After thousands of years, the coffin lid suddenly shifts. Dust cascades and pachinko balls scatter, the lord of vampires Dracula emerges, and a bunch of startled Konami employees look over at filing cabinet C. Wasn't that dude in a game once?!?
Last weeks saw the release of Dead Cells' Return to Castlevania DLC (opens in new tab), a whip-cracking dash through decades of Castlevania history that both showcases developer Motion Twin's feel for the series and, frankly, makes you a bit sad Konami hasn't done anything notable with the series in nearly a decade (outside of the excellent Netflix anime).
Konami's Tsutomu Taniguchi was the supervisor of the Return to Castlevania project, and refers to it as isekai: A fantasy sub-genre where a character suddenly finds themselves transported into a new world or setting.
"Is 'isekai' a buzzword? Because this is how I would define this storyline," Taniguchi said in a new interview with IGN. "Let's just say that Dracula's Castle teleported on the Beheaded's Island and what happened on the island stays on the island."
The collaboration got its start at 2019's BitSummit conference in Kyoto, which Motion Twin and publisher Evil Empire attended hoping to find a partner to sell the game in Japan, before taking the chance to pitch Konami the more full-on collaboration. "Since Dead Cells had 'respectfully stolen' so many elements from the series already, such as: the whip, the key art with the castle, the food hidden in walls… [...] the pitch quickly turned into a full DLC proposition," said Evil Empire's Benjamin Laulan.
"When Evil Empire and Motion Twin came back with their full-DLC proposition instead of just this short featuring [initially plans were less ambitious] we weren’t really surprised and we were hoping for that to be honest," said Konami's Taniguchi. "And we just thought we had to let them go full circle, because we knew they would use every ounce of their talent to honor the franchise. And also, I personally admit I just really wanted to see what a fight against Dracula in Dead Cells would look like!"
As for the obvious question, Taniguchi dances around it a little, referring to the Castlevania Anniversary Collection and the Castlevania Advance Collection of older titles, as well as various mobile and console re-releases. But come on. "We know that our fans always want more, and we do too, so this opportunity to have this amazing crossover with Dead Cells was impossible to pass up on," said Taniguchi, alongside referencing the "excitement and enthusiasm of the fans online" being "really motivating for [Konami]."
OK and… and…?!? I'm not going to say Taniguchi turned into a bat and flew out of the window, but he may as well have. Everything has to be taken in context however and Konami, one senses, is slowly feeling its way back into the various series it's left alone for too long. The publisher did recently surprise with its renewed commitment to Silent Hill (a Silent Hill 2 remake (opens in new tab), a new title set in 1960s Japan (opens in new tab), and Silent Hill Townfall (opens in new tab) from NoCode), while rumours of Metal Gear remasters have now been floating around for years.
Castlevania remains beloved, and the success of games like Dead Cells and Vampire Survivors shows the appetite for contemporary twists on its mechanics and stylings. "Fans always want more, and we do too," said Taniguchi. Well yeah Konami. But you lot are the ones who can do something about it.