Last week we listed the very best of the iconic and revolutionary Castlevania series. This week, we’re flipping the castle upside down and counting down the most disappointing, disparaging and down right awful moments of Dracula’s legacy. Given the franchise’s 30 year legacy, there were bound to be more than a few clunkers in the mix. But what’s most surprising is how recent the downfall came, with the majority of the list having been released in the past seven years. Perhaps that’s a testament to the overall quality of Castlevania, but we’re not here to celebrate it.
To separate the bad from the worst, the following games have been rated on their originality, concept and execution. Simon’s Quest may have frustrated 80’s children and internet celebrities alike, but given its unique concepts and place in history, all is forgiven. Castlevaniaon the Nintendo 64 (often incorrectly identified as Castlevania 64) will also be absent from this list. While it’s certainly a bad game in its own right, the jump to 3D provided a staggering number of hurdles that few franchises, if any, would overcome. No, we’re here to discuss the worst of the worst in descending order. Here are the Top 5 Worst Castlevania Games.
5. Castlevania Legends
When Castlevania: The Adventure launched for the original Game Boy, Nintendo’s plucky handheld was less than a year old. For that reason, Adventure could be forgiven for it’s limited gameplay, missing features and generic level design. After all, the era of portable systems had just begun, with many developers still unsure of how to entertain audiences looking for a game on the go. While not a good game, Adventure laid the groundwork for future entries to evolve into a more recognizable and enjoyable version of Castlevania.
Apparently those lessons went ignored. By 1997 Zelda, Metroid, Mario, Donkey Kong, Kirby,Mega Man and even Pokemon enjoyed commercial and critical acclaim on the Game Boy’s nearly decade-old hardware. Eight years after the release of Adventure, Castlevania Legendsshambled its way onto the Game Boy with minimal changes to it’s 1989 predecessor. Sub-Weapons (a series staple) were still missing, substituted by Soul Weapons, an ill-defined system of enhancements to Sonia Belmont’s whip. Lives were still limited to three, making Legends’ long, generic levels and tough enemies all the more tedious. Even an appearance from Symphony of the Night’s Alucard couldn’t save the dull story line, originally intended as the origin of the Belmont/Dracula feud.
Series Producer Koji Igarashi agreed with the critics, removing Legends from the Castlevaniacannon all together and referring to the entry as an “embarrassment.”
4. Castlevania: Order of Shadows
By 2007, Castlevania had not only gained its footing in the handheld space, it excelled at creating deep and compelling gameplay experiences that were celebrated by fans and publications alike. Konami would then turn its focus to the growing mobile phone market for Dracula’s latest evil resurrection. Rather than embracing the technological advancements of the newly released iPhone, Castlevania: Order of Shadows would be released on aging, Java-based flip phones.
The results were certainly less than stellar. Due to platform limitations, Order’s animations, world and enemy diversity were drastically limited. Despite a RPG stat system, an impressively sized inventory and unlockable moves, most players would see the sun rise in just over 30 minutes. Exploration was encouraged but without the use of a map, many ofOrder’s secrets would go unseen. A surprisingly good soundtrack would have to suffice audiophiles, as sound effects were nowhere to be heard. Disappointing reviews ensured thatOrder would be the first and only original Castlevania adventure ever to be released on mobile devices. After all, who wants to kill Dracula with a keypad?
3. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow—Mirror of Fate
Five years after Igarashi unleashed his final portable masterpiece, Order of Ecclesia, theCastlevania franchise was in a transitional phase. While never a financial success,Castlevania< had become a staple for Nintendo handhelds. With a new generation looming, Konami would once again unleash Dracula onto a portable system, though this time Igarashi would not be involved. 2010’s Lords of Shadow brought the series in line with contemporary action titles of the late 2000s, but many long time fans lamented the loss of exploration and RPG elements. MercurySteam (Lords of Shadow) hoped to rectify this with a title that would blend both Castlevania franchises with the 3DS’ first (and last) series entry.
What resulted was a Castlevania that pleased few and confused many. Mirror of Fate would continue the series’ 2D tradition, but with modern combat sensibilities. Combo-based attacks would resemble a Beat 'Em Up instead of the action-platformer gameplay many had come to expect. Simple enemies would often block incoming attacks, requiring the players to master needlessly complicated grabs and dashes. Worse yet Gabriel, Alucard and Simon’s adventure would feel downright empty, with monsters only occasionally attacking in pairs and always as the same enemy type. Gone were the lavishly designed creatures, characters and locations, instead replaced by muddy backgrounds that lacked identity or a distinct color pallet. Even with its 3D models and advanced hardware, Mirror of Fate failed to live up to the 16-year-old games that influenced its creation.
Plus it made Alucard’s wolf transformation look like a furry costume. That’s just wrong.
2. Castlevania Judgement
Castlevania was always a horror themed series, but nothing scared fans and critics quite like 2008’s Castlevania Judgement on the Wii. As a 3D fighting game, Judgement is an absolute mess, requiring players to wildly swing their Wiimotes in the air to perform normal and special attacks. Even if players opted to use the Wii Classic Controller, the fixed camera perspective would constantly adjust to an obscured view in both single player or versus modes. Environments were laced with traps, often breaking the flow of the already hitchy gameplay. With only a handful a combos and an emphasis on jumping, Judgement was a simple button masher, albeit without buttons.
But it was Judgement’s representation of the series’ legacy that truly angered the legion ofCastlevania fans. The thin story involved time travelers uniting centuries of Dracula’s faithful servants and the Belmont clan to take on the Time Reaper. Fan favorites such as Castlevania 3’s Grant, Symphony of the Night’s Alucard and the original Castlevania’s Simon Belmont were awkwardly redesigned by Death Note’s Takeshi Obata to fit Japan’s modern fashion. A painfully bad English voice cast would appear in nearly every section of the game except for the credits. Though defended by some series devotees during it’s initial release, Judgementhas since been regarded as one of the worst fighting games of all time.
1. Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow 2
SPOILERS FOR THE ORIGINAL LORDS OF SHADOW ARE INCLUDED IN THE SECTION.
After 12 years of cooly received 3D attempts, Castlevania finally achieved commercial and critical success with 2010’s Lords of Shadow. While it lacked many of the signature elements of it’s previous titles, the God of War-style gameplay impressed many modern action fans. But it was its plot twist that left many thirsty for another MercurySteam adventure. In the final cut-scene of Lords of Shadow, the game’s protagonist, Gabriel Belmont, becomes the Lord of Darkness himself, Dracula. Even more intriguing was the reveal of a futuristic city, leaving many to wonder how the sequel would take advantage of this new environment.
In a word: Poorly. Lords of Shadow 2 continued the combo-based hack-and-slash combat of the original without any meaningful adjustments. Dracula’s whip was simply replaced by a trail of blood, with his new weapons replicating many of the abilities seen four years prior. The near constant quicktime attacks were apparently so inconsequential that MercurySteam allowed players to turn them off entirely. Gothic and modern enemies were nearly interchangeable, making the fast combat monotonous within the first few chapters. Over three hours of poorly written cut-scenes constantly interrupt gameplay, accounting for nearly 17% of the game’s campaign. But the most infuriating sections were the poorly designed stealth sequences, requiring the powerful Dracula to avoid generic soldiers and their rapidly fluctuating eyesight.
While small story beats were praised, most critics agreed that Lords of Shadow 2 was a bad game. Director Enric Álvarez vocally dismissed his game’s detractors, blaming their personal expectations for the universally low review scores. Soon after, anonymous sources detailed the troubled development of Lords of Shadow 2. Álvarez was frequently described as a dismissive director, quickly shooting down ideas from his team, resulting in key people leaving the studio during development. Regardless, Lords of Shadow 2 was a bloated, self-serious mess that sold less than a fifth of the original. With poor reviews and sales, MercurySteam may have finally slain Dracula and his demonic castle once and for all.
Do these games stink worse than garlic? Let us know in the comments below.