Castlevania Grimoire of Souls Title Screen

Review: Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls

I’ve always enjoyed the Castlevania series. Starting with Castlevania on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), I played most of the major entries through to Symphony of the Night on the Playstation. Whenever I had access to a new console, one of the first games I would seek out was whatever Castlevania title was available on the platform. I remember being in awe of the large sprites on Super Castlevania IV. Years later as my interest in video games waned, I would still occasionally go back to Castlevania titles, catching up on ones I missed like the Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine and Bloodlines for the Sega Genesis.

The series’ combination of vampires, horror, and exploration in a side-scrolling format really appealed to me and for a longtime, they were sort of the gold standard of console games for me. Sure, there were better titles out there, but I really liked them. After getting a Playstation 2 (and later a 3), I was surprised to see that the series had changed drastically. My beloved platformers had become (like so many other games) modern 3D adventures. I never got a chance to play the PS2 titles, but I did give Castlevania: Lords of Shadow a try on the PS3. Unfortunately, the series had changed so much, I barely played an hour and moved on to something else. It seemed Castlevania hadn’t made a successful transition to the 3D space and it seemed that many other titles did the action and exploration in 3D much better.

I still held out hope for a “classic”-style Castlevania game. As a result, I was excited when I read news that a mobile 2D Castlevania was being planned. I don’t really enjoy playing games on my phone, but I was willing to set that aside for a chance to play a new entry in one of my favorite series. Sadly, the game only had a limited release in Japan and Canada before Konami closed it. I was thus excited to see that the title was revived for Apple Arcade.

When I started the game, it felt like a classic Castlevania. It had the usual side-scrolling action and a references to past characters — the Belmonts, Alucard, Maria, and more — all of whom I was vaguely familiar with. I can’t even pretend to understand the lore of the Castlevania universe, I’ve played the games mainly for their action. I was definitely lost pretty quickly by the story, but that may have been less a fault of the game and was more tied to what I want out of a Castlevania game.

Screenshot of gameplay

Jumping into the game, it looked nice enough and I was able to use my 8BitDo Pro 2 controller with my computer without issue. However, as soon as I got control of the character, things seemed to break down pretty quickly. The game play was quite simple and it had an auto-attack mode that I was prompted to turn on almost immediately. While you can turn it off, it made it clear that this was a mobile game first. Along with this, there was a pretty complicated skill upgrade system that was tied to daily challenges and various other mobile-style gimmicks designed to keep players “engaged”. Thankfully, there were no microtransactions, but it did feel like a game that was designed to have them. As I progressed through the levels, I liked seeing the upgraded takes on classic Castlevania enemies and abilities, but the levels were short and largely uninteresting. Similarly, the story failed to grab me.

Screenshot of daily bonuses

After putting in a couple of hours, I ultimately gave up on Grimoire of Souls. My nostalgia and past loyalty to the series just wasn’t enough to hold my attention. It felt less like a return to a great series and more like a reminder of something that once was. By contrast, when I played Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (with development led by former Castlevania series producer Koji Igarashi), I was reminded that the formula of the Metroidvania can still be enjoyable, it just needs to be executed well. That game took all the classic features — a great soundtrack, a variety of monsters, a sensible upgrade tree, and a steady challenge — and made it something new. Maybe I’ll try Bloodstained’s 8-bit style prequel, Curse of the Moon, next time I find myself wanting a modern take on the Castlevania series. If nothing else, I suppose I did at least learn a new word — “grimoire” — from the experience.


Rating: 1.5 out of 5.

Castlevania: Grimoire of Souls. Available on Apple Arcarde.


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