“Slay… or Lay?” That’s the tagline to Romancelvania, the new Metroidvania from The Deep End Games. With Van Helsing having left his castle in ruins, Dracula, Lord of the Vampires ends up homeless and sulking for nearly a century. It’s not until his old business partner the Grim Reaper shows up with a bright idea that Drac takes a crack at making it back to the top with a romantic reality TV show just for monsters. Planned as equal parts a tribute to Castlevania’s classic action exploration and reality TV drama, it’s a surprising turn from the team behind horror game Perception.
While the team made a name for themselves with the blindness-based horror game, studio heads Bill and Amanda Gardner were tiring of bleak subject matter. After considering bringing Perception to VR and tabling another bleaker project, the idea of merging The Bachelor and Castlevania ultimately captured the attention of the entire team. Where once the mere act of research had been a grim prospect, Romancelvania revitalized everyone’s ghostly spirits.
“The second we started working on Romancelvania, we had ideas in every meeting for the game. We were all making each other laugh hysterically,” Amanda said.
“The game brings us joy every day just to work on and to talk about it,” added Bill. “And when I talk to other people about it, they’re like, ‘Oh my God. You’re kidding me?!’ It’s really an upper, you know, like it’s happy, it’s fun, it’s silly. I miss the wonder and the excitement and the joy that the media can be, the games can be.”
For the husband and wife team, the blending of comedy, horror, and romance was kismet. Bill’s first days at Irrational Games weren’t spent working on BioShock, but instead the tongue-firmly-in-cheek Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich. Likewise, between her work on Perception, Amanda had already pursued a romantic fiction career. The perfect blend of their mutual interests, compounded by creative exhaustion at another darkly themed project, helped give birth to a game of sassy candy unicorns, a dive executive producer Grim Reaper, and Dracula wielding his trusty skeletal “bonerrang.”
Yes, the bonerrang. It is one of many elements to Romancelvania born of delightful absurd puns. “It’s just ridiculous, like, ‘Oh my God, that’s hilarious. How can we work that in?!’” Bill recalled with a laugh. Instead of studying horror, the pair found themselves binging dating shows and reframing years of classic Universal Monsters in a high-budget reality show production.
Right away, the Gardners made sure the romance and Metroidvania action were balanced out for all kinds of players. If your concern is solely with the comedy and fighting your way through the various sets Grim is putting together, you’re free to do so. The hub area between your expeditions is regularly expanding as new contestants join the show, each providing new perks and abilities based on where you assign them. You don’t have to fall in love to get throwing star rats, but it might not hurt to give romance a chance given the variety available across several remixed classic monsters of all genders.
If you’re aiming to find Dracula’s new bride (or husband), the Gardners are also planning that each romantic storyline doesn’t just culminate in a fade to black, but instead an ongoing subplot all the way to the game’s conclusion. Divide your affections and contestants will clash. Find someone isn’t to your liking, and you can get them voted off the show! It’s all a matter of how you navigate the reality show dramedy.
“You’re getting into (your potential love interests), experiencing this harrowing thing of being on this reality show together, and you’re trying to get that relationship,” explained Amanda. “Sometimes it’s cheesy and forced in a very reality TV show way, and sometimes it will be authentic. We’re always trying to find that line where … it’s totally very hilariously surreal, but it’s also free to be sexy. We’re going to have moments that are quite serious and tender. Lit allows us to flex a lot, you know, allows us to experiment with all kinds of different formats and themes. It’s pure fun for us. When I write books, (Bill) edits them. And when he was working on BioShock, I would help deconstruct scenes.”
Regardless of if you choose romance or platonic alliances, the team at Deep End aims for a story with meaningful choices rather than fluff, citing the Genophage arc from Mass Effect as a strong inspiration, as well as Telltale Games’ bigger branching moments. Bill was quick to make clear they’re taking a measured approach to their narrative choices.
“It obviously takes a tremendous amount of resources to implement and test these kinds of choices,” he said. “We want to be very careful here because to a degree, yes, I think it says that we’re still figuring out exactly where we are on that spectrum. It’s similar to what I experienced working on the BioShock series — the most effective, the most impactful choices that you make are ones (where) you see the repercussion right away.”
Choices don’t matter without amazing characters though, and the Gardners detailed some of the fine supernatural baes hoping to join you in ruling the night. For fans of Batman’s Poison Ivy, there’s a nature spirit carefully manicured “like a Kardashian,” but also unafraid to befriend all the woodland creatures, including rats you can unlock as throwing weapons. If you prefer someone more upper class, there’s a fancy wolfman, but he’s got just one slight problem — he has a “horrible” human alter ego that he turns into periodically.
Perhaps most outrageous is the “sexy zombie pirate” who literally has a box full of booty, as he plunders body parts off of corpses as a literal bodybuilder. Needless to say, the puns packed into what few glimpses I was given were stunning to behold.
All the main cast members will be voiced as well. While Romancelvania’s Kickstarter turnout will factor in, the current planned approach is like in a JRPG, harnessing voice talent for key moments and text for minor quests and such. “It’s all part of falling in love with the character. We want them to have these voices and make them really real for you,” Amanda explained.
That is the key factor to Romancelvania in general; it’s already a fair ways into development as of this writing. It’s not a question to the Gardners and their team of whether Romancelvania will exist, but how grandiose it can become.
While they couldn’t go into specifics yet, harder difficulties for old-school Castlevania diehards and additional cast members are being considered alongside additional voice acting. The current experience is aimed to be modestly challenging and accommodating to what each player wants, so whether you’re a romantic or a bloodthirsty vampire, there’ll be something to bite into. We’ll have more on Romancelvania when its Kickstarter campaign goes live in October, but for now, stay thirsty, my friends.