By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
There aren’t too many dark corners of the Castlevania legacy that haven’t thoroughly been explored, but here are a couple of the more obscure entries in the series that may be blind spots for even the most rabid of fans.
Vampire Killer (MSX2, 1986)
Because it predated the North American and European releases of the first game by one and two years respectively, and also because fellow Konami series Metal Gear did debut on the MSX, a lot of people have the misconception that the Castlevania franchise actually began with this title. The truth is, the Famicom version of what we know as Castlevania was indeed first. One of many “remakes” of the first Castlevania, Vampire Killer shares a lot of similarities to its forerunner but also some notable differences. The MSX was infamous for its difficulty in scrolling, so the entirety of Vampire Killer is played one static screen at a time. In hinting at the franchise’s eventual “Metroivania” roots, Vampire Killer wasn’t simply a forward-progression affair and required players to find keys that opened the doors to the next areas. There were also zero continues, meaning that once your three lives were spent, you had to start all the way from the beginning of the game. Beyond that, the visuals and music were largely the same between Vampire Killer and Castlevania, and had the same areas types (only with differing layouts) and end bosses. Since it is so similar to Castlevania, if you missed out on Vampire Killer–and you definitely did if you weren’t in Japan or Europe as it was never released in the U.S.–there isn’t much reason to go out of your way to play it now.
Haunted Castle (arcade, 1988)
While there were obviously plenty of NES games ported from the arcade, it was far more rare for an NES game to be ported to the arcade–which is exactly what happened when Castlevania became the arcade game Haunted Castle. What’s ironic is that, even though the NES game came first, Haunted Castle still regressively shared many of the issues that typically plagued side-scrolling arcade games that were fixed by the time of their NES counterpart. Gameplay was much slower and more cumbersome, Simon Belmont’s sprite was too large (which made him an easier target), difficulty was artificially amped up to make you pump in more quarters, and the stages were very simplistic and offered very little in the way of exploration. Haunted Castle at least made use of the added horsepower that its arcade cabinet offered, with much better visuals and music (though it can be argued that the music was only better in terms of sound quality, and not composition). Of course, Super Castlevania IV was just a couple of years away and would make for a much better 16-bit “remake” of the original Castlevania, making the wildly inferior Haunted Castle essentially obsolete. Despite being a minor hit upon its release, Haunted Castle didn’t have much staying power in arcades and became a rarity soon after, with a fairly small number of people being able to say they’ve actually played–or even seen–a cabinet in the wild. The vast majority of those who have played it have had to do so via emulation.
Kid Dracula (Game Boy, 1993)
This is actually the second game in the brief Kid Dracula spin-off series. The original, which was only released in Japan for the Famicom, was called Akumajō Special: Boku Dracula-kun, which translates to “Demon Castle Special: I’m Kid Dracula!” The Game Boy follow up is something of a remake and sequel rolled into one (which the Castlevania series would do again with its two N64 entries). The Japanese name for the Castlevania series is roughly translated as “Demon’s Castle Dracula,” so the Kid Dracula games’ connection to the core series is much less ambiguous than its English localized titles make it seem. Kid Dracula is essentially “Castlevania Jr.” in that it follows the basic conceit of its big brother series but with a much cuter and more cartoonish aesthetic. Gameplay is fairly similar to the level-by-level Castlevania games only a bit more streamlined (though not necessarily much easier). It has been pointed out that both Kid Dracula and Alucard have white hair, suggesting that perhaps the two are meant to be different versions of the same character canonically. Further proof that Kid Dracula isn’t just a completely disposable side-story is that its main antagonist, Galamoth, has since appeared in multiple “real” Castlevania games, including as a boss in the Alucard-starring Symphony of the Night. His time-controlling powers and rivalry with Dracula were also further explored in Castlevania Judgement. Unlike the other games on this list, Kid Dracula is definitely worth revisiting, especially if you missed out on it. It’s a unique and fascinating way to explore the otherwise overly serious Castlevania universe, and is also just a fun little Game Boy platformer.
Castlevania: Order of Shadows (mobile, 2007)
In the pre-smartphone era, at least outside of Japan, having a “mobile version” of a video game franchise was typically a very dicey prospect. The best ones played almost like NES versions of the series that never existed (like the fantastic Splinter Cell mobile games from Gameloft), and the worst ones were barely better than Tiger Electronic games (like the embarrassing God of War mobile game). While Order of Shadows was at the better end of this spectrum, it was still a subpar handheld Castlevania game at a time when you could probably go back and grab any of the excellent GBA games for the outrageous price that mobile games used to go for–one source I found had the original MSRP at $8.99! Props to Shadows for at least giving the game some depth, including having experience points and a basic magic system. It also looked pretty good on a decent flip-phone screen. But playing action games–even slower-paced ones like Castlevania–never felt that great on cell phone buttons, and it’s hard to decide whether that was the game’s biggest detriment or if its extremely short length was. It was the first Castlevania game not to be released in Japan, probably because their mobile games were well beyond such a primitive game at that point (that same year, they were already playing games like Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII). It also wasn’t long after this that Konami partnered with Glu mobile to bring streamlined versions of existing games like Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow to phones. If you’re going to play a simplified Castlevania game on your phone it might as well be one you’re familiar with and not starring non-canon characters you’ll never see or hear from again. Remember Desmond Belmont? Neither does anyone else.
Finally, let’s take a look at what are perhaps the two most famous cancelled Castlevania games (at least as far as ones that were far enough along to have screenshots) via the slideshow below: the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night port for Game.com, and Castlevania: Resurrection for Dreamcast.
Konami had also done preliminary work on a Castlevania title for 32X (sometimes referred to as Castelvania: The Bloodletting), but little is known about that game and no screenshots or renders exist. It is widely believed that most of what was planned for that game evolved into Symphony of the Night.