Pixels and Bits

Pixels and Bits
When the Sequel Is Worse Than the Original

Liz Finnegan | 14 Jul 2015 16:30
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American business mogul Jeff Bezos once said "A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well."

The easiest way to increase the success of any product in any industry is to build upon a recognizable name that has already performed its job well. Where businesses create partnerships, the entertainment industries create spinoffs, ripoffs, and sequels. However, the success of the initial product increases expectations for any redelivery, and not every successor can live up to the hype. Many video game franchises have received premature burials as the result of an ill fated sequel. Several, however, we're able to rebound from mediocrity, resurrecting stronger than before. I'd like to highlight what are arguably the three most notable series to overcome the curse of the sequel. The holy trilogy of the sophomore slump: Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Bros.

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Exhibit A: Castlevania

castlevania 2 simons quest

In 1987, Konami graced NES owners with the action platformer Castlevania. The mystery of wall meat aside, Castlevania provided players with the fascinating tale of Simon Belmont, and the nefarious castle that only appeared every 100 years, on his quest to find and defeat Dracula. By injecting classic horror into an interactive gaming experience, Castlevania appealed to often overlooked potential consumers in the game industry. In a daring act that paid off, the narrative of Castlevania was kept simple, with the bulk of the focus instead on gameplay.

Fueled by the success of this classic, Konami wasted no time in producing the sequel Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Abandoning the successful design of the earlier linear platformer, Simon's Quest offered an open-ended landscape with the passage of time marked by more difficult enemies at night. Reviews were mixed, with a decent portion of the negative reception stemming from the storyline. Simon Belmont, shortly after the events of the original title, sets out to find 5 pieces of Dracula, so he can rebuild the famed monster... in order to kill him... again. Even factoring in the curse made it a difficult plot for many to embrace. Additionally, the text was poorly translated from Japanese to English, leaving many speakers of the latter language wondering what the hell they were doing on Deborah's Cliff.

A vast improvement came when 1989 delivered to fans Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. Serving as a prequel to the original, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse abandoned the layout and design of the prior title, instead returning to the successful previous platform design and above-average storytelling experience we saw in the original. It is 100 years before the birth of Simon Belmont. Despite his family being exiled, Trevor C. Belmont, the current wielder of the Vampire Killer Whip, has been called upon. The fearsome vampire Count Dracula has enlisted a horde of savage monsters to aid in his takeover of Europe, threatening to bury the entire continent in a tomb of perpetual darkness. Belmont embarks on an arduous trek through Transylvania, in an effort to spare the cursed land from the clutches of evil and restore peace to its inhabitants.

Castlevania III also introduced us to three additional characters: Alucard, son of Dracula, Grant Danasty, the wall-climbing pirate, and Sypha Belnades, a magical sorceress. The player could choose one of these companions, depending on their chosen route to Dracula's castle, each of which have notable strengths and weaknesses. By re-focusing on a simple yet cohesive storyline, Konami established the Castlevania franchise as a serious industry contender, instead of a one hit wonder.

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