(Ed. note: This review is from 2008. It hasn't been updated since, but the game has, and is probably way better now and has all sorts of new features. A current download link is below.)
The recent Castlevania: Judgment took most of the gaming world by surprise. Does anyone recall asking for a 3D Castlevania fighting game akin to Soul Calibur? Nonetheless, I am not here to pass judgment on Judgment, but to mention a freeware project that might appeal more to fans of the 2D roots of the series.
Castlevania Fighter by Serio is still technically in the unfinished stage, but the version currently available for download is quite playable. The game is sort of a Boss Rush mode meets fighting game style "Dream Match" of the major heroes and villains from the various 2D Castlevania games. You can do a solo run that has you fighting through a gauntlet of both monsters and heroes en route to a final showdown with Death and Dracula, but there is also a co-op mode (apparently still a bit glitchy at this point), and two players can choose characters and slug it out against each other in typical fighting game style.
On the menu of playable characters so far are Alucard, Simon Belmont, Richter Belmont, Julius Belmont, Hugh Morris, Persephone (the deadly maid), and Yoko Belnades. Albius from the recent Order of Ecclesia is even on the roster, as well as a random Axe Armor and Skeleton (Axe Armor is no great shakes but the Skeleton actually ends up being one of the more powerful characters). In most cases, the characters have had their sprites and animations lifted directly from various Castlevania games, but it seems that some editing has been done to some of the lower-fidelity characters like Hugh to make them not stand out so much, and each character has a portrait that seems to be original to this game. There are a ton of open roster spots, so it is likely that more characters will be added with future releases, or it is possible to unlock them in some way.
The major draw of the game is the way the feel of the Castlevania games has been emulated here even with a disparity of characters and enemies from all over the different releases in the series. The game tends to hew to the branch of Castlevania games that began with Symphony of the Night, and characters from those game for the most part retain their moves and abilities and the controller inputs for them are the same. Special attacks take energy off of your magic meter, which is only refilled by waiting for it to creep back up; a thrown knife or bone is negligible in magic use but also does small damage, whereas something powerful like Richter's Holy Cross requires just about all of the magic bar to pull off. Certain characters are really able to spam certain others to death, and that could stand some tweaking in terms of two-player mode, but the game is still amazing simply for how it is virtually indistinguishable from playing a boss fight in a real Castlevania game.
The only minor criticisms I have at this point are that the power-up system is weird (you gain strength based on performing odd moves while picking up the boss orb after each character is defeated; this is clumsy and kind of annoying), and the game seems to eat up a lot more system resources than you'd expect a little 2D game running in a small window would. As this is still unfinished, both of these items may yet be adressed.
Castlevania fans will likely enjoy this one as-is, but it is definitely one to keep an eye on for the future; I think it will really be something special when it is eventually finished.
* Download (Serio's site)
* Gameplay Video