Review by K. Mroczko
"Old-school platforming returns..."
The executives at Konami finally made a decision for the fans; they gave the green-light for a budget-priced 2D Castlevania release. Castlevania Chronicles is a compilation of the original Japan-only title, Akumajou Dracula, and a slightly enhanced remake with new character designs by the designers of Symphony of the Night. For any hardcore Castlevania fan, this is a dream come true.
Akumajou Dracula was released in 1993 for the Sharp X68000 computer platform. To some extent, the title is a remake of the first Castlevania, which is evident in the the similarity of some levels and bosses (namely the first and last stages). Because the Sharp computer is of substantially more power than the Nintendo Entertainment System, there are a multitude of enhancements. The sprites are bigger and more vivid, the backgrounds better detailed, and the sound and gameplay are much improved.
You take on the role of Simon Belmont, a vampire hunter in pursuit of Vlad Tepes, AKA Count Dracula, who has risen from the dead and erected his devious castle of evil. In the journey to stop him, you must travel throughout the castle, battling his henchmen and minions, including the likes of Medusa, Frankenstein's monster, an Evil Wizard, a Werewolf, and undead mannequins. The goal is Dracula's tower, which lies at highest point of the castle.
At your disposal is the venerable whip, along with a host of ''heart-powered'' special items like holy water, daggers, and boomerangs, all important in allowing you to vanquish your foes. The side-scrolling view allows for optimal jumping and whipping, and the use of all these weapons are integral for your success. Noteworthy is the fact that Simon can whip only to the front and below; there isn't the multi-directional freedom as in Castlevania IV. The effect this has on the play mechanics is immense; enemies that are slightly above you require deft jumping skills to destroy, and overall game strategy is influenced by the realization of this limit.
Graphically speaking, Castlevania Chronicles is not breathtaking. Even at its early 90's release, this was not
state-of-the-art. Akumajou Dracula showcases a limited amount of animation and color, although some of the backgrounds are decent. Compared to Symphony of the Night, however, Chronicles is visually weak. This is clearly 16-bit quality, and even the included enhanced version, which changes the Simon and Dracula sprites, as well as making minor alterations throughout the rest of the game, doesn't raise the graphics to a higher degree. This is somewhat disappointing, seeing as how the opportunity was there to make Chronicles more than just a modified repackaging of a nine year old game.
In terms of audio, things get a tad more interesting. The original game was a PC title, and hence, was playable with different sound hardware. Chronicles offers you (albeit with the input of a code) each of these variations; FM synthesis, the weakest of the bunch, as well as two XG emulations. In addition, the remake sports a redone score that is rather enjoyable and more up to date than the others. Any version you choose includes the same songs, and the soundtrack is quite good, showcasing familiar series tunes such as Bloody Tears, Vampire Killer, and the inspiring Theme of Simon Belmondo.
Like all of the classic Castlevania games, Akumajou Dracula is rather difficult and sometimes frustrating. If you run out of health or fall off a ledge, you're thrown back to the beginning of the last checkpoint, and if you run out of your precious lives, it's all the way back to the beginning of the level. Some of the obstacles in the game seem to be placed specifically to frustrate and force exact memorization, and sometimes even pure luck. Near the end of the game, the key seems to be whether or not you can make it to the end of level boss with enough energy that will allow you to play a game of attrition. Luckily, the enhanced version offers difficulty selection, which can help alleviate some of the annoyances, especially for novice players.
As for extras, Chronicles offers the enhanced mode, of course, as well as a requisite CG intro and ending (neither awe-inspiring), an art gallery (that expands as you advance further into the game), a creator interview (which hints at future remakes as well as a next-generation 2D Castlevania sequel), and a Time Attack mode. The latter is available only in the Arranged version, and is unlocked only after completing the game once.
All in all, Castlevania Chronicles is a good deal at its original price (although a limited release might make the current price anything but a bargain). The included game and its arranged mode are competent, if not outstanding, and the included extras are admirable on such a limited budget. If you are a Castelvania fanatic, this is a must-buy. For everyone else, it stands as a decent game that might fulfill a curiosity or satisfy the vampire-killing hunger ignited by Symphony of the Night.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 03/03/02, Updated 03/03/02
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