I had never played the SNES version of Castlevania: Dracula X until it was released on the Wii U Virtual Console earlier this month. I knew it wasn’t going to be as good as Rondo of Blood, but I wanted to check it out anyway and see how it stacks up as its own game.
I suppose the strangest thing that stood out to me is that, in some ways, it feels a little more like a Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins game than a Castlevania game. Enemies are placed in really inconvenient places, and there’s a little bit of trial-and-error involved in learning how to deal with them. But then once you know how, it’s not really a problem, so I can’t say it’s unfair (for the most part). The game also tends to punish you for careless jumping, so movement needs to be very methodical. Heck, even the map screen looks more like a GnG game than Castlevania.
My biggest criticism, however, is that parts of the game feel just a little lazy, or at least uninspired. For example, in most Castlevania games, there’s an unofficial minigame where you try to pose the main character in a cool position just as the screen freezes when you collect the orb at the end of each stage. However, collecting the orb in Dracula X causes the screen to immediately fade to black. (I still like to back flip through the orb for good measure.) This isn’t a big deal or anything, but it’s such a consistent tradition in the classic games that its absence is conspicuous, and there’s really no reason the developers couldn’t have included it.
Also, the backgrounds look nice enough, and a couple of stages even have some nice special effects, but overall, they don’t quite pop. Compared to games like Rondo of Blood or Super Castlevania IV, both of which are filled with setpieces, Dracula X is pretty standard “walk forward and whip things.”
The music, however, is excellent, continuing the tradition that even the weak Castlevania games have good soundtracks. Even compared to the CD audio of the Rondo of Blood, the SNES does an impressive job of recreating the tracks.
And at the end of the day, despite my misgivings, I have to admit that I don’t think it’s a bad game. Even if the level design is not the greatest, the core mechanics are as solid as ever. The simple act of traversing the stages and whipping enemies still manages to be fun in and of itself. It’s not going to become my go-to Castlevania or anything, but it was oddly satisfying.
Next, I’m going back to the very beginning: the NES version of Castlevania. I haven’t decided if I’m going to set any specific goals for it, or just do a straight run-through. I once got very close to doing a no-death run, so it might be within my ability to go the distance with that. I can also try a no-holy-water run, but I think that might actually be harder.