Review by grasu
"Dracula X: A decent SNES action game with a refreshing Castlevania setting"
Castlevania is one of those phenomena that I'll probably never get. It's not that the series is bad or even average, it's fairly good in its own right but the dedication of gamers to this phenomenon is all but "normal". One thing is pretty clear however, Dracula X is not the greatest of Castlevania games, but it's a decent action game in its own right... granted you can stand some repetitiveness and some very cheap bosses.
The opening sequence in Dracula X is mind-blowing. In the background of the all too familiar, path-to-the-castle, flames rage, burning anything in their path. The effects used on these flames are surreal for a SNES game, with blurring and "water effects" along with astonishing lighting. Too bad the rest of the game doesn't keep up with this tradition.
Dracula X looks fairly well, with a wealth of detailed and well animated characters. All of the characters are correctly proportional to the subject matter and their animations are neither exaggerated nor stiff. The resolution and the special effects are also fairly good, but the special effects category could have used some more work in the "raging fire" and "water" areas.
Castlevania's problems only start during the level design. The levels feel graphically bland, with the same overused tile sets and tired old pixels which were used in Castlevania 4, albeit a little more colorful and detailed this time around.
It should come as to no surprise that Dracula X "aces" the sound category: The music in this game is simply phenomenal. The successful combination of light techno beats with dramatic organ pieces keeps the pace of the game moving at a good rate even during dull moments. The music also fits the mood, pace, and levels of the game to perfection without a single feeling that a "tune" is in the wrong place or at the wrong time. However, above all else, this is the best sounding music I've ever heard in a SNES game. The quality is simply mind...erm, ear blowing!
While the sound effects are hardly worthy of such high praise they are no less a very good companion to the music, although most players will just turn them off so they can listen to the astounding score.
Allow me to assure you of a few things: Dracula X doesn't offer almost anything new in terms of both a Castlevania game nor an action game. With that being said though, Dracula X doesn't do anything absolutely WRONG either, so it just becomes somewhat of a mundane game with a few great bosses and some ungodly music.
The story of Dracula X is... well, inexistent if you don't happen to know the general idea behind the Castlevania series or unless you own the manual and the box. The total absence of any decent introduction to the story is a bit disturbing (and a bit annoying) considering that most of the world really hasn't played a Castlevania game. In any case, the basic premise here is simple: Sometimes in the 1700s Dracula has been resurrected. It is now your job, as part of an ancient clan of Dracula-slayers to go to his castle and make sure he gets sealed away or something. Just be sure not to actually kill the guy this time either, otherwise a sequel will be impossible.
In games like Castlevania the story is really just a poor pretense for throwing as many varied enemies at you as the game possibly can; something that Dracula X excels at. The variety of enemies is fairly large in Dracula X, ranging from old favorites like Medusa Heads and Skeletons to newer enemies like the Armored Spearman. Bosses are the key attraction in the monster category, by a very large margin. The bosses range from Black Panthers, to Werewolves to Dracula himself and they're all fairly huge, nasty and very creepy-looking. They can also put up one helluva fight, despite the fact that they have perfectly linear patterns. The problem with the monsters in Castlevania is that they're cheap to the CORE! The Armored Spearman, for example, will have even the most astute player ripping his hair out in frustration. These creatures come in pairs (usually one above and one below), they have very quick, far reaching attacks, they can block almost all of your weapons AND they work in tandem to deliver an ass kicking of proportions. Bosses fair a bit better, but, as usual there's the cheap "Wait, I got one MORE form you didn't know about! Ha-Ha!"-type-boss which will have you breaking controllers. This monster problem is not aided in any way by the hit recovery, which will ensure that you don't get pummeled just once but actually SEVERAL times in a row by even the most menial creatures.
As far as weapons go, Dracula X could do a great deal better. There are only some 5 extra weapons besides the whip and they're all very standard ranging from daggers to axes. There are no spells and the while can only strike in 4 directions (up, down, left, right), unlike in Super Castlevania 4. The whip also comes preassembled, unlike in other Castlevania games where death insured that you had to recover parts of your whip. Even more interesting is that fact that, the basic ammo for all of the special weapons, can be found in droves throughout the level. This makes the typical conservation of earlier Castlevanias obsolete.
However, Dracula X's real problems start in the level and length departments. The level design in Dracula X ranges from "bore me to death" to "if I have to take this jump one more time I'm throwing the mother****ing console out the window" and, to boot, all the levels feel dreary and they're underdetailed. There are also no alternate pathways to take and the tile sets are extremely overused, along with the "stairway of doom" and "platform jump" artifices. This way levels get very repetitive and very uninspiring, as one never goes out of the castle dungeon-castle wall circle. Dracula X saves SOME face by having to alternate levels which act as "mistakes" when the player falls off a ledge in Stage 4. As far as length goes, Dracula X is utterly pathetic. Despite a few tedious sequences and a few challenging boss fights, Dracula X is VERY easy and EXTREMELY short. Without redos, this game takes no more than 2 hours to complete, if even that.
Other aspects of Castlevania games are fairly intact in Dracula X. One can acquire the standard power-ups, solve the standard jump puzzles and bask in the glory of seeing a short outro video after having defeated Dracula. Oddly, Dracula X uses a password save system instead of the cartridge, but it's more of a kiddy-fit than a real problem or a tedious diversion. Finally, the presentation is still top notch, with great boss design and the astounding music and good graphics.
One could do much worse than Dracula X on the SNES, but at the same time one could also do a whole lot better. However, some accolades are due here because Dracula X is far more "classic gamer" friendly than, say, Contra 3. Despite the fact that the latter is considered a "classic" not many players will stick by to even finish the first level, much less so the game. In Dracula X that's not a problem.
So if you're a classic gamer looking to try out an easy 2D action game with a good deal of personality try out this game. Otherwise, think twice before paying $50 for the CIB version.
(NOTE: The grade of Dracula X does not reflect IN ANY WAY the differences between the PC-Engine and SNES versions. The games are nearly identical in their core gameplay.)
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/18/05
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