Today marks the 25th anniversary of the very first Castlevania game -- one you likely didn't play, since it came out only on the Japanese MSX computer. But luckily for millions of fans worldwide, it was ported to the NES, a system with much wider appeal, and touched off a franchise that has enraptured fans of movie monsters, whip-wielding barbarians, fur-coated bishounen, and frustration.
In honor of that anniversary, and the relative obscurity built into its circumstances, we've rounded up some aspects of the series that may have gotten lost in the labyrinthine reaches of your brain, like a delicious pot roast hidden behind a brick wall.
The Japan-only Sega Saturn port of Symphony of the Night
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is considered by many to be the best game in the series, and one of the most influential games of its generation. And yet, most gamers have never played the Sega Saturn version, which included more content than its PlayStation counterpart. The Saturn version featured new areas of the castle (one of which can be seen above), more weapons, an extra boss fight and even a new playable character, Maria.
The reason most people have never played it: The Saturn version of Symphony of the Night was released exclusively in Japan in 1998, a year after the original PlayStation release. Thus, the extra content was limited only to those who could import the title and were willing to brave an ocean of Japanese text and dialogue.
The Castlevania movie(s)
One. Two. Two cancelled Castlevania movies, ah ha ha ha ha.
First, the Paul W.S. Anderson-helmed project sought to bring the, uh ... expertise of the Resident Evil filmmaker to the Castlevania series. After a series of complications, not the least of which were the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, the sale of the studio producing the film, and Anderson's departure to direct Death Race, this Castlevania origin story was finally staked in May 2009 ... or was it? Saw filmmaker James Wan's name turned up attached to the project a few months later proving you can't kill a good vampire movie for long.
If that wasn't mysterious enough, we have the direct-to-DVD animated project based on Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse and written by comic book author, and general raconteur, Warren Ellis. The movie never materialized, despite frequent updates on its production. At one point Ellis suggested it would be broken into three separate films and, a year later, he reported that the project was still on track. A year later, in 2008, the official production blog wrote, "Discussions are ongoing." Indeed.
Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night
Castlevania: Harmony of Despair may be the most notorious game of last year to take its assets wholesale from previous 'Vanias, but it's not the only one. Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night makes for an odd companion piece, an iPhone puzzle game that lifts graphics from Symphony of the Night and applies them to concepts from Puzzle Fighter.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this hybrid of match-three, RPG, and Castlevania -- it's pretty good!
Captain N and the Dreadful Simon Belmont
Captain N: The Game Master bastardized ... well, pretty much every video game character it featured, but perhaps none more so than Simon Belmont. In the Castlevania series, Simon Belmont is part of a long line of vampire hunters, and has often been featured as a protagonist. Employing the Vampire Killer whip, holy water, wooden stakes and other undead-slaying implements, Simon can always be counted on to save the world from Dracula's evil plans.
In Captain N, however, Simon is reduced to little more than an easily befuddled pretty boy more obsessed with his hair than with killing vampires. We couldn't possibly encapsulate how off base his character is, but the above YouTube video seems like a good place to start.
Kid Dracula and Konami Wai Wai World
Judgment might still be the weirdest Castlevania game, but a couple of NES/Famicom-era spinoffs come close. Kid Dracula (or Boku Dracula-kun) stars a young, mischievous Dracula adventuring through his castle and out into the world, shooting fireballs much like his adult self in other Vanias. The final boss, Galamoth, eventually made it into other Castlevania games, and later became associated with time travel and time manipulation -- fitting for someone who first appeared in an alternate-universe prequel. The Game Boy version of this game actually came out in the West.
Konami Wai Wai World and its sequel weren't really Castlevania games, but as Konami crossover games, they contained Castlevania characters and levels. Each character is found in a themed level, and can then be played in the other levels -- so it's totally possible to take Mikey from The Goonies through a Castlevania level, for instance, or to have Simon in a Goemon level. The vampire hunter returned for a sequel; neither game made it outside of Japan.
Intended to appear on the Dreamcast as the 17th Castlevania game, Castlevania: Resurrection featured not one but two Belmonts working in concert. Castlevania Legends star Sonia Belmont and new addition Victor Belmont had been plucked from the 1400s and 1800s respectively and plopped into 1666 to ... well, you can probably guess.
(Did you guess "Kill Dracula?" Because it was that.)
What would have been the third 3D Castlevania game was reportedly staked by disagreements between Konami's Japan and U.S. branches and the premature death of the Dreamcast.
Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth
You may not have heard of this 2009 title which, alongside the better received Contra ReBirth, provided an unapologetically old school downloadable experience. The reason you may not have heard of it: It was a WiiWare exclusive.
This $10 title offers something of a remake/reimagining (perhaps a ReBirth?) of the 1989 Game Boy original, Castlevania: The Adventure. Taking its gameplay cues from the S/NES era of Castlevania titles (read: action) as opposed to the exploration-driven titles later in the series, Castlevania: The Adventure ReBirth put players in the shoes of Simon Belmont's ancestor, the far more handsome Christopher Belmont who must kill the evil vampire Dracula. What else did you expect?
Vs. Castlevania and Haunted Castle
Castlevania made two appearances in arcades in the mid-80s. Vs. Castlevania was designed for Nintendo's PlayChoice 10 arcade machines, and was based on the NES game. It's basically the same game, with new, harder difficulty settings.
Haunted Castle is actually an original game built specifically for arcades. It covers most of the same ground, but looks totally different, and is much slower and more awkward. You're also stuck with just one life, which would be a problem in any Castlevania, much less one where you move sluggishly and have to face even more enemies. Luckily, there's no incentive to even try to push yourself through this game -- it's really bad. If you're totally committed to playing it, you can pick up the PS2 release -- it was put out on its own disc, in Japan only, in 2006.
Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest -- The Impossible Quest
Simon Belmont's second outing in the Castlevania series -- Simon's Quest -- is a right bastard of a game. Aside from being super difficult (surprise, it's Castlevania!), poor localization made some puzzles nigh-indecipherable to a young child, nonetheless a grownup. Take for instance, the case of Deborah Cliff. Without a playthrough guide, North American players would have no idea that, at one point in Simon's Quest, you must:
Kneel in front of a seemingly random wall
Equip a specific crystal before kneeling in front of said wall
Wait for a few seconds for a mysterious tornado, which transports Simon to his next destination
Only one glaring problem -- when Simon's Quest was localized from Japanese to English, the book passage that was supposed to tip off the player to this very specific set of instructions wasn't exactly taken care of. "Show/present the red crystal in front of Deboarh's cliff and wait for the wind" turned into "Wait for a soul with a red crystal on Deboarah Cliff" in the North American release of Simon's Quest, and, well, many folks never finished the game as a result. I'd love to be able to blame the game's legendarily poor localization myself, but I never made it that far. Turns out I just wasn't that good at Simon's Quest.
Perhaps better off remaining in the secret pile, Castlevania: Order of Shadows was unleashed on mobile phones in 2007. The Java game follows Desmond Belmont as he and his two sisters explore Dracula's castle in search of a cleverly named cult called "The Order" that's attempting to resurrect Dracula. The Lord of Darkness spends the entire game complaining about his wife pawning his guitar, stereo and leather jacket, even though he's explained to her like a hundred times that he'll only ever be dead for a couple of weeks at any given time.
At least, we'd guess Dracula does that. We haven't played it.