Review by bruplex

"Castlevania's Arcade Adventure"

Castlevania: Dracula X was a rushed semi-port of Rondo of Blood, originally developed for the PC Engine Super CD-ROM-2 System. Both games set a loose blueprint for the epic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the title that would forever change the way Castlevania games are played. Dracula X is often compared to its SNES counterpart Super Castlevania IV. Many gamers feel that Dracula X was a step down from SCIV in terms of play control, atmosphere, gameplay value, and enemy design. The mid 1990s saw Dracula X dismissed as a clumsy cousin of the franchise and it wasn't until renewed collector interest brought the game back into the limelight—along with a hefty price tag.

I count (no pun intended) myself among those 1990s SNES enthusiasts who felt let down by the game. I originally acquired Dracula X brand new in 1995 from a bargain bin for $14.95 (!). It was mere weeks later I returned it for store credit. Dracula X is pregnant with unfulfilled potential. The graphics are dazzling, drawn in comic-style details with thick outlines and rich color. Music, as in most Castlevania games, is top-notch, featuring a mix of classic compositions and catchy, mood enhancing originals. Boss characters seem adequately hellish and devious. So where does Dracula X come up short?

Controlling Richter feels stiff and a bit sluggish, even when grading on the play-control curve set by the NES games. There's no directional whipping and when walking up stairs, Richter's animation is jittery and less fluid than most in-game movements. There are some nice additions, though they are rarely used in clever ways. A novelty backflip move is useful in a few places as an alternate strategy to bypass certain brief sections. The item crash ability and new mechanics of familiar sub-weapons are nice touches. Most overlooked is the addition of Richter's ability to stay anchored to the ground when hit by an enemy while ducking (rather than flying backwards when receiving damage), a feature that is never worked in as a strategic option. New elements of gameplay could have contributed to the overall experience but in the end, they serve as mere novelties.

There are seven primary levels with two optional detours (and a password system). Dracula X is a quick playthrough, even when working out all three of the game's endings. Richter can acquire a key that will free Maria, then a young girl, and his girlfriend Annet. Endings vary depending on if you save none of the girls, just Maria, or Maria and Annet (for some odd reason, there is no "Annet-only" ending). The lack of deep exploration and relatively speedy progression contributes to the game's arcade-like echoes, though thankfully it lacks the quarter-munching difficulty that plagues many arcade style games. A minor gripe is the abrupt transition between stages, as if a level-ending animation was accidentally cut out.

Overall, Dracula X is an enjoyable experience while it lasts, flaws and all. Is it worth investing $200 or more to own an original cartridge? No, not unless you're a collector. If there was one word to describe Dracula X, it would be "abrupt". Even the predictable final battle against Dracula is much easier than in other Castlevania games. Dracula X wears out its welcome, due to low replay value and a glaring lack of unlockable features. Taken in the spirit of an action-oriented platformer, there's a lot of quality that, much like Dracula, never saw the sun.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/13/00, Updated 07/08/16

Game Release: Castlevania: Dracula X (US, 09/30/95)

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