The Castlevania franchise rose to prominence on the NES in the earliest days of console gaming. The Belmont families’ struggle against Dracula had become a phenomenon in early gaming, but after the Super Nintendo, the series sort of fell off. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was originally released in Japan exclusively for the PC Engine. Even after a direct sequel was developed, the title didn’t see release in the west until an alternative version was developed titled “Castlevania: Dracula X”. The original wouldn’t see the light of day in the west until 2007s Dracula X Chronicles on the PSP, and there was even a full-on remake in that pack! I’d consider it a disservice to look at any version of this game other than the original. Rereleased for the PlayStation 4 in 2018 as part of the Castlevania: Requiem collection.

The resurrection of Dracula has once again brought terror to the world. This time, he has kidnapped the family and friends of Richter Belmont. Richter is the Belmont bloodlines latest descendant and only hope. Richter decided to challenge Dracula and his forces for the lives of all he has captured. A young vampire huntress, Maria Renard, has also set forth to attempt to stop Dracula. After Richter frees her, they join forces to accomplish their goals.

Richter is a Belmont. Do you want me to tell you something more unique? He keeps the strut, the whip, and the insane knockback, but he’s a far more unique Belmont than most give him credit for. Richter can’t aim his whip in the multiple directions that Simon can in Super Castlevania IV. Richter has quite a bit on his relatives. He can turn around midair after taking off. If you double-tap the jump button Richter will perform a backflip to quickly dodge attacks. This leaves him probably the best Belmont for platforming and aerial combat. Assuming you have the hearts, Richter can also perform a super move with his sub-weapons by pressing the triangle button. I didn’t find too much use in specialties, but a Belmont is a Belmont. As I say that, Belmont’s are super fun.

Richter isn’t going upon this adventure alone. After finding unlocking her, you can play as the vampire huntress Maria Renard. Maria has access to a double jump and tons of her own unique sub-weapons, but she takes much more damage than Richter. Maria becomes very useful in stages that have a lot of difficult platforming. Her basic attacks are two doves that she can send out and will return to her. Imagine a more broken version of the cross weapon. It doesn’t go nearly as far as Richter’s main attack, but it is much more useful for dealing with enemies like the fleamen.

Unlike Castlevania III, you won’t be going through the adventure with them together. You won’t need to have two different files or even stages, but there is no way to switch in the middle of a level. You can switch characters on the main menu or after a game over. With Richter being the Smash fighter, I tried to play most of the game with him. I only resorted to Maria when I felt absolutely necessary.

Level design in Rondo of Blood is, for the most part, pretty good. I never felt lost in my adventure and there were tons of secrets to find hidden in the walls. I sometimes found myself feeling there were too little health refills, but I can see others greatly enjoying the challenge. The difficulty comes from maneuvering your character around while taking as little damage as possible. Each of the levels do a great job at evenly dividing platforming sections with enemy placement. For this being my first playthrough, I felt it much fairer than Super Castlevania IV.

There are major exceptions to that. Quite a few stages become difficult simply because there are too many cheap enemies. Rondo of Blood features quite a few alternate paths. Most seemingly bottomless pits will spit you straight into one. Quite alleviating for stress. Getting a game over simply spits you back to the beginning of a level. This alleviates a lot of the pain, but I did find myself just wishing to give up multiple times.

At the end of each level, you’ll encounter a boss. I’m pretty mixed on the bosses here. None of them felt like impossible challenges of pure rage but there was a huge imbalance. All were either too hot, or too cold, and neither Richter or Goldie enjoy that. This goes all the way to Dracula, who felt far too easy. After my first run of both forms, I only got hit once on the rematch.

Sometimes I got too greedy for Dracula’s head… this is the one time.

Rondo of Blood is a stunning game. It looks and sounds absolutely beautiful. It was designed for the PC Engine, so everything is a bit higher quality than you’d get from the previous titles. Rondo of Blood even features full voice acting and cutscenes in between certain levels. The voice acting hasn’t aged gracefully, and the sprite work is rather crude, but they hold a distinct charm to them. I feel I must bring up my least favorite part of Requiem here. The collection takes advantage of the speaker within the Dualshock 4. It’ll play certain sound effects when you do things like break candles or die. You do these things constantly, and it’s really loud by default. You can turn the speaker all the way down in the PS4 settings, but the sounds are still playing. It drains batteries super fast too, so I found myself disliking it a lot.

My experience with Rondo of Blood was definitely a positive one. I enjoyed the secrets, the music, the beautiful graphics, and most of the stages. I didn’t enjoy this game as much as Super Castlevania IV, but I might recommend it as a better starting point. This was quite the tough one to get your hands on back in the day, but has been re-released a ton now. I love the Castlevania series and I think this is definitely one of the best. Just don’t expect good voice acting.

Castlevania joined the Smash Bros. franchise in Ultimate. Funnily enough, Nintendo themselves accidentally leaked the inclusion on their official Youtube channel. They were constantly releasing sneak peeks of songs from Ultimate pre-launch. They had accidentally named the Galaga Medley “Bloody Tears / Monster Dance”, a song from the Castlevania franchise. The series received two fighters, tons of spirits, a stage, an assist trophy, and a boss. To say it is well represented, albeit long overdue, is an understatement.

Richter serves as the echo fighter to Simon Belmont. I think that should’ve been switched around. Simon is the poster boy of the franchise, but the Smash moveset is based more around Richter’s moves. Most of the Castlevania content is based around Rondo of Blood. The Dracula boss actually gets most of his moves from this game. I can’t give any problem for Richter in Smash. Just seeing him here was a surprise to me, and to see him so well represented made it that much better.