Game Time With Mister Raroo logo[In a return for regular GSW columnist Mister Raroo, he looks at this year’s three Castlevania games, reflecting upon how they differ from other games in the series. He then explores possible directions for the series to head into. If you thought Konami had already experimented with Castlevania, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Mister Raroo somehow brings such elements as custodial work, dating simulations, bullet hell, and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince into the mix. Well, okay!]

Alternate Routes

Castlevania has had an interesting year, to say the least. Konami seems intent on shaking things up with the franchise and released three very different games this past year, all of which stray from the usual Castlevania experiences fans have come to expect. Castlevania is my favorite game series, so I was very anxious to get my hands on the games, even if I knew they would be a bit unusual.

Though I hold Castlevania so dear to my heart, I’m not averse to Konami trying new things with the series. Heck, I even enjoyed Castlevania: Judgment, the Wii-exclusive fighting game that received fairly negative reviews from professional outlets, not to mention a lukewarm or even negative response from fans. So, it didn’t bother me to know this year’s Castlevania releases would be something out of the ordinary, and I approached each game with an open mind and little in the way of expectations.

First out of the gates was July’s iPhone release, Castlevania Puzzle: Encore of the Night, which weaves Symphony of the Night music and visuals along with RPG elements into a fairly solid puzzle game formula. To be honest, though, I found the game a little boring and while I applaud the developer’s efforts of adding a neat castle exploration motif to the game’s progression, the actual game itself failed to do much more than make me wish there was a “real” Castlevania game for iPhone.

On the flipside, August’s Castlevania: Harmony of Despair did anything but disappoint, and it is possibly even vying for the coveted title of “Mister Raroo’s Game of the Year” at this point. The game brilliantly makes use of recycled assets from previous games and creates a completely fresh experience with them. It is definitely something special.

Essentially a loot game, Harmony of Despair entices players to replay the game’s stages in order to obtain better weapons and gear, in many ways echoing the same types of addictive qualities that made me love the Dreamcast’s Phantasy Star Online a decade ago. Playing Harmony of Despair is like traversing a giant Castlevania dollhouse, and I adore just how bizarre and creative the level designs are. Nice work, Konami!

Lords of ShadowFinally, last month Konami released Castlevania: Lords of Shadow, a game which has garnered positive reviews and praise from professionals and fans alike, yet much debate has existed as to whether or not it retains the qualities of a “true” Castlevania game. That is, many people have expressed their enjoyment, but feel the game simply has a Castlevania skin slapped onto it. Personally, I felt that way at first, but the deeper I progressed in the game, the more I grew to appreciate it and notice how it captures many of the right qualities to make it feel like an actual Castlevania release.

The game is very lengthy and I’m still whittling away at reaching the end, but I’m taking my time and enjoying the beautiful level of detail that went into crafting so many elements of the game. Most importantly, I’m having fun playing it, though not without moments of frustration. Also, I miss the catchy melodies of the previous Castlevania games’ soundtracks, though I do suppose the musical score Lords of Shadow possesses is fitting of its overall tone.

Breathing new ideas into a game series definitely isn’t a bad thing, and if it means Castlevania receives more fresh entries like Harmony of Despair, then I’ll welcome it. In fact, I thought it would be fun to put my (ahem) game design expertise to the test and give Konami a hand by thinking up a selection of other possibilities for the Castlevania series. So sit back and relax, Konami, because when it comes to new Castlevania game ideas, Mister Raroo’s got you covered!

Castlevania: Stanza of Sanitation

Simon Belmont: HousekeeperUpon waking after a few hundred years’ slumber, Dracula discovers his home is an absolute mess. Not only is every square inch of his castle covered with cobwebs, but all manner of ghoul and ghost has decided to make Drac’s home their own. To make matters worse, Dracula is expecting a lady friend over in the evening, and the chances of “knockin’ coffins” will be significantly reduced if she’s disgusted by his lack of upkeep.

Drac flips through his Transylvanian Yellow Pages and discovers just who to call. “Hello, Belmont Housekeeping Agency. We’ll get your home clean with a crack of a whip!” Yes, that’s right. The Belmonts have hung up their whips and replaced them with brooms and mops. With Dracula slumbering for the past few centuries, the famous vampire hunting family has needed to find another way to make ends meet, and before long their work ethic has made them the top housekeeping company in all of Transylvania.

For a job as big as this, only one individual can handle the task: Master custodian Simon Belmont. In an ironic twist of fate, Simon now finds himself helping his family’s long-time foe. Can Simon rid the castle of its unwanted houseguests and leave every room sparkling clean before Dracula’s date arrives? Or is Dracula doomed to spend another long, lonely night in his coffin of love? Brooms will sweep and detergent will spray in what is sure to be the best-smelling game of the year!

Alucard’s Dodge ‘n Drive

Okay, now here’s the situation: Drac’s hibernating for a long duration and… he left the keys to his brand new ride. Would he mind? Hmm, well, of course not! Alucard will just take it for a little spin, and maybe show it off to a couple of friends. He’ll just drive around the neighborhood. Maybe he shouldn’t… Yeah, of course he should!

Alucard's Got the Keys

Guide Alucard safely back to his dad’s castle while taking on as little damage to the Coffin Cruiser as possible. You’ll journey through the Foggy Graveyard, the Spooky Forest, the Murky Cave, the Haunted Library, the Crumbling Ruins, and many more locations during your quest to return home. However, be careful, because the denizens of these areas don’t like Alucard’s reckless driving through their neighborhoods, and they’ll do anything in their power to stop him. Navigate curtains of projectiles fired by angry residents to get Alucard home before the sun goes down!

If Alucard succeeds, his dad will have no idea of the havoc his rascally son wreaked upon the surrounding area. If he fails, Alucard will end up on restriction, no doubt missing out on Transylvania High School’s upcoming prom, not to mention what is sure to be the best post-prom party ever at Grant DaNasty’s house. Sure, Alucard could do his best to explain he made a mistake and ask for forgiveness, but there’s no need to argue… parents just don’t understand.

Dare to Date Dracula

Let’s face it: Being Dracula can be kind of a drag. Spending lonely nights in one’s chamber, sipping wine and weighing such thoughts as how a man is little more than a miserable pile of secrets can get old quick. Dracula craves companionship, but convincing the ladies he wants to do more than drink their blood is difficult. That’s not to say Dracula doesn’t want to drink their blood, but perhaps he’d like to enjoy a nice dinner and meaningful conversation first. He is a complex and conflicted individual, to be sure!

Daring to Date Dracula is a dating simulation in which players help Drac impress the objects of his affection in hopes of sparking a romance and winning their hearts. True, any affair with Dracula is sure to end with a bite on the neck and a few missing pints of blood, but that’s not to say Dracula lacks sincerity! Show the ladies just how caring and charming Dracula can truly be by navigating a complex series of dialogue trees over the course of numerous romantic evenings together.

Do You Like Ponies?

There are over a dozen possible love interests for Dracula to pursue, and dates can take place at a wide variety of locations, including local restaurants, amusement parks, dance clubs, and more. Successful romantic interactions yield “heart points,” which Drac can spend to buy gifts for the ladies, bolster his conversational skills, or purchase cologne, hair gel, and other grooming products to make himself more attractive. Nobody likes a stinky vampire, after all.

The challenge lies in finding the right balance between wooing Dracula’s dates without having him become too attached for them. Should Drac fall too head-over-heels for his lady companions, he may end up lacking the ability to enjoy the taste of their blood, instead sending them home without even a small nip at their necks. Dracula craves both romance and nourishment, but success will not come easy, and unskilled players will wind up with a lonely vampire climbing into an empty coffin nursing a heavy heart and rumbling tummy.

[Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and pets. You may reach Mister Raroo at mister.raroo@gmail.com Full Disclosure Time With Mister Raroo: Konami provided copies of the three Castlevania games mentioned in this article free of charge.]