Rare Comments About NES Castlevania Developer Explain So Much
May 10, 2019
Today it's common for video game developers to speak up about their work either in unofficial forums such as social media or in proper interviews in publications, but thirty years ago nobody in a position of journalism power cared much about what a developer had to say. We've gnawed modern games like Super Mario Odyssey to the bone, but so many older games never had a chance to shine in a development context. One of those large voids in gaming history is the original Castlevania trilogy for the Nintendo Entertainment System as Konami isn't exactly known for keeping up with their own history until very recently, but thankfully for us there's a translated series of tweets at Shmuplations discussing the original creator of Castlevania, Hitoshi Akamatsu, that covers so much about how the game was conceived, balanced, and expanded upon in sequels.
Akamatsu’s sense of game design was very deep. In Castlevania, the knife appears first so the player can get used to the subweapons. He made the stopwatch so you could get used to enemy attacks. Then the strongest items are the Cross and the Holy Water. And that was how he determined the order in which the items would appear to the player.
I once asked him about the fight with Death, and how insanely hard it was. He told me, “The game design idea there was to get players to understand how to use the cross and axe subweapons. If you can defeat him with only the whip, that means you’re really good.” I can’t defeat him with the whip alone. But if you read the movements of the sickles, I understand it is possible (albeit very difficult) to beat him with just the whip. Apparently the test players were able to do it.
I'm reminded of how World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. is designed in such a way with power-up and enemy placement to teach players what the game expects of them. There's so much more in this article that reveals that those original NES games operated at a deeper level than many of us ever expected such as foreshadowing in the first Castlevania that leads into the sequel Simon's Quest, what Dracula's true form really means, and how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles nearly hobbled the series. Settle in and prepare to have all those little questions that you never knew you had answered. While you're doing that, I think I'll go and play Castlevania yet again.