Super Castlevania IV Pixel Critique

Konami – 1991

Super Castlevania IV is a platforming fantasy horror game. You fight Dracula in a medieval castle.  This game ranks high in lists of all-time best video games. It always ranks in a top 10 SNES games. I understand why it is incorrectly so acclaimed. This is based off people who are impressed when they hear a lot of quick music notes or hear lots of big words in a sentence. “Incomprehensible crap must somehow be above my head…” People with an actual eye for aesthetics can see that the emperor has no clothes here. Simply put, Castlevania IV is a utilitarian game; someone asked Konami craftsmen for a fun game with a unique plot and genre; a craftsman delivered. But is the game beautiful? No. I would argue it’s ugly and unskilled pixel-wise.

Every frame suffers from a crisis of composition. It is overworked with bad colors. The rooms are fantastically complex. The architecture is thoroughly detailed such that there is never a clear focal point or means of guiding your gaze. Too much stuff cramped into every inch; patterns on all the fabric; crumbles on every stone; rust on every chain; it’s cheesy robotic simulation. The designers don’t comprehend how to simplify or exaggerate. The global effect of all this clutter is every frame feels flat. Everything is always too bright or too dark, too many tiny colored squares splattered on the canvas.

Artistically, pixel artists must become draftsmen who can make beauty with really fat markers. I understand this as someone fond of making woodcuts. When cutting with a gouge, some details are just too fine to capture. An artist has to learn to adapt to the medium. Form is malleable and must be shaped without regard for the subject. Exaggeration and simplification are essential where detail is limiting. Posada is the master of this!

Jose Guadalupe Posada

Skeletons are very detailed subjects. Posada simplifies the forms without regard to taxonomic specificity. He leaves negative space unfilled to balance against the line complexity. Your eyes don’t bleed looking at this. They are drawn in and bounce about! Contrast Posada with Super Castlevania IV and its shear ugliness:

Amazing pixel artists can capture beauty by simplification. Shovel Knight is an excellent example of what is possible regarding this point. Look at this simplified monochromatic image. It is utterly stunning.

Shovel Knight

Compare the Shovel Knight Grim Reaper battle with the Super Castlevania IV Grim Reaper battle and notice how Shovel Knight leaves negative space intact but Castlevania feels the obsessive compulsive need to fill every inch with an ugly fabric curtain pattern. They need Queer Eye for the Straight Japanese Guy!

These Konami artists should have spent 100 days drawing Posada with the fattest sharpies they could find.

After they might have produced pixels worthy of all this games’ accolades.

With all that said, it’s a good game worth a play around Halloween; not nearly as horrible as Blackthorne.


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