Review by hangedman

"Remembered by many as that other SNES Castlevania game."

''If you're a Belmont, you hunt vampires. Easy Peasy.''

I remember a time where there was Simon Belmont. Nobody else, just Simon. Flash forward about a decade and a half, where the Belmont vampire hunters include Richter and Trevor. This is not even touching all of the other characters from other games, like Eric, John, Alucard, Grant, Maria, Sypha, Nathan, and the forgettable Reinhardt. It seems the bouncers at the vampire hunter clubs are getting very Lax these days.

Richter is now ''the one'' Vampire Hunter that must defeat the forces of evil, and it's getting close to wake-up time for Drac. Being the only one (and I can't say understandably so) that can put an end to Dracula, it's time to grab your junk and whip some skeletons. Talk about staying true to your roots.

Jump up, jump up, and get down. Jump around!

Keeping with the familiar story, the control of Dracula X is exemplary of nearly every Castlevania to date. Jump with one button, whip with the other, hold up and whip in order to use a special weapon (fueled by hearts stashed in candelabras in the levels). Jumping is a commitment, like in many of the early 8-bit titles, where jumping forward cannot be controlled after the execution: if something's obscuring your destination, better hope you whip it before you fall.

New to this particular game is the ability to ''item crash,'' essentially a special attack of your secondary weapon which consumes more hearts. Whether you choose to employ it in spite of the heart cost is up to you, and certain attacks seem much more useful than others. The item crash breathes some new life into the familiar-yet-stagnant weapon system in place since Castlevania.

Also new is the backflip, which allows Richter to jump up and scoot behind him as an evasive maneuver which quickly becomes a necessity rather than an asset. The backflip moves opposite to the direction Richter is facing, allowing you to remain focused on the target while only moving out of attack range momentarily.

Pretty lookin.

The selling point for many with Dracula X will undoubtedly be the lush graphics. There's a lot to pore over here, and the graphics are quite amazing for the 16-bit. Essentially, many of the characters from Dracula X were used in the fan-favorite Symphony of the Night, cleaned up only slightly from their 16-bit forms here. It's as if you're looking at a small step down in quality from the 32-bit counterpart, which is remarkable considering the leap between consoles.

Aside from the quality of each individual sprite, the characters move fluidly, Richter alone has several frames of walking and jumping animation. Large characters lack the ''pieced-together'' look of many 16-bit bosses, and even the small characters have an impressive arsenal of moves and attacks.

The backgrounds round out the graphical portrait, creating landscapes and areas worthy of being called a Castlevania game. While I can see how the difference in sprites and animation between Super Castlevania IV and Dracula X could be a matter of personal preference, Dracula X's backgrounds blow SCIV's out of the water. We've got ritzy dining halls, marble buildings, and burning villages which are telling of the SNES's final abilities.

Sounds pretty good.

The audio can be a strength of Dracula X, and it is most of the time. Sounds are excellent, most monsters roar convincingly and special effects are reasonable facsimiles of the visual counterpart, be it a whip hitting a skeleton or a platform slowly collapsing. The music can be stellar: the first level's hybrid of a funk-guitar as well as a familiar Castlevania theme was particularly memorable for me. Unfortunately, most of Dracula X's tunes are rehashes of old tunes from the 8-bit games. If you liked them, more power to you. I'm somewhat weary of nearly identical remixes of ''Bloody Tears'' or ''Vampire Killer'' done to death. What new tracks that were included appealed to me, but on the whole I much preferred the SCIV soundtrack, which was composed of new tunes for the majority of the game.

And how adept are you of a ''Vampire Killer?''

If there's one criticism that can be said about Dracula X, it might be that it stays a little bit too true to its roots. Richter controls slower than any other 16-bit vampire hunter, which is somewhat unsettling for me. Bloodlines and SCIV both moved at a much faster pace and had more smooth jumps. Getting hit in the middle of a jump and falling to my doom was not something I particularly cherished from earlier Castlevania games. SCIV and SOTN rectified this problem for me, and Bloodlines at the very least took adequate steps to make sure that there weren't any intentional ''enemy in your jump!'' situations that plagued the NES versions. More than I can say about Dracula X.

Likewise, Both Bloodlines and SCIV introduced different directions of attack, which removed the Castlevanian problem of a far-off crow being more dangerous than the walking dead. Being able to whip things at an angle is very welcome for me, and Dracula X feels like a step backwards with the straight-ahead whip its additional lag after the execution.

What I like about the gameplay usually takes a backseat to the mostly unchanged jumping and hit detection from the first games on the NES. If I see a bat, and an axe goes straight through it, it should be dead. When it is not, I'm angered more than I am ecstatic about Mr. Batty's unexpected survival. Likewise, I don't like seeing an enemy pop up from one side of the screen and knowing that it's going to hit me because I didn't whip before I saw it. What one might call a gameplay staple of Castlevania, I might call a problem that needs to be fixed. Control good! Non-adjustable jumps bad!

I mentioned already that Richter was slow, but it bears repeating. Richter's about as fast as a sack of hammers dipped in glue. Admittedly not a problem most of the time, I can guarantee that there will be at least one hit per level caused by Richter not moving as fast as you hoped he would go. I'll reiterate again that the other two 16-bit games allowed you better and faster control, a must when your enemies become stronger and faster. Adapting to the new system is indeed possible, and takes time, but a side-by-side comparison of the three games (Bloodlines, SCIV, and Drac X) will leave you a little disappointed with the speed, and both of Drac X's competitors give more initial and lasting satisfaction through the control.

Dracula X does a lot right, barring the old hat gameplay and the residual Castlevania problems. This time around there are some branching paths in addition to new bosses, enemies, and level situations. I liked the new bosses, as well as the medley of returning foes. Bosses are adept opponents and it takes a while to figure out their patterns. Needless to say, there's a lot of pattern memory needed here to make it to the end of the game. If you're fighting on stable ground, the game rocks.

And where does it stand today?

Dracula X, for me, sits below SCIV and slightly below Castlevania: Bloodlines. While not a bad game, by any means, the similar gameplay mechanics to the NES titles is more of a problem than it is a trip down retro / nostalgia lane. Dracula X is slower than any of the other 16-bit Castlevanias, and it can be way more frustrating to me as well. In spite of this, the game can still be incredibly fun to play, whether fighting headless knights or the grim reaper's newest incantation.

The first Castlevania's gameplay is tried and true, but in the face of newer Castlevania contenders which offer me more control and playability, I wonder why Dracula X hasn't been a little more accommodating to the future. At the very least, there's a lot to experience with the beautiful graphics, crisp sound, and some new gameplay ideas. Dracula X is a welcome journey back to NES land, only with newer visuals and sound. The problem here is that when your retro-trip triggers a repressed 8-bit memory, specifically falling to your doom from a raven merely running into you, you might abandon your journey prematurely.

OVERALL: 7 / 10
Looks great, sounds great, but shares more in common with past Castlevanias than I'd like.

*Whuzza Turbo CD?

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/28/02, Updated 03/01/02

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