It's Halloween month, which means a lot of gamers are busting out the scary games and getting in the holiday spirit. Castlevania is a popular series to get into the mood with, given all of the monsters and such being in the game. The series is based on classic Universal monster movies, like The Mummy, Frankenstein, and of course, Dracula. However, if you decide to play a Castlevania game, make sure it's in 2D. Unfortunately, the series has never been able to make the jump from 2D to 3D successfully. Publisher Konami has tried. Six times in fact, but whether trying to build it in-house or with a third party developer, they never captured the essence of the series or make a good game for that matter. So just to be sure you know what to look out for, here are the six 3D Castlevania games that have been made.
Castlevania (Nintendo 64)
Also known as Castlevania 64, this is the first 3D Castlevania game and it is rough. You play as either Reinhardt Schneider or Carrie Fernandez and battle through Dracula's estate manor to stop him from rising to power. It's an action platformer with survival horror elements and it tries to bring the classic Castlevania style to the third dimension. Platforming is a big component of this game but it feels imprecise and jumps lack weight and proper momentum. Combat has gotten the Zelda treatment, with a targeting reticle added, but it barely helps. You'll often find yourself flailing around desperately trying to hit things. Finally, the levels can be both uninteresting and cryptic. The level design just doesn't lead to intuitive discoveries most of the time. There's no real flow to the game at all, making this a middling experience.
Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness
Legacy of Darkness is an updated version of Castlevania 64 but with a prequel adventure added, as well as redone level design, and better presentation. It's an odd game as it has two new characters to play as first to complete the prequel adventure, only for you to unlock Reinhardt and Carrie from Castlevania 64 to play their adventure from that game but with the updated designs of this game. You might say its a weird Frankenstein's monster of a game. The game does look better than the previous game but the gameplay hasn't received the same treatment. Sure, one of the new characters, Cornell, can transform into a werewolf, but the janky platforming and combat are still present and the new level design isn't enough of an improvement to save the game.
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
This is the first 3D Castlevania game to be directed by Koji Igarashi and the first 3D Castlevania game to follow the Metroidvania style of gameplay. It's also a prequel to the entire series so there's a lot of firsts happening with this game. You play as Leon Belmont, searching a vampire's castle for his beloved. Unlike the previous two games, Lament of Innocence feels more like a fully realized idea that was finished to completion. However, some aspects from the previous games managed to latch onto this game as well. The art design, while looking pretty good, doesn't lend itself to the multiple rooms in the game, leading to a lot of the game looking very similar. The combat is more fleshed out than previously, but many of the enemies stay the same. Unfortunately, this means that much of the game feels extremely repetitive and derivative, regardless of the quality of the mechanics themselves or the art design. This might be the best 3D Castlevania game, but it still falls short.
Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
The next Igarashi 3D Castlevania, the game attempts to push the game further into the Metroidvania style with mixed results. Equipable weapons instead of the whip and sub-weapon system of the previous game as well as the Innocent Devils system helped make the gameplay deeper than its predecessor. However, the world was expanded outside of a castle and into Europe as a whole. Forests, mountains, ruins, and more are included. Unfortunately, the art design doesn't take advantage of the various locales and their visual possibilities. The result is these huge sections that look similar to each other with fog obscuring a lot of the way forward. A lot of the game due to its non-linearity is you running around bland environments, ignoring fights, just trying to get to where you need to go. As you can imagine, the bigger scale made the game loop unbelievably repetitive and derivative! This was the last 3D Castlevania game for five years and you can see why.
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Konami decided to get some outside help for the next 3D Castlevania game, seeing as even the Shepard of Castlevania couldn't make a great 3D entry for the franchise. Enter MercurySteam, a Spanish developer known for sleeper hit titles American McGee's Scrapland and Clive Barker's Jericho. Hideo Kojima, of Metal Gear Solid fame, was also brought on as a producer to oversee the project. Despite Kojima there to steer the ship right, so to speak, the game is honestly basic. Both the platforming and Metroidvania styles are tossed aside for a God of War-style action-adventure game, except extremely dumbed down. Combat is heavy on the button mashing and new abilities don't often feel helpful, at least any more helpful than the basic attacks and strings you have. Puzzles are an afterthought. The presentation lacks polish with the book aesthetic looking like an early render of Kameo: Elements of Power, which at that point was a five-year-old game, and the console versions of this game look really rough. Worst of all, very little of this game feels like Castlevania. It's unfortunate as MercurySteam would make a 2D Castlevania game, Mirror of Fate, a few years later and while it's not a great game, it feels and plays way more like a Castlevania game. And yet...
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2
...That doesn't mean Castlevania can't be done in an action-adventure style and still maintain its essence. Lords of Shadow 2 is something of a tragic title. Largely ignored by the time it was released, it's actually a huge leap from the first game. Combat has been vastly improved and the new open-world design gives the game more of a Metroidvania feel to it, keeping it close to its roots. Visuals were also vastly improved and the overall presentation is better all around. However, ideas like the modern era sections and an overall drab art design brought the game down to being yet another well-intentioned but middling 3D Castlevania game. Too much in this game becomes redundant and boring. While not a great game, this might be the most underrated of the 3D Castlevania games.
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