If you thought the reinvention of titles like Devil May Cry and Tomb Raider were shocking, you really weren’t ingrained into video game culture for a while.
Konami’s long-standing undead-whipping series Castlevania has been through a lot of game redesign and aesthetic revamps. So much, it borders or schizophrenia.
Despite its bumpy moments, there’s a reason why many of us remember the stages, the music and the way we progressed to kill Dracula in his many demonic forms. Simply put, the games were ahead of their times and half the time its reinvention did achieve positive results.
From Left To Right - The Late 80s To Early 90s
The original Castlevania was a standard left-to-right platformer with strict controls, tough-but-fair stages, and tricky navigation. Your objective as vampire hunter Simon Belmont was to kill Dracula and his Universal Monsters-inspired minions with his whip and plethora of collectible weapons like an axe and time-stopping pocket watch. Waylaying you are Frankenstein’s monster, hunchbacked fleamen, Death himself and floating Medusa heads that fly in a sine wave pattern.
The game’s detailed gothic aesthetics and methodical platforming distinguished itself from the NES action game pack. Catchy music like the main theme “Vampire Killer” and “Wicked Child” would forever be covered by aspiring musicians who grew up with Nintendo. It was unlike anything NES gamers played.
It worked out great for Konami, but rather than follow on its success by creating a sequel with a few changes, Konami took inspiration from Nintendo’s Metroid and created an open-world 2D platformer set in a very large map with inter sprawling areas. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.
Belmont’s second adventure was different, but not in a good way as the English localisation was messed up and solutions to obstacles were vague and unintuitive. The reception for this experiment was mixed, but the open-ended design sort of made its way into the superior third game, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. It stuck true to the methodical action and platforming, but offered more. Branching paths to different stages and the chance to recruit new characters with different play styles for a fresh yet familiar experience were introduced.
The newbie Dracula killers were the agile Grant, the spellcaster Sypha, and the fire-chucking bat-morphing Alucard. It wasn’t any easier, but the fair challenge and character variation were ahead of its time.
When the Super Nintendo came into the fray, Super Castlevania IV was born. It was a remake that changed up the methodical rules of previous titles. Most gamers at the time liked the adjustment: main character Simon Belmont could whip in all eight directions, moved a heckuva lot faster, and could control the direction of his jump mid-air.
Purists over time felt that the challenge level from past Castlevania titles were toned down in favour of attracting a wider market; it succeeded on that count. The parallels between Castlevania’s image in 1991 and its image change in 2010 is so similar, it’s essentially history repeating itself. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.