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Born for Wii: Castlevania

Wesley Fenlon

For more than 20 years, gamers have been taking whip in hand to navigate Dracula's dark castle and defeat the villain and his minions again and again. Castlevania has evolved considerably over the past two decades, with recent games in the series largely adopting the incredibly popular Metroidvania style of gameplay that first showed up in 1997's Symphony of the Night. The older games typically offer a more classic platforming experience, although RPG elements such as a leveling system worked their way into the series even as early as Castlevania II: Simon's Quest in 1987.

Castlevania has also braved the world of (gasp!) three dimensions with mixed results over the years, but in general Konami has managed to retain the feel of the classic 2D Castlevania adventures on an expanded scale. Rumors of a Wii game titled Castlevania Judgment have been floating around the intertubes for quite awhile, but when the news finally broke -- a Wii Castlevania really was coming! -- it wasn't quite in the form people expected. The terms "3D fighting game" and "Castlevania" don't really go hand-in-hand. Even if the fighter is a success, Wii gamers deserve a true Castlevania experience, and that's why the series is this week's entry into the library of games that are Born for Wii.


Flat Like a Pancake

The Metroidvania gameplay that Konami has utilized since Symphony of the Night remains an incredibly popular system, thanks to the focus on nonlinear exploration and the ability to level up by slaying enemies. However, not a single 2D Castlevania game since Symphony has found a home on a major console, and have instead continued to prosper on handhelds such as the GBA and DS. Few 2D games exist on this generation of consoles, but the Wii is the perfect place for 2D Castlevania to take back the living room. Super Paper Mario was largely 2D, and the upcoming Wario Land looks to deliver on the 2D gaming goods. And WiiWare would be the absolute perfect medium to distribute a new Castlevania.

Let's break down the essentials that would go into the perfect WiiWare Castlevania.

The Look
Ayami Kojima. Both DS Castlevania titles, Dawn of Sorrow and Portrait of Ruin, passed up Kojima's art style for a more generic anime style, and the quality just wasn't there. Thankfully, the upcoming Order of Ecclesia features Kojima's incredible artwork, and her touch does wonders for the dark gothic fantasy atmosphere. 480p and widescreen support are a must, and Konami should really push the WiiWare restrictions to the limits. The atmosphere is crucial -- the sprites and backgrounds should be lush and detailed, with more than a touch of the macabre and a wide variety of locales and enemies. In short, Dracula's ever-changing lair should be more chilling and beautiful than ever before.

The Sound
You can't set a creepy ambiance without the right music. Composer Michiru Yamane has been with the series for years, and her scores are successfully moody and haunting. But console sound cards have come a long way since the Playstation days, and Dolby-quality sound can make a huge difference. As more and more games move towards fully-symphonic scores, the increase in quality is astounding. A WiiWare Castlevania with a Mario Galaxy-caliber score? Yes, please. There's also the issue of voice acting. Suffice it to say that improvements could be made.

The Feel
In the end, it all comes down to how the game plays. The Metroidvania style of exploration and stat-building still offer an incredibly addictive experience, but the inclusion of the Tactical Soul system present in Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow would make a WiiWare Castlevania even better. Dawn of Sorrow's weapon forging system was also fantastic, and could easily be expanded to offer a wider variety of customization options. Bigger and better is really the name of the game -- Castlevania already has an established system that works extremely well, but there's always room for improvement. A bigger castle, with more secrets to find, souls to collect, and demons to slay is the first step. New ways to play -- more weapons, more magic, and more customization of each -- would seal the deal.

A 2D Castlevania would be well-served by the classic controller, and could be controlled virtually identically to Symphony of the Night or the DS Castlevania titles. Dawn of Sorrow's control scheme is simple and effective, and if a WiiWare Castlevania brought back the Tactical Soul system, the Classic controller would substitute perfectly for the DS. In fact, it would be hard for Konami to mess up the controls for a 2D Castlevania, as long as they kept it gimmick-free. Drawing on the touch screen to defeat bosses was a pain in Dawn of Sorrow; a similar Wiimote gimmick would do little to improve the gameplay in a 2D title -- if anything, it would be an annoyance. WiiWare is the perfect home for an epic new Castlevania adventure without too many changes. What is old is new again.

Dimensional Expansion
WiiWare could deliver on a classic Castlevania adventure. But what about something new, exciting, and potentially dangerous? Like most games on the Wii that challenge conventional gaming, it's all about the Wii Remote, and Castlevania is well-suited -- what could be more fun than a well-implemented digital whip? Not much.

A new Castlevania could advance the trend of games built with the Wii's unique controls in mind, such as the exclusive duel mode in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. Let's use Castlevania: Lament of Innocence for the PS2 as an example. With the Dualshock, basic attacks are performed with the square button and heavy attacks are performed with triangle. On the Wii, mapping the attack function to the Wiimote's motion sensitivity would completely change Lament of Innocence's combat. Normal attacks would be performed simply by swinging the Wiimote, while holding the B trigger while swinging would perform a heavy attack.

Lament of Innocence features a decent combo system, in which the protagonist, Leon Belmont, can gain extensions and unique attacks that are performed with repeated presses of square and triangle. The system works, and the combat works pretty well, especially for a game released in 2003. Still, it could be improved. Castlevania has never been an action game similar to a Ninja Gaiden or a God of War, but it could take a lesson from each -- half of the fun of combat is in its appearance. Ryu and Kratos can perform ridiculous chains of attacks with a few simple button presses, and the gameplay stays consistently entertaining because of the small animation differences between a light-light-heavy attack and a light-heavy-heavy attack.

A Wiimote-wielded whip would allow for just as much, if not more, variety. Horizontal and vertical movements of the Wiimote would correspond to horizontal and vertical attacks, and by implementing a deep combo system, normal and heavy strikes could provide for tons of uniquely animated attacks. Whip attacks would always be performed in whatever direction the player is facing, eliminating any problems involved with pointing at a specific portion of the screen to perform an attack. The nunchuk would be responsible for player movement and blocking with the control stick and Z button.

An all-new Castlevania title designed for the Wii would be far more successful than a port of Lament of Innocence with tacked-on Wii controls, but the PS2 game still stands as a guide to success. Leon's Whip of Alchemy is eventually transformed into the legendary Vampire Killer; in a more combat-intensive Wii Castlevania, the whip could be leveled up in a similar fashion, thereby unlocking new combos. Lament of Innocence's static camera angles would also work well in a 3D Wii Castlevania, eliminating the risk of a game-ruining camera. The basic design of Lament of Innocence actually captures the feel of classic 2D Castlevania admirably; it includes the familiar sub-weapons, haunting score, and well-designed environments that don't get too repetitive, populated by familiar enemies that are still fun to fight from a new angle. A new Wii title could implement the popular leveling system that is absent from Lament of Innocence while still retaining the magic-using relics and familiar customizable equipment and sub-weapons.

With Koji Igarashi at the helm, the Castlevania series has remained engaging and fun over numerous titles since Symphony of the Night. Graphically, the new fighter for the Wii looks promising. But will Igarashi give us a real Castlevania adventure on the Wii the way it's meant to be played? We can only hope, but Konami undoubtedly knows there's an audience for a 2D or 3D Castlevania title that doesn't look like a gothic Soul Calibur.

Every week, Born for Wii digs into gaming's sordid past to unearth a new treasure fit for revival on the Nintendo Wii. Be sure to check out last week's entry in the series, ChuChu Rocket!, and for more great titles that deserve your attention, take a look at Virtually Overlooked.

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