The Dark Metamorphosis Of Castlevania's Classic Monsters
When the original Castlevania hit the NES in 1986, courageous adventurers were tasked with conquering six levels of a haunted castle. While six locations may seem like a short order on paper, the game's punishing difficulty humbled even the hardiest demon slayers. The six bosses – the giant bat, Medusa, the Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster, Death, and Dracula – were responsible for much of the frustration. Unfortunately, not every vampire slayer has endured a horrible night in Castlevania and lived to to see the numerous incarnations of those six core villains. Come along with us as we brave the halls of Castlevania and examine its deadly regulars.
Before you dive in, we recommend that you select some spooky music to set the mood.
The Giant Bat
After Simon Belmont whips his way through a horde of zombies and wards off leaping mermen in the NES debut of Castlevana, he’s confronted with his first true test. At the end of castle Dracula’s lengthy entryway a gigantic bat descends from above, swooping down to chomp big chunks out of the hero’s life bar. Like the iconic whip or castle itself, the giant bat has remained a staple of the Castlevania series since its first appearance in the original game.
Not only has the mammoth flying mammal been in practically every game, the encounter has pretty much gone unchanged. The bat harms the vampire slayer with dive bombing and idle flapping. Konami spices up the aging formula a bit in later entries. In Super Castlevania IV, Simon encounters the Zapf Bat – an animated pile of gold shaped like a huge bat. Konami toys with players’ expectations once again in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. After a dramatic introduction, the familiar boss is abruptly crushed by a giant lurking in the background, leading to an unexpected fight. Considering Dracula is traditionally depicted as holding the power to summon and control bats and other creatures of the night, it’s no surprise that the beast has a tenured role in Castlevania.
Long before Kratos was decapitating Gorgons, the Belmont clan was vanquishing this iconic villain. Medusa's evil influence is represented in numerous ways throughout the franchise. Her most annoying attribute is the ability to unleash clones of her head throughout levels, which swing through the air in an effort to knock unprepared vampire slayers to their doom. Certain variations turn the victim to stone, requiring the player to shake free or risk being shattered.
While flying Medusa heads have remained a constant nuisance throughout the series, the snake-haired lady as a boss has changed significantly. She first appears as giant floating head at the end of the first Castlevania's second level, spawning snakes as she writhes under Simon's volleys of Holy Water. In Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, Trevor Belmont encounters a bed of snakes which slither together to form a humanoid-serpent hybrid. In the North American version of the game, the snake queen's naked feminine torso is replaced with that of a burly chested man, resulting in the Snake Man Sentinel replacement. Both versions wield a bow that launches snakes through the air like arrows. In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Medusa rediscovers her roots in Greek mythology and arms herself with a sword and shield, blasting Alucard with her petrifying stare. As long as a Castlevania game has platforming, you can bet Lord Dracula will continue employing this malevolent mythological beast.
The Mummy (King Akmodan)
Simon's first run-in with the embalmed baddie is a double threat. Two mummies rise from the ground at the end of Castlevania's third act. These dead Egyptian kings pack an unexpected projectile attack, launching their corrupt wrappings at the player. In Super Castlevania IV, the resurrected ruler engages Simon in battle upon the hands of a giant clock tower. Instead of relying on decayed limbs for mobility, the mummy teleports between several locations and launches volleys of bandages. Dracula X taps a more literal interpretation of a power held by ancient Egyptian Pharaohs: the ability to direct huge slabs of stone. Instead of building pyramids with them, however, the mummy attempts to squash Richter Belmont under the summoned blocks. In Symphony of the Night, Akmodan II makes a traditional appearance with the added hazard of a poisonous cloud.
If a mummy doesn't appear as a boss in a Castlevania game, you'll usually see a few pop up as normal enemies. In Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin, mummies crawl from the desert sands to harass the player. The Egyptian boss formula also changes in Portrait of Ruin. The player encounters Elgiza, a sand golem wearing a giant Tutankhamun-esque death mask. The player must destroy Elgiza's tremendous fists to expose the vulnerable mask beneath, eventually bashing it to bits and destroying the ancient menace. While Elgiza isn't technically a preserved corpse, the King Tut mask puts the beast in definite mummy territory.
If the original Castlevania is full of difficult speed bumps, the game's first brick wall is comes in the form of a lumbering reincarnated abomination. The twisted spawn of Victor Frankenstein shambles onto the screen at the end of act four, accompanied by a tiny man. Though the miniscule monster looks identical to the garden variety Flea Man enemy, Konami asks us to believe this one is Igor, Dr. Frankenstein's infamous hunchbacked assistant. The tiny pest leaps around the stage launching fireballs as Frankenstein's Creature trudges towards Simon. The famous monster fits in perfectly with Castlevania's classic movie monster vibe, and thus Frankie's fate was sealed for the rest of the series.
The ill-fated Dr. Frankenstein must have been busy, as his monster returns again and again, often with the same limited mobility and intimidating stature. In Castlevania III, the demented science project stomps the earth in a rage, causing boulders to rain down. Simon Belmont encounters the demon shambling around an abandoned laboratory in Super Castlevania IV. In the SNES game, Frankenstein's Creature tosses countless vials filled with noxious chemicals. Several games tap even deeper into the film version of Frankenstein, allowing the beast to wield the force of lightning from which it was given life. While Frankenstein's Creature doesn't harness electricity in Symphony of the Night, it is gargantuan and wields a hammer. Castlevania fans who owned a N64 were treated to the most terrifying iteration of the monster. Players encounter a perplexing hedge maze in Castlevania 64 made even more challenging by the invulnerable, chainsaw-wielding flesh golem stalking within. The most dramatic departure for this foe's appearance is in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. Instead of reassembling pieces of human corpses, Dr. Frankenstein implants a human brain into a giant mechanical electrical scorpion.
You might expect to face off with the Grim Reaper at the climax of a game featuring every Halloween baddie under the moon. Dream on, because Death answers directly to Lord Dracula, making him the most daunting right-hand man of all time. The original Castevania's fifth level concludes with the Reaper as he makes the first stand of many to protect his dark master. The cowled skeleton wields his iconic scythe in an attempt to stop Simon Belmont once and for all. Making matters worse, tiny spinning scythes phase into existence and fly towards the vampire killer. The battle with Death is a difficult one and solidified the hooded figure as Dracula's eternal guardian.
In Castlevania III, Death appears near the end of the castle again. The battle plays out much like the first game until the boss' life meter is depleted, after which he transforms into a gigantic laughing skull and fights on. This marks the first instance of one of Death's recurring characteristics: the ability to transform into a grotesque killing machine upon the destruction of his first form. In Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Death's role as Dracula's primary thug is expanded. Upon entering Castle Dracula, the Grim Reaper appears, warns Alucard to cease his quest to destroy his father, and promptly robs him of his powerful gear. Alucard then scavenges for a new arsenal in the bowels of the castle before facing off with Death once again. After Alucard deals enough damage, Death transforms into a huge skeletal prawn with scythe-boomerangs for hands. In Lament of Innocence, a 3D prequel to the series, Death protects a very young Count Dracula, proving his undying loyalty. The 3D PlayStation 2 game marks the first time Death appears as the final boss.
The most recent iteration of Death is also the most over-the-top. In Castlevania; Lords of Shadow, Death appears with his traditional robe and scythe to dissuade Gabriel Belmont from continuing his quest to destroy the titular Lords. To switch things up, the Grim Reaper skips ahead to his second form: a gigantic flying beast called the Dragolich. Gabriel must climb the flying dragon beast Shadows of the Colossus-style and conquer Death the hard way. As in real life, Death will undoubtedly remain a recurring threat in Castlevania.
Many Castlevania titles attempt to put rhyme or reason to the evil manifestation that is Dracula. You can ignore the instruction booklets, shoddy voice acting, and boring text boxes – the only thing that matters is that Dracula is a terrible force that requires a good whipping to the face every hundred years or so. After Simon Belmont ascends the long flight of stairs leading to the Dark Lord, the legendary vampire rises from his coffin. Dracula teleports around the room, opening his blood-red cape to unleash a volley of fireballs at Belmont. After the protagonist crushes the vampire's face with a crucifix, Dracula transforms into a huge demonic beast. Nimbly avoiding the beast's footfalls, Simon lashes the evil entity into another century of sleep.
This first encounter with Dracula set the standard for Castlevania's recurring finale, and little has changed over the years. You'd be hard-pressed to find a Castlevania game in which Dracula doesn't begin the fight by warping around the arena firing some sort of flame projectile. Early Dracula sprites, though primitive, reveal the vampire to be a decayed old man. In Vampire Killer, Dracula has no flesh covering his exposed bones, and in Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, his face is merely a skull. As the Castlevania art style gradually embraced an anime look, Dracula's appearance became human and aristocratic while retaining the stately cape and elegant attire.
What happens to the fiend after his health bar is depleted is always a guessing game. Over the years The Count has transformed into a gigantic version of his own head, a mutated bat, a centipede-like creature, a cyclops with fanged worm appendages, a room-filling death mask, and many more grotesque forms. Save for the previously-mentioned Lament of Innocence, in which Death serves as the final boss, one of Dracula's monstrous mutations always awaits as the true final fight. In several games, including Symphony of the Night, players can falsely complete the game without killing Dracula. In Symphony, Alucard is fooled into believing his ally Richter Belmont has turned against him, when in fact he is possessed by the dark priest Shaft. The sorcerer is responsible for resurrecting Dracula, and must be slain to reveal the true form of Dracula.
Over the span of numerous Castlevania games The Count's personality has ranged from anonymously malevolent to dismissively smug. During the introduction of Symphony of the Night, Dracula engages Richter in a notorious conversation which reveals the vampire's contempt for mankind and his views on the shackles of religion. Dracula reveals a softer side later in the game when confronted by his son Alucard. The soulless monster offers a glimpse of humanity when he displays affection for his son and love for his lost wife. This emotion is fleeting, however, and Dracula remains a menace for the rest of the series.
There have been close calls in the series, but at the end of the day no Castlevania has concluded without Dracula making an appearance. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow gave fans a lengthy scare that Count would be absent, but by the end of the game the Prince of Darkness was worked into the story in the most fascinating way. While I implore you to play the game in its entirety, if you don't plan on finishing it, I insist you watch the game's dramatic conclusion.