Review by Mariner

"Is this a dagger which I see before me? Nah, I think I’ll keep the axe"

I’m not exactly the world’s biggest Castlevania fan. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the series, as I really do. There’s a lot of great games out there in the series, spanning practically all consoles. Dracula X, the port of the Turbo PCE game, the second on the SNES, was one that I had not had the pleasure of playing until recently. 100 years after Simon’s stint, Dracula rose from the dead thanks to a rather fanatic disciple. Wanting revenge on the Belmont family for routinely ending his life, he kidnaps Richter Belmont’s girlfriend and torches their town. A decent premise and a good game overall,
this version of Castlevania is unfortunately plagued by a few problems which serve to dismantle the good stuff.

It seemed odd that I can criticize this game when there seems to be so much going for it. You are greeted to nothing short of graphical brilliance, as both the foreground and the back are animated in amazing detail for the SNES. Little touches, like a few feathers floating to the ground after you whip a raven, add to the beauty of the game. Waves of flames greet you as you move through the burning town, walls replete with paintings, candles, and so forth adorn the castle halls, and the grisly ghouls are no longer the blurry lumps from the NES. Richter comes complete with a few new cool animations, such as a backflip and a tumbling motion after a particularly powerful enemy strike. Sound effects help to complement the scene, particularly Richter’s whip wooshing through the air, not to mention his death scream. So far, at least the artistry is there.

But what about the music? Yes, one thing is painfully missing from completing the artistic brilliance that Castlevania is famous for. The series has always had some incredible music, some of my favorites, but this one was lacking. Sure, the map music was nice, somewhat reminiscent of the classic In the Hall of the Mountain King, and was enjoyable for the two second increments that it appeared. And Dracula’s music wasn’t bad either, although the final battle should really be held to a higher standard that this didn’t quite reach. But the rest just turned me off. What was this strange sound emanating from my console? It seemed new, remixed, and (dare I say it?) upbeat?!? What happened to the disheartening, melancholy , dangerous tunes of yore? Well, some of them were still there, but redone in a way not quite as gut-wrenching as Britney Spears doing Satisfaction, but pretty poor nonetheless. And some of the other music would fit in much better in some of the brighter spots in a light hearted RPG game, not a vampire fighting Romanian scene. Remember Konami, if it ain’t broke....

But who can complain about the new additions to the series? Personally, I found the item switching to be the most useful and best implemented new feature (assuming this was the first one to use it, as I believe it was). Basically, when you pick up a new item, the old one falls out, allowing you to reclaim it if you changed your mind or picked up the new one on accident. No more losing your boomerang 10 steps away from the boss just because you didn’t know that candle contained the oh so useless dagger. Furthermore, there is a new “item break” in which, for a cost of quite a few hearts, Richter unleashes a fury of items (different effects for different items, of course), which do quite a bit of damage to multiple enemies. And Richter now has limited mobility in the air, along with a new backflip to help him get out of trouble. None of these fundamentally changed the game or anything, but they were very welcome improvements.

If only we could stop there. It seems as if Konami was not content with improving on their previous model, and thus decided to create new (and revert back to old) problems to go along with it. In a truly ridiculous oversight, someone apparently forgot that the SNES pad does indeed have four face buttons. Due to said person’s overwhelming stupidity, firing your second weapon goes back to the original up+whip button, rather than conveniently giving it its own button. This means not only do you accidentally waste a heart letting off a axe when you didn’t want to, but you also can’t use said axe in given situations (like while ducking or walking down stairs). And, of course, since up+whip is already used, that means you can’t whip up, diagonally, or any other direction besides straight forward. This was such a neat concept and truly improved the series in Castlevania IV, but now it is gone. I think that clearly counts as a bad move. And as if this series wasn’t hard enough, you are only invincible after getting hit for an extremely short period of time. Coupled with the fact that Richter falls backwards when hit, this could lead to multiple hits and rapid death in no time. It’s quite frustrating to get pinned against a wall on a boss and unable to do anything because you keep getting juggled to death. Bye bye Richter. Perhaps you can get by these problems, but I think they could have done much better.

Despite the lack of music and a few gameplay problems, I think this game’s main problem lies in its lack of importance. You won’t feel like you were missing out if you didn’t play this game, even if you are a big Castlevania fan. The game seems to try to get back to its roots, ignoring some of the flashier elements from IV like the spinning rooms. Perhaps it did that too well. The levels aren’t memorable, many of the bosses and enemies have been seen before, and there’s very little here that wasn’t already done in the past. Rather than a new game, it seems like a composite of I and III on the NES, thus losing a lot of its luster. Things like having a clock tower level and other levels very similar to its predecessors, a giant bat as a boss, the exact same group of enemies, and so forth makes one wonder if we’re really playing a new game or just experiencing deja vu. After the marvelous new editions in IV, not to mention Symphony of the Night afterwards, Dracula X just seems too derivative and standard, playing it safe rather than bringing new stylistic ideas to the table.

But if all you want is a good action game, then I’d certainly recommend this one. It’s short but hard, although probably slightly easier than some of the others in the series. And, as usual, it’s always fun whipping the undead into shape. This game does compare quite favorably to the rest of the stuff out there, but can’t hold itself up to the legendary name of Castlevania. Although the graphics are beautiful, the awful remixed music spoils the atmosphere. Although there are many great additions, they replaced some other nice stuff rather than building on the franchise. And it all just seems derivative and uninspired. Give it a try if you must, but I’d go with Super Castlevania IV instead.

Overall - 7.5


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 05/03/02, Updated 05/03/02


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