What a horrible night to have a curse …
In 1993, the 50th issue of the now-defunct Nintendo Power magazine featured a special retrospective. In the article, the magazine staff fondly reminisced upon, among other things, all the complaints they received for the cover of the second issue of NP in 1988. The cover story for that issue of the nascent magazine featured Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. The cover itself featured a model dressed as game protagonist Simon Belmont standing in a cemetery, holding the disembodied head of Dracula at his side.
(For reference, that cover and the cover story content are available to view here.)
Many readers may be familiar with the Castlevania series from its most popular title, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or perhaps from the more recent Castlevania: Lords of Shadow reboot. But just like that classic yet dated magazine cover, the series has made a cultural mark, leading to a Netflix animated series debuting July 7. Along the way, the games have undergone many changes, both in art and gameplay — perhaps more than most other non-Mario or -Zelda adventures.
Our story begins in 1987, with the release of the original Castlevania for the Nintendo Entertainment System (known as Vampire Killer on Japan’s Famicom). The series debut focuses on the story of vampire hunter Simon, who sets out with his trust whip, the vampire killer, to destroy Dracula once and for all. Six stages of increasingly difficult platforming and arcade action await the player in this journey through “Nintendo hard” adventure.
The old, gray box would be home to two other installments in the series: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, which removed the killer countdown clock while introducing several RPG elements and one of the first day/night sequences in a video game; and Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, which introduced a rotating character system and acted as a prequel to the story of Simon Belmont from the first two games, with ancestor Trevor Belmont wielding the whip.
Part III also became the basis for several later installments of the series and is most notable as establishing the recurring character of Alucard, Dracula’s son. (These are the characters — Trevor and Alucard, along with the wall-climbing thief Grant Danasty and white witch Sypha Belnades — believed to be the inspiration for Netflix’s animated series.)
There were a few Game Boy titles, the Castlevania Adventure in 1989 and Belmont’s Revenge two years later, featuring Simon’s ancestor Christopher Belmont. (You can read about those two titles here and here, respectively.)
On the Super Nintendo, only two games in the series were released: Super Castlevania IV and Castlevania: Dracula X. The latter introduced another popular character, Richter Belmont, and is actually a diminished port of the PC engine game Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. According to the fine folks over at fan site The Castlevania Crypt, Super Castlevania IV for the Super Nintendo is an expanded, remastering and retelling of the of the original Castlevania.
Later, fans of the series received the excellent Castlevania: Bloodlines on the Sega Genesis, set during World War I and featuring a descendant of the Belmont clan, John Morris, or his friend, the spear-wielding Eric LeCarde, in the starring role.
Variations on the “Dracula returns every 100 years” theme get recycled throughout most of the series, but somehow it still managed to obtain a large fan following and was, for many years, a staple on most Nintendo systems. Arcade action abounds in the early titles. Later, the series would try two vastly different approaches, with varying degrees of success: full 3-D, arcade style platforming and 2-D open world (later known as Metroidvania style).