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Commercial Break
Castlevania: A History of Bad Advertising
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on February 27, 2014   |   Episode 57 (Show Archive)  

   
Welcome to a special episode of Commercial Break. To help celebrate the launch of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, we're going to take a trip back and look at some of the worst Castlevania commercials of all time. Join us as we pick apart Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, Castlevania III: Dracula's Revenge, Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge and Castlevania: Bloodlines.
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (1988)
Simon's quest is no laughing matter. After battling Dracula, our hero has come down with a serious curse and is forced to go on an epic journey that involves piecing his arch-nemesis back together. With vampires, werewolves, skeletons and countless other baddies on his tail, Simon doesn't have a lot of time to joke around. Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped Konami's marketing department from turning Castlevania II: Simon's Quest into one giant gag.

Let's start with the forced tagline -- "A nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to die there." If this sounds familiar, it's probably because the cheeky play on words is a mainstay in bad advertising. Moviegoers may remember it used as the tagline in Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1986), Devil Comes Down (2010), Abduction (2009) and both the 1982 and 2008 versions of The New York Ripper. And that's just movies. This eye-rolling tagline has been used in the Wolf Creek book series and countless TV shows.

If that stab at humor wasn't enough, we also see the description downplay the seriousness of Simon's curse. The copy treats Castlevania like a "tourist attraction" that is just "waiting to amuse." There's a stupid population sign that completely blunts any scariness created from the zombie hand, howling wolf or mysterious boat captain. And it all ends with this groan-worthy nugget: "When days turn into nights, your return ticket from this terror trip could be canceled."

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (1990)
Two years after the Simon's Quest fiasco, Konami proves they haven't learned a thing when it comes to marketing Castlevania. You would think that a game starring ghouls, goblins, monsters and ghosts would sell itself, but Konami isn't so sure. This awful advert employs creepy artwork, tiny screenshots, bad puns and even a gimmicky contest. I'm not sure we'll have enough time to unpack everything wrong with this Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse commercial.

Let's start with the artwork, which sees a young kid magically transform into four different adventurers. To his side is Trevor Belmont, the whip-wielding father of Simon. On the other side is Grant Danasty, a pirate with the ability to climb on walls and grow chest hair. Alucard is also in the mix, as you can tell by his shiny fangs. The final character is Sypha Belnades, who is unrecognizable in his artwork.

Without trying to sound like a conspiracy theorist, is it possible that Sypha's sex is purposely left ambiguous in this advertisement? The tagline tells players to "Prepare for the most radical changes of your life." Is there anything more radical than changing from a teenage boy to a magic-using woman? And yet, it seems like it's hidden from the average GamePro reader.

Conspiracy theories aside, a surprising amount of room is used to promote a contest. Want to win a "radical trip to Dracula's hometown"? Of course not, but that doesn't keep them from using a big chunk of the ad to promote the silly contest. Is it possible that Konami worried Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse would be a tough sell? It's one of the best reviewed 8-bit games of all time and features a wide assortment of creepy crawly monsters that kids love. How could it fail?

Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge (1991)
At first glance, Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge suggests Konami has finally learned how to create an atmospheric advertisement. Here we see Dracula's ominous castle, located nearby a futuristic tube city. It's late at night and the only reason you can see the treacherous path is because of the nasty lightning storm. And we haven't even started talking about the zombies, werewolves and monsters standing guard outside the castle. It looks like Konami finally figured out how to promote Castlevania.

But let's bring down the excitement, because this Game Boy advertisement is guilty of using the same tired cliches we've seen in Simon's Quest and Dracula's Curse. Instead of selling us on the spooky tone, Konami undercuts the atmosphere with a pithy description and a cheesy tagline. Even the population sign is back, this time with a new spin on the joke featured in the Castlevania II advertisement.

And as far as taglines go, "Looks like Drac's back in town" is one of the worst. That's said with a level of indifference, like if a friend told you that an old flame was visiting for the weekend. But this isn't some old girlfriend; it's the world's most dangerous vampire, who, according to this very advertisement, has killed at least 350 people. Perhaps a more appropriate tagline would have been: "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!! DRACULA IS KILLING EVERYBODY!!!"

Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994)
Bloodlines may have been the first Castlevania game on a Sega console, but you would never know it based on this 1994 advertisement. It's as if the marketing department hasn't missed a beat, employing terrible word play that continues to undermine the creepy atmosphere. Thankfully the visual gags are kept to a minimum and there isn't a gimmicky contest competing for your attention, suggesting that maybe Konami has learned from their past mistakes.

As the tagline reads, "The plot thickens." That's funny because it's a picture of a cemetery with burial plots. It's a word play intended to make you laugh and sell you on two members of the Belmont clan going head-to-head with Dracula. The word play is continued in the description, when Konami "unearths" this new Castlevania game. Get it? It's a joke playing on the imagery of the two exhumed burial plots. This too is intended to make you laugh.

I describe all this not because I feel you don't understand the fundamentals of comedy, but rather because this ad isn't even trying. There isn't even a castle in the background, just fake grass and spooky trees. This looks more like the beginnings of a bad Nintendo Power cover than a proper advertisement. And just when you think you've heard the worst cemetery pun, Konami leaves you with this gem: "Just remember that you already have one foot in the grave." I give up.
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