Castlevania: Curse of Darkness
By 2005, the Castlevania series was at something of a crossroads. Although the 2D series was a dependable performer, drawing in a couple of hundred in until sales per title for the two latter GBA releases, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance and Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, along with the first DS title, Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow, only one game had really been a huge success in recent years, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. On consoles, the series had floundered in the transition to 3D, with the generally reviled Castlevania 64 and the okay-ish seller Castlevania: Lament of Innocence.
Lament of Innocence is an important game to bring up at this point because it was the first foray in 3D that was overseen by series producer Koji "IGA" Igarashi. He's been the mastermind behind Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and, as that game became more popular among critics and fans, his cachet in the company also increased. His games since had been solid, but even giving fans a 3D game in his house style still didn't give Konami the big hit they wanted. It was back to the drawing board for the 3D market, and instead of just making another 2D/3D hybrid like Lament of Innocence, the team tried something bigger for sequel Castlevania: Curse of Darkness.
Functionally, Curse of Darkness (titled Akumajo Dracula Yami no Juin in Japan, translated as "Demon Castle Dracula: Curse of Darkness") wasn't just a sequel to Lament of Innocence, it was also a storyline sequel to Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (thus the "Curse" in both titles). The adventure focused on Hector, one of Dracula's former lieutenants who forsook the Dark Lord after his defeat in 1476 AD, having a crisis of faith before settling down for a quiet life. His new life was shattered, though, when a former colleague, Issac, killed Hector's wife. Now on a quest for revenge, Hector had to go to the ruins of his former home and defeat the monsters within all to get peace for his dead wife at end the life of her murderer.
In style, Curse of Darkness feels like a hybrid of Castlevania 64 and Lament of Innocence. It's told from a behind-the-back perspective, like in the former title, but it has stage construction more in line with Lament of Innocence. It does, however, blend in more of the open world style and RPG mechanics indicative of the Metroidvania genre (that was missing from Lament). These were all needed improvements for the game, but in a way (as was a criticism of Lament) it feels like Curse of Darkness was trying to serve many different masters, again, without really nailing any one style.
This was actually a criticism of the game. Reviewers at the time did say the game was fun to play, but it lacked a cohesive vision that made it feel like a proper Castlevania game. It raised a fair question: how do you update the formula for the 3d era and still keeping it feeling like a Castlevania game. (And, in fairness to Curse of Darkness, we're not sure the series has ever properly answered that question.)
Upon it's release, this game did under perform. It sold an estimated 115,000 units during its lifespan, falling not only below Lament of Innocence but also the last under performing game in the IGA run, Harmony of Dissonance. It's failure put a nail in whatever 3D ambitions IGA might have had, sending the series back to the drawing board and leaving it settled into a 2D groove effectively right up to the point where the series was taken away from IGA and handed to other overseers (eventually culminating in the Lords of Shadow sub-series).