Talking Point: Is The Castlevania Series Finished With Nintendo?
Posted by Damien McFerran
Fangs for the memories, but is it time to move on?
Ever since it began in 1986, Konami's Castlevania series has been closely associated with Nintendo. The vampire-slaying lineage started life on the Famicom Disk System in Japan and shortly afterwards found worldwide fame on the NES. Since then, the franchise has seen some of its most famous and revered instalments on the likes of the Super Nintendo, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS, and earlier this year the 3DS was graced with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow - Mirror of Fate — which was published by Nintendo itself.
However, with Mirror of Fate underperforming at retail and the hope of seeing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 on the Wii U almost as dead as Dark Prince Dracula himself, we're facing the very real prospect that — aside from some welcome Virtual Console outings — Konami's long-running series could well abandon Nintendo for good.
Like so many classic video game franchises, Castlevania's connection with Nintendo is strong. The overwhelming popularity of the NES gave the series considerable fame, and Konami was able to build on the excellent trio of 8-bit entries with Super Castlevania IV, one of the most beloved SNES action platformers of all time. Offerings on the monochrome Game Boy were inconsistent, but the fact that three were released between 1989 and 1997 again illustrates how connected the franchise was with Nintendo, and 1991's Belmont's Revenge arguably remains one of the best "old school" instalments in the entire bloodline.
Although the likes of Dracula X: Rondo of Blood and its sequel Castlevania: Symphony of the Night brought the series to rival formats — the PC Engine and PlayStation respectively — outings on the N64, Game Boy Advance and DS kept the Nintendo association going strong. In fact, with Castlevania: Lament of Innocence and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness disappointing on the PlayStation 2, the Nintendo-based handheld "Metroidvanias" — accompanied by the criminally underrated Castlevania Adventure Rebirth on WiiWare — were seen by many fans as the true continuation of the series. (The less said about Wii exclusive Castlevania Judgment, the better.)
However, while games like Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia gained critical acclaim, they sold relatively poorly and it wasn't until 2010's Lords of Shadow — created by Spanish studio MercurySteam — that Castlevania rediscovered the mainstream commercial success that had largely eluded it since the 8 and 16-bit eras. Although hardcore fans moan about Lords of Shadow being too different from previous entries and little more than a God of War clone, its importance simply cannot be understated.
"I took Castlevania Judgment and Castlevania: Harmony of Despair as evidence that Konami was not really happy with the portable GBA and DS games and was trying to branch out," says Kurt Kalata, founder of long-running Castlevania Dungeon fan-site and the excellent Hardcore Gaming 101. "Those didn't quite work, either. I do think that the series would've either died or taken a reprieve had Lords of Shadow not been conceived. Even the fans of the 2D games were beginning to get exasperated, though many agree Order of Ecclesia was one of the best of the portable releases. At the very least, some kind of shake-up was almost definitely required."
This shake-up worked in dramatic fashion. According to Konami, Lords of Shadow is the best-selling game in the entire history of the series, but the bad news for Nintendo fans is that it wasn't on a Nintendo system. That's a pretty significant event, and hints that Wii U-owning Castlevania followers could be left in the cold. While Konami producer Dave Cox refuses to rule it out completely, it's looking incredibly likely that Lords of Shadow 2 — due out this year — won't be gracing the Wii U. Kalata thinks this could have something to do with the way in which non-Nintendo titles struggled on the Wii, which was — lest we forget — the biggest-selling console of the previous generation. "I think third party companies in general are still feeling burnt by underperforming titles on the Wii, so they may not return for the Wii U, either," he comments. Given Castlevania Judgment's catastrophic global sales, that could well be the case with Konami.
Of course, the sluggish commercial performance of the Wii U also has something to do with it; there's little point in Konami putting resources behind a Nintendo port of Lords of Shadow 2 when the sales are unlikely to cover the initial costs. However, the lacklustre retail figures posted by Mirror of Fate on the 3DS — a platform which really hit its stride in 2013 — are somewhat harder to explain away. While it's true that the previous Castlevania titles on the DS hardly set the charts alight, Mirror of Fate's link to the popular Lords of Shadow sub-series should have gained it recognition on store shelves — but Kalata believes this could have been the game's undoing, as well. "Lords of Shadow relies on modern cinematic gameplay, which doesn't really work very well on portable platforms and didn't work with Mirror of Fate," he says. Mixed reviews won't have helped, of course; we liked it a lot, but other sites were less kind — IGN gave it an incredibly harsh review.
As well as moving away from Nintendo systems, we could also see a geographical shift for the long-running franchise. Since the series began, Castlevania has been created by Japanese teams — up until Lords of Shadow, only the cancelled Dreamcast entry Castlevania Resurrection and the terrible mobile phone title Castlevania: Order of Shadows were produced outside of Konami's homeland. With MercurySteam proving that a western touch can result in commercial success, could we be seeing the end of Japan's influence — felt largely through the enigmatic Koji "IGA" Igarashi — on the franchise? Kalata thinks this is quite possible. "Last I heard, Igarashi was involved in a Kinect game called Leedmees, and I believe he was also involved in Otomedius Excellent," he says. "David Cox seems to be the Castlevania producer now. If you look at the Silent Hill series, which went through a few different Western developers, it would make sense for Castlevania to follow a similar path — though hopefully not one of mediocrity, like Silent Hill."
Whatever the future holds for the series, we hope that it will once again find pride of place on Nintendo's formats. While the promise of a whip-cracking Castlevania entry on the Wii — complete with motion controls — never materialised, we continue to hold onto the hope that Konami will bring the Belmont clan to the Wii U at some juncture, either in an exclusive adventure or as part of the wider series. Until then, we'll have to satisfy ourselves with getting 100% on Mirror of Fate, enjoying the sublime Super Castlevania IV on the Wii U Virtual Console and replaying the amazing DS Metroidvania trilogy.
Do you think that Castlevania's association with Nintendo is finished, or is this merely a blip? Do you think that Konami will revisit the Metroidvania concept, or is it time to move onto bigger things, with western developers at the helm? Let us know what you think by casting your vote in the poll and posting a comment below.
Are you keen to see future Castlevania titles on the 3DS and Wii U? (505 votes)
Yes, I love the series and feel it should always be linked with Nintendo in some way
Not really, the recent Castlevania games have failed to grab me as much as the older outings
I'm not really bothered either way
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