Sequels of games are known for one thing, mixing up the game play for a new experience. I’ve seen game sequels get bashed for staying too close to the original, and I’ve seen them get bashed for being too different. One series to me that stays between those two complaints is the Castlevania franchise.
The Castlevania franchise is unique among classic 2d games, instead of evolving into a 3d series, it evolved into a different 2d genre. Originally the series was fashioned as a 2d action game like Mega Man or Mario, but more Gothic. When the series moved to the PS1 in the mid 90s the developers decided to mix it up and add adventure components to it. Castlevania Symphony of the Night is regarded as one of the best games of all time and the best Castlevania game (you could argued about Rondo of Blood but since not a lot of us have played that game we’ll let it pass this time.) SoTN was an action adventure title which is more like Metroid… and yes with more Gothic added in, the game delivered excellent art, music, and top notch game play which secured its top spot. Since that time we’ve seen 5 new Castlevania games (3 on the GBA, 2 on the DS) and a new one coming soon. Yet the word “new” is highly subjective, the basic game play hasn’t changed in any of them, but little nuisances exist between the games.
Time for a cliff’s notes version of the Castlevania game play timeline. The first one on the GBA (sorry no titles it’s quicker this way) was closest to the original Castlevanias. You could only wield a whip and sub weapons, but you now had magic that could be applied to your whip and character. #2 also had you stuck with a whip but now you had a different magic system to use , #3 is where we saw the biggest change. With 3 gone are the whips and sub weapons, now each enemy can give you a “soul” that could provide you with status bonuses or weapons when equipped. Similar to SoTN the main character could equip a variety of main weapons. #4 was a direct sequel from #3 but added in stylus usage, and lastly #5 changed things up again allowing you to play as two main characters at once, a weapon user or magic user. Each one of these games offers the same basic game play yet these subtle differences keep the fans coming back for more. There are two franchises that also do yearly iterations minus the nuisances.
Dynasty Warriors and Madden are similar in the way that we are bound to see a new one every year. We see people complain about a new Dynasty Warriors , but not so when it comes to Madden. The reason is the difference of how each iteration works, Dynasty Warriors is basically the same story, same game play and plot, with maybe one or two different features then before. While Madden is the same way but with a few stat tweaks and graphical changes. Madden however is a game that offers a lot more depth then Dynasty Warriors, as the game changes depending upon who your playing against. Dynasty on the other hand is the same thing each time, I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve stopped that rebellion and fought Lu Bu. Yet to me Castlevania beats both these titles on improving the formula with each new game. Konami has a lot of leeway to go on future Castlevania titles thanks to how detailed (or convoluted) the story has become. They could easily create another direct sequel of one of them improving the game mechanics or change them again which is what they’re doing with the next one. To compare the Castlevania franchise to either the Madden or Dynasty Warriors way of creating sequels, it would be like playing through the same castle with the same characters every year with maybe a few graphical improvements.
Some games had their game play right the first time , such as the old school Mega Man titles and of course Castlevania. There isn’t a need to radically change the game mechanics but slight changes that differentiate the sequels from each other is the way to go. While the Mega Man series doesn’t change as much over each version compared to Castlevania, it’s another example of designers getting it right the first time (technically the 2nd time if your picky) and giving us more of it with each new version with slight changes.