Tom Ranks The Castlevanias
Bear with me here, I had to write *something* or I'd go nuts
Hey folks. You may or may not have noticed that we live in a profoundly cruel world that rewards the unthinking infliction of pain. As a result, we Sickos, like yourself, have been experiencing “Major Brain Trauma.” To combat this Tom decided it would be good to do a lil writing project. For the sake of maintaining brain momentum, we decided to just send it out as the entire newsletter. Lol. Hope you are OK with that. If this seems boring to you, no need to read! There is nothing in there that will change your mind!
TOM RANKS THE CASTLEVANIAS
One thing about the Anbernic is that there’s a lot of Castlevanias on it. The main part of Castlevania is that you are an arthritic man in Halloween world. These games simply slit throats. I will now rank them. (NB: games within tiers are ranked in order)
THE BIG DICK KINGS TIER
Castlevania: Rondo of Blood:
I have gone my whole life hearing about how good Rondo of Blood is, the mysterious Japan-only Castlevania exclusively for the PC Engine CD-ROM2, a console that was purchased by seven Japanese freaks who all became designers for King of Fighters. The Anbernic finally allowed me to gain easy access to a English-translated ROM and give it a try.
What can I say, folks? It is the best of the linear Castlevanias. The best graphics, best music, best difficulty (hard as shit but not bullshit hard), great bosses, great levels. Richter’s moveset is pretty rigid (no angled whip) but the levels aren’t designed to fuck you over like earlier games so you don’t mind.
Rondo of Blood also has two stages per level depending on whether you find a secret exit, which means 2 games per game. Plus you can unlock Maria Renard and play as her which is basically easy mode (it rules to play as Maria). The rep is correct folks. Rondo is the best one.
Most people (myself included) associate Castlevania with Nintendo (NES. SNES, GBA, DS) and PlayStation. Imagine my surprise when the single Sega Castlevania game is the second best one.
Bloodlines is unusual among Castlevanias for being almost laser-focused on action and combat with very few major platforming challenges, and folks, it rules!
Some big genius moves here: we have two playable characters, one of whom has a spear and the other has the famous whip. The spear guy has a long reach but slow attack, and can stab diagonally and straight up when on the ground. The whip guy can only whip straight ahead on the ground, but can whip diagonally and straight up when in the air. They both have a degree of flexibility that makes them play very differently, as situations that will be baby mode to spear man are tough for whip man and vice versa.
Also they take the shitty subweapons out! A lot of the Castlevania subweapons are joke mode and should never be taken. In Bloodlines, you have the cross (it’s actually a normal looking boomerang, but in practice it’s the cross), the axe, and the holy water. You will notice these three subweapons are Simon’s specials from Smash Bros. That’s because Smash Bros only took the good ones.
Bosses kick ass, graphics are good (lots of stupid over-the-top setpieces that highlight the Genesis’s strengths) and a killer soundtrack. I’ve played through this one a few times and still burn for it.
Castlevania Symphony of the Night:
I actually haven’t replayed this one yet but like, come on, you gotta put this one up here. The originator of the non-linear, Metroidvania-style Castlevania, it’s so good you understand why they basically gave up on linear Castlevanias after this (also because there was very little room for improvement after Rondo of Blood and Bloodlines). Alucard is constantly getting little goodies and treats and the numbies go up. Incredible stuff.
THE BIG HITTERS TIER
Castlevania Aria of Sorrow:
The best GBA Castlevania, easy. The base formula of the GBA titles is “do Symphony of the Night again but on a weaker system” which is gonna give you a lesser version of SOTN most of the time, but Aria of Sorrow doubles down on the RPG bullshit with the protagonist Soma’s soul capture ability. Basically every once in a while when you kill an enemy its soul will shoot into you. You can equip three souls (broken up into, essentially, subweapon souls, special extra ability souls, and passive effect souls), meaning that as you accrue a ton of these things you can really get nutty with messing with your guy. The game’s not that hard so you can get silly with trying fun combos.
What keeps it out of the above tier is the story is laughably badly told. None of these games have much of a story, but this one really is just like, every once in a while Soma will come across some guy standing still in a room deep in Dracula’s castle (how did they get there) and they will speak two sentences to each other and the game is like “wow! Some cutscene, huh?” A guy will be like “Soma, you asshole, you worm, I will kill you! You bitch! Anyway, I too wish Dracula to go away” and Soma will be like “that guy will never turn evil” and then become devastated when he turns evil. Also, I got like the best weapon from the shop about midway through the game and I never found anything better? Very disappointing! I wanted to swap out to something else but nothing better ever came. Imo a shop item should never be the best item.
Super Castlevania 4:
The big famous SNES one! Great graphics, great soundtrack, and Simon’s moveset in this one is notably nutso. He can whip in 8 directions at any time and can change his jump trajectory in mid-air like Mario. At this point in the series’ history, this level of flexibility of movement was unthinkable. And to be sure the user experience of controlling Simon is absolutely frictionless. Herein lies the issue that keeps this off the above tier: Simon is too good at jumping and whipping.
This seems dumb but the facts are the game is too easy. The thrilling challenge never quite comes because Simon is simply overequipped for these levels. They balance this out by adding a lot of bullshit ways to insta-die that I hate. Also, the bosses are mid. They are not memorable.
Oh also, this is a minor thing, but this game has the mechanic where if you kill a lot of enemies with the same subweapon, you can get a double and triple shot powerup that lets you cast the subweapon more times in a row. OK, cool. But here’s the thing: the cross is the only good subweapon in this game, and if you pick up a different one, the double/triple shot goes away. So when you’re kitted out with the cross, the actual difficult part of the game is “how do I whip enough candles to ensure I have enough cross ammo but avoid picking up another subweapon by accident?” Also, and I realize this is a problem of my own making, but when you have the triple shot cross, the game becomes even easier. The bosses (already mid) just melt in a second. I know I could simply not use the cross, but that is suboptimal play and I refuse to do that.
It’s got an aggravating amount of bullshit difficulty, as you would expect from an NES game, and as such I can’t countenance ranking it higher than this. But this to me is where the series starts to understand what it means to go sicko mode. The famous bit here is you have four characters to choose from who each play very differently and I gotta say the novelty goes a long way. I still prefer the more refined titles mentioned above but I still have a hankering to put a lot more hours into this one.
THE CLOCK-PUNCHER TIER
The original! Gotta give this one its due for starting it all and having songs so iconic they recur in almost every other game. The gameplay, overall theme, core design, etc are all obviously extremely strong, as they were the foundation of one of gaming’s great series. But there is very little here that is not done much better in later titles. Feels like a first draft of a great work. Obviously good but it’s hard not to see the flaws.
Castlevania: Circle of the Moon:
The first of the GBA Castlevanias! It’s thoroughly OK. It doesn’t have a lot of unique selling points now that it’s not “the only portable Castlevania with good graphics,” but it gets the job done. The power system where you combine two cards is kinda cool but I wouldn’t call it out as especially engaging. One thing I’ve noticed as I’m playing is it feels like gravity is way stronger in this one. Your guy falls really fast compared to any other Castlevania and it takes a lot to get used to. The timing for whipping things mid-jump is all wonky. This isn’t necessarily bad, but still, what a choice to make out of nowhere.
THE BOTTOM TIER
Castlevania Dracula X:
Supposedly this is a remake of Rondo of Blood for the US on SNES. It’s not so good! It doesn’t have the two-levels-per-level of Rondo of Blood and is stupid bullshit hard. Not fun! At this point in the series they should have had that shit dialed in. Bloodlines and Rondo of Blood are perfect difficulty. This one is just cruel! The final Dracula fight is nonsense hard—it’s fought entirely on a series of pillars over a bottomless pit so if you get hit ever you fall in and instantly die. You can also just jump wrong and you can’t change your trajectory mid-jump and fall in. More than anything though, it suffers most if you’ve played Rondo of Blood because the whole time you’re looking at Richter you’re thinking “shouldn’t you be in a better game?”
Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance:
this GBA one is not so good! The main character’s sprite looks like shit. Looking at it sucks to me.
He has a dash ability with no cooldown and is much faster than his walking speed so this guy moves around 100% by just hurling his bodyweight forward. What an asshole.
For real though, this is the same “SOTN but on weaker hardware” issue Aria of Sorrow had but without the fun unique additions that made that game great. This just makes me feel like I’m playing store brand SOTN. The gimmick here is that the castle has like, multiple layers? It’s poorly communicated and I didn’t really get it and I quit playing before the end. Not up to snuff.
HAVEN’T PLAYED IT YET TIER:
Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest
Castlevania the Adventure
Castlevania 2: Belmont’s Revenge
The DS ones (don’t work on the single-screen Anbernic)
Any of the 3D ones
That’s all from the Sickos for now. Thank you for humoring me. We’ll be back next week with episode 100 (holy shit)