Castlevania for the Nintendo 64
In the wake of Symphony of the Night, Castlevania games were expected to hit a higher standard. Although they weren't all presumed to be Symphony-clones, the PSX title had shown that the series didn't have to crank out the same old game over and over again. However its follow ups, Castlevania for the Nintendo 64 (or Castlevania 64 for short) and Castlevania Legends were judged in their own time, they definately suffered in comparison to what came immediately before.
Created for the Nintendo 64 system, Castlevania 64 was the first attempt at a true 3D game for the Castlevania series. As much hyped as the successor to the series, Castlevania 64 was also pitched as a Mario 64 level reinvention for the series. Everything that was beloved about the Castlevania games would come through in new, 3D rendered realms (certainly, Nintendo Power did its level best to pitch it as such). Regardless of the hype, Castlevania 64 turned out to be a solid 3D platformer owing more to its own roots than Mario 64 or Symphony of the Night.
The game takes place in the mid-1800s (this despite the presence of motocycles skeletons, an addition better left ignored than fully discussed), after the time of Richter Belmont. For whatever reason, the famed Vampire Killer whip had to be passed on to a non-Belmont (or at least someone not bearing the Belmont name), and when Dracula once again was trying to come back from the dead, it's this new Belmont-heir that has to defeat the evil at the demon castle. The game pits you as either Reinhardt Schneider, current keeper of the whip, or Carrie Fernandez, heir to the Belnades clan, on their quest into Dracula's castle.
As a fully 3D game, the world of Dracula's castle has been opened up for more exploration -- although not quite to the level of Symphony of the Night. Castlevania 64 still features a rigid level progression system, and while some levels will have you exploring around for items to collect to gain entry deeper in the castle, any items you need will be in the areas you current reside within. There's no going back, and no need to do so, just the classic forward slog through the levels of Dracula's castle. Throughout the heroes will meet other characters, such as the vampire hunter Vincent, or the kidnapped child Malus, who provide helpful information and help to further the plot of the game. Some of these characters may even have sinister motives, and there may prove to be a double-cross or two in store before the heroes meet up with Dracula at the end of the game.
The two heroes themselves, Reinhardt and Carrie, play a lot alike, even if their attacks are quite different. Reinhardt, as the Belmont heir, can lock on and attack with his whip and the various classic sub-weapons. He also has a secondary attack, a knife, that's quick to attack, but not as damaging as the whip. Meanwhile, Carrie has access to the Belnades magic -- but only to a point. She's able to cast magic missles (they're called energy bullets), which home in and attack nearby enemies. Unfortunately, though, she doesn't have access to any of the classic Belnadez spells -- fire, ice, or lightning. Instead, as with Reinhardt, Carrie uses the Belmont sub-weapons. She, too, has a secondary weapon, razor sharp ring blades, that she can use for quick attacks.
Functionally, aside from the difference in primary weapons and secondary weapons, the two heroes control the same. They do have slightly different quests, though. While Carrie will interact with the strange child, Malus (who has a role to play in the plot), Reinhardt will interact with the vampiress Rosa, a tortured soul lost in the castle. Each hero will also have a different path through the quest, Reinhardt early through the "Tunnel"s, and then later through the "Duel Tower" and the "Tower of Execution", while Carrie will visit the "Underground Waterway" early in the game, and then battle through the "Tower of Science" and the "Tower of Sorcery" later on. And both characters will have to hurry on their quests -- if they take too long (10 days, in game), they'll get the bad endings instead of the good ones.
Although praised at the time in the press, Castlevania 64 was eventually seen as a misstep in the series, one that was later "corrected" when the series went back to make Symphony-clones. Later 3D entries tried to distance themselves from the Nintendo 64 game (although whether or not they succeeded, or were good games in their own rights, is another matter).