Review by The Vic Viper
"It could have been so much better"
Castlevania Dracula X, or Castlevania: Vampire's Kiss in Europe, is the second SNES game in the long running Konami series. Dracula X is a 2-D scrolling action/platformer starring a vampire hunter in his quest to rid the world of Dracula, who has once again returned. Dracula X is port of a Japanese only PC-Engine game, Rondo of Blood. The porting job was not handled as well as it could have been and many features that would have greatly improved the game were left out. Had Dracula X come out before Super Castlevania IV it may have faired better, but when a four year old game is better in every way, it does not make the game look good.
The plot is fairly basic and the premise is the same as in every other Castlevania game: Dracula has been resurrected and a member of the Belmont family sets off on a quest to slay him. This time it is Richter Belmont, and he has a more personal reason for his journey. Several townspeople have been kidnapped, including his sister, Maria, and his girlfriend, Annette. Unlike previous Castlevanias, there are multiple endings for the game, depending one if you manage to rescue both, only one, or neither of the women. There aren't any major differences between the endings; just a couple of scenes added for each of the women rescued. The storyline is fairly cliched, even for a videogame of the time, since you are basically saving the maidens in distress from the bad guy. As an action game, there is very little plot development, with most of the story being explained in the intro before level 1 and being wrapped up after the final boss. While nobody expects an epic storyline, the save the helpless maidens in distress routine became old a long time ago.
Dracula X is a linear side-scroller, and you move through each of the several levels fighting off the evil creatures that get in your way. Your standard weapon is a whip, and you have several other special weapons you can pick up, including daggers, holy water, axes, and more. Each special weapon has a different strength and style of attack (dagger fire directly ahead, axes fly in a wide arc, etc) making which weapon is the best depend on the situation, and you are only able to hold one weapon at a time, so you will have to choose which one you think will be the best. Using these weapons will require spending hearts, which can be picked up by defeating enemies or finding them in lamps. Each of the special weapons also has a very powerful attack that uses a lot more hearts, but causes damage over a wider area.
The biggest problem with the game is the controls, which make the game feel more like the NES Castlevanias than a Super Nintendo game. Unlike Super Castlevania IV where you could whip in eight directions, you are once again limited to attacking straight ahead. Your jumping ability is much more sluggish and it is harder to control than in Super Castlevania IV. The game can certainly be completed without Super Castlevania IV's gameplay, but if the controls had been more like Super Castlevania IV's, this game would have been much more enjoyable to play.
The seven levels are somewhat short, but the bosses at the end are quite difficult, especially if you don't have a special weapon and enough hearts. The final boss (Dracula obviously), is very hard, even harder than the Dracula's for the NES versions and Super Castlevania IV. The bosses are all challenging, but it is a fair fight, so persistence will pay off. Not only are there fewer levels than in Super Castlevania IV (seven in Dracula X and ten in Super Castlevania IV), each level is shorter, making Dracula X about half of the length as Super Castlevania IV. The three different endings help give the game replayability, but except for a minor stage difference at one point, the game will play through exactly the same each time. Overall the game is a pretty good challenge, and the level design and traps work well with the enemies to make your life difficult. Unfortunately a lot of the difficulty comes from the lackluster controls and inability to whip in eight directions, making the game seem more like a throwback to the NES than the next stage in the evolution of the series.
Dracula X attempts to have an anime feel to it, however the technical limitations of the Super Nintendo make it impossible for this to be achieved. Instead everything looks very plain with limited amounts of texturing and shadowing. While Konami managed to successfully create a creepy atmosphere in Super Castlevania IV with their use of multiple background layers, gothic textures, and enemy design, Dracula X does not, so it doesn't have the same Hell-on-Earth feel to it that other Castlevania games have.
For games such as the Castlevania series, appropriate music can add to the overall mood and greatly enhance the game. Dracula X's music, while more than acceptable, does not create the mood that other Castlevania games achieve. Many of the soundtracks are remixes of music from previous games, but the original music was better and including the original music instead of remixing it would have given the game a classic feel. On its own, the music is quite good, I'll give it that much, unfortunately that alone isn't enough to make it good for the game.
Dracula X is a port of a Turbo CD game called Rondo of Blood, and a lot was lost in the conversion. The Turbo CD very is much better, with much better graphics, anime cutscences, enhanced music, and more responsive controls. Rondo helped expand on the overall storyline of the Castlevania series, however Dracula X does not have this. Unfortunately, you can't run out and get the superior version for two reasons. First it was never released outside of Japan, so people in the West will have a very hard time finding it, and second of all it was rare back then and it's almost impossible to find now.
This game should have been much longer; it is the shortest Castlevania game to date, even shorter than the first one. If this game had been longer, and with multiple paths to take to get to Dracula, then the game would have had much more replay value and possibly have been worth owning. Castlevania III showed what how much multiple paths and a variety of playable characters could do to make a game standout among others, and Dracula X comes off as a poor attempt to recreate this. Super Castlevania IV showed what amazing graphics and music can do to enhance the playing experience and greatly improved Belmont's fighting ability. Dracula X on the other hand, achieves none of this, despite coming out four years after Super Castlevania IV.
Opinions on Dracula X are very mixed, with a lot of people enjoying the game immensely, but many others feeling disappointed after Super Castlevania IV. If you are a big Castlevania fan and trying to collect the entire series then you will definitely want this game, and people who use emulators should give it a chance, since they have nothing to lose. If you haven't played this game before, you might not want to run out and buy it, since even used copies can run over $50 on eBay. The thing that makes this game such a disappointment is that is more like the NES games than the SNES game. From the controls to the graphics, this is not what you would expect from a SNES game, especially after playing the masterpiece that is Castlevania IV.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 06/29/03, Updated 10/25/04
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