex and gimmicky, and the Gothic art style of the previous games gave way to an anime aesthetic here which we were less enamoured with, but it's otherwise a wonderful addition to the roster. The great soundtrack, tight controls, engaging Soul-based skills system; it's all so good that we're inclined to forgive Dawn of Sorrow its faults.
A fantastic showcase for the Super NES and its Mode 7 sprite scaling features, Super Castlevania IV is considered by some (including its director Masahiro Ueno) as something of a remake of the NES original for the new generation of hardware, although with its sumptuous visuals, reworked mechanics and startling 16-bit soundtrack, it has a very different feel to its 8-bit counterpart. It's available on the Super NES Classic Mini and the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, so if you missed out back in the day you've got ample opportunity to catch up with this gem.
The finest of the NES entries, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is a prequel to the original and struck a perfect balance between the innovations of Simon's Quest and the first game's more straightforward approach. Multiple playable characters in addition to your Belmont (Trevor, this time), multiple paths, the finest audio you'll find on NES hardware (even without the extra sound channels of the Japanese Famicom version) with visuals to match - it's one of the most ambitious 8-bit games ever made and still deserves your attention 30 years on. Absolutely timeless, it is.
No, we're not putting this at number two just to frustrate anyone who doesn't own it on the now-inaccessible Wii Virtual Console. It really is that good, and it's a crying shame that this PC Engine CD game is not accessible to more people in its original form. The SNES remake Dracula X isn't bad, but Rondo of Blood is in a different league. Younger readers may be unfamiliar with 'Red Book Audio', but the arrival of CD-quality sound with disc-based games opened up a whole new world of musical fidelity and possibilities for the franchise. That coupled with the tight gameplay you'd expect from the series means Rondo of Blood casts a spell that's impossible to forget if you've ever had the pleasure.
Symphony of the Night was a direct sequel to this and would take Richter Belmont on to even greater heights, but Rondo of Blood is still an absolutely brilliant game. We live in hope of a 'Castlevania Anniversary Collection 2' that will contain this and a bunch of the other winners featured here. As you can see, there's more than enough brilliant options to pick from.
Here we are: numero uno! The world's introduction to Soma Cruz takes the title of Best Castlevania Game in our books because it's possibly the purest distillation of the 'Igavania' style, and a fantastic experience whether you're a grizzled Castlevania veteran or a total newbie who needs whipping into shape. Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow mixes things up not only with its 2035 setting, but also with the introduction of the 'Tactical Soul' system which sees you collect unique equippable abilities from downed enemies. This enables you to customise your approach to combat and stamp your own style on a game already dripping in its own.
Having learned the lessons of its two GBA predecessors, Aria of Sorrow makes great use of the hardware and atones for the audio sins of Harmony of Dissonance with veteran series composer Michiru Yamane providing a soundtrack that stands alongside her best.
There's absolutely zero fat on Aria of Sorrow - none of the needless gimmickry of the DS era - and it's that purity which makes this Nintendo Life's favourite Castlevania ever, despite the protagonist not wielding a whip or even being a Belmont. If a fine port of Symphony of the Night were ever to come to a Nintendo platform, we'd have a tough decision to make. Until that time, Aria of Sorrow is our pick for top vampire killer.
And it's over. Well, for 100 years, at least. Think we've messed up with the list above? As we said at the top, your personal list will likely depend on a variety of factors, including where you started with the series and which flavour of Castlevania you favour. Let us know where you jumped on and your personal favourite(s) below.