A piece of Castlevania apocrypha jams from beyond the grave
Longtime Castlevania fans may vaguely recall a mobile game called Castlevania: Order of Shadows. I say "vaguely" because Order predated the era of smartphones and the thriving ecosystem of mobile games that's come with it, being bound to now-archaic feature phones. Even today, mobile devices struggle in adapting traditional game experiences to touch-based controls, but the phones of yesteryear were an even worse fit, suffering from single-digit frame rates, screens with worse ghosting than the original Game Boy, and a numeric keypad for an interface. Nevertheless, big-name publishers like Sega and Capcom saw fit to dabbled in this nascent mobile space—as did Konami, who published itty-bitty versions of Gradius, Frogger, and even the original Castlevania as early as 2002.
Above: Konami Net versions of Gradius, Silent Scope, Castlevania, and Frogger, as well as a Quarth spin-off called Block Quarth. Also, I object in the strongest possible terms to the fact I can't get a watch app with Pop'n Music characters on Android.
Order of Shadows came near the end of this generation, releasing in September 2007—months after Apple signalled the changing times with the very first iPhone. At the time, Castlevania was five games deep into a portable Renaissance on Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, and Order stuck out like a sore thumb, not only for its platform but also the fact that it was developed by Konami's mobile division in California rather than series producer Kōji Igarashi's team in Tokyo. Despite assurances that the game bore Igarashi's blessing, the difference was visible at a glance, with amateurish graphics and a throwaway story even by series standards, all on top of the general clunkiness typical of phone games. Order's team probably did the best they could with the means available to them, but their ambition in trying to bring an original Castlevania title to phones only made their shortcomings more glaring.
Expectation is everything. For example, a Castlevania where you play as Weird Science-era Danny Elfman should have been amazing.
But like many lackluster games, Order of Shadows is at least partially redeemed by a single saving grace: its music. Compared to its Metroidvania contemporaries, Order hewed closer to the linear, stage-based design of earlier Castlevania titles; this might lead you to expect a score packed front to back with nothing but rousing action tunes, but the soundtrack actually evokes a surprising range of moods, hearkening to the atmospheric variance of Symphony of the Night. Better yet, Rey, creator of VGMuseum.com and friend to Retronauts everywhere, has alerted us to the fact that composer Vincent Diamante has put the whole thing up on SoundCloud, using the original sound source before it was scaled down to a form that would fit on phones.
While none of Diamante's brief loops worm into the brain the way immortal classics like "Wicked Child" or "Bloody Tears" do, you can tell he had chops. From tracks like "The Encounter" and "Resting Again," which feature the orchestral rock sensibilities kicked off by Symphony, to mellow drum-and-bass jams like "Covering" and "Not Where You Think," which recall the low-key tension of Super Castlevania IV, Diamante clearly crafted his score both with skill and an appreciation for the multifaceted yet unmistakable sound of Castlevania. Looking back now, it's unsurprising he's since moved on to write and produce music for games like Flower and Skullgirls. And thanks to his preserving his work on Order of Shadows, our historical record of the Castlevania series—even the most obscure corners of it—is now just a little more complete than it was before.