Saturday, October 31, 2015

Castlevania: Dracula X (Super NES, 1995)

Here's a game that I've never covered before. It got somewhat of a bad rep over the years, and a lot of that is probably because Super Castlevania IV was a much better game. This despite Super Castlevania IV being years earlier in the Super NES's lifespan. In short, this was a fairly unnecessary addition to the Castlevania-verse, but it's a decent game regardless.



Dracula X started out as Rondo of Blood (a much, much better name) for the PC Engine in Japan circa 1993. It was very well-received and introduced a lot of mechanics that hadn't been seen in the series up to that point, including some non-linear level design choices that later went into Symphony of the Night on the Playstation.

Wait a minute... PC Engine? That's our Turbografx-16, which if I'm not mistaken was in dire need of a major game hit in 1993. Why didn't Rondo of Blood get a U.S. release for that system? It could have been THE killer app on a system without one. The mind boggles.

In any case, Rondo of Blood didn't get a U.S. release. It did, however, get a remake of sorts in 1995, and that's what ended up as Dracula X on the Super NES. This version is notably inferior to the PC Engine version, with a lot of the cool design choices taken out and a fairly linear level design. There isn't much to this game, but it's what we got at the time.


Every time I see a screen like this now, I hear the map jingle from Super Ghouls and Ghosts.

The game begins with a flaming town. We're playing as Richter Belmont now, the grandson of Simon Belmont. So we've moved a few generations past the original game, at least.

The stages in this game are left-to-right, linear affairs... so is the whipping. That's right, gone is the ability to whip in any direction that we had in Super Castlevania IV. This basic limitation almost immediately establishes this game as a step down. It's really just "back to normal", but it's hard to do that when you're used to having full whip control in the previous game. This is sorta like WWE going PG again after the Attitude Era. It's just back to the way it was before, but there's something to be said for growing with the audience.

Special weapons make a return, at least, with the boomerang-crosses looking better than ever.

Each weapon also has a special mega-attack that covers the entire screen at a higher heart-ammo cost.

Towards the end of the first stage, Richter has to outrun a charging behemoth. This first stage is easily the most memorable thing about this game.

One constant in these old Castlevania games that I'm not a fan of: The jumping. Once you start a jump, you're committed to it and there isn't much adjusting. Here we see me trying to keep from flying into a pit by turning back, but all that does is make Richter face the other way while he careens ass-first to his doom.

The first real boss is Cerberus. The graphics and animation in this game are good, probably because it uses the same visual style as Rondo of Blood.

I wonder if this game would have existed at all if Rondo of Blood had gotten a U.S. release. Probably, considering the SNES was much more common than the Turbografx-16. Konami would have likely wanted to port it over regardless. I do wonder why the SNES version isn't as robust, though, since the system was more powerful than the TG-16.

...wasn't it? OR WAS EVERYTHING I EVER HEARD A LIE?

I like how in some of the earlier games you could upgrade your whip to give it fire-power and whatnot, but alas that isn't the case here. The whip starts out as a chain whip and never gets longer or more powerful. It's chain whip all the way!


You CAN, however, do a single big flame whip attack by doing a special weapon attack (Up and Y) when you don't have any special weapons equipped. It looks awesome but it doesn't seem very damaging.

Stage 2 is a dilapidated bridge with vicious fish that jump out at you. This is where the game starts getting a little difficult, because small platforms + leaping enemies + the jump control = lots of getting knocked into pits.

The bridge collapses as you get further along. Where is the infrastructure, Dracula? Are ALL of our tax dollars going to finding brides?

Speaking of which, we reach what I think is the foot of Drac's castle. This marks the debut of these annoying eyeball enemies that home in on Richter, as well as more standard series fare like the axe-boomerang knights.

Speaking of series fare, I grabbed the Holy Water at this point and it still functions as a grenade. This time around it has a potent green fire animation. You know... I think somebody replaced the "holy water" with absinthe.

Next boss is another redux of the first boss of the original Castlevania. It's a simple fight with a giant bat that breaks apart into smaller bats. Their pattern is deliberate, at least. Found this easier than the Cerberus fight, weirdly enough.

This wall looks suspicious, so I whipped it. Didn't expect anything to happen, but the game surprised me by having the wall break. What lurks within?

An extra life? Whoa! Those are basically nonexistent in this game, so awesome. I didn't really talk about this much in the earlier posts, but throughout the Castlevania series you can often whip walls to find heals or other loot within.

What follows is an area that looks like a bad Super Mario Maker level, as lots of enemies are stacked on top of each other for no real reason. Go easy on the massive enemy hordes, people! There's a reason that Nintendo-designed levels don't all start with 40 goombas walking towards the player in four stacked rows of ten!

The next boss is the easiest yet. Why are they descending in difficulty level? Props for having the Headless Horseman here at all though, risking the wrath of angry 90's Parents. (If Nintendo Power Volume 2, which I touched on in the Simon's Quest post, is any indication...)

I've got a key as a special weapon right now, and no idea what to do with it. Been avoiding any further special weapons because I don't want to lose the key. I better check Nintendo Power, because I vaguely remember this key being important. The fact that stage four is a jail tells me that the key is used here.


In other news, the music in this area is excellent. When 'Vania music is on, it's ON.

...And we're back from Nintendo Power checking. Looks like I'm in the right place to use the key. This is where Dracula is keeping Maria, Richter's girlfriend's sister. He also has the girlfriend, Annet, in a different stage. With all these captured women, I'm half expecting to learn that Dracula is also holding the girlfriend's sister's cousin's former roommate.

The prison soon gives way to a cave full of spikes. I feel like I've already missed the locked door. It'd help if I knew what it looked like...

Another thing that'd help: If I could whip in multiple directions, since these enemies are flying at me from above and below on the elevator. This is maddening!

::rubs eyes::

........EGAD! The locked door! It's right there! I didn't even see it while playing, probably too busy trying to dodge these flying skulls. Now I know what to look for.

There's another door at the end of the stage, but the key isn't working. I think this is the exit if you've got Maria in tow. I don't, so I'm left face-to-snout with...

...the stage boss, the minotaur. This thing is formidable. I'm a minotaur-thusiast, and seeing shots of this fight in Nintendo Power is what made me want to play this game in the first place back in the day.

The minotaur easily defeats me a couple of times, but I soon discovered that hit-and-run tactics work extremely well against it. Do 2-3 hits to stun it and then back off quickly because it'll always retaliate the same way.

That was stage 4, but I didn't find Maria so I'll have to do it again. According to Nintendo Power, there are alternate versions of stage 4 and 5, both reached by falling off of those pillars in stage 3. They lead to the bad ending, while the stage I'm on here leads to the good ending if you rescue Maria and Annet. In the interest of completeness, I'm going back to play the alternate bad path levels before I replay this version of stage 4 and continue with the good ending path. Yeah, we're going IN-DEPTH for this one.

The minotaur boss is sorta in a weird spot because you don't actually need to fight him on either path. The bad path avoids this stage entirely, and the good path lets you skip the minotaur fight by rescuing Maria in his stage. The only real purpose the minotaur serves is to move you from the good path to the bad path, since you jump the tracks if you get to the end of this stage without Maria.

Well, this is all a little more complicated than it needs to be. Let's continue.

 Alternate stage 4 is all underground, and reached by falling off the pillars in stage 3. Oddly enough, I found this stage to be much more difficult than the normal stage 4. You'd think it'd be the other way around since you reach this stage by playing poorly and falling into a pit... maybe they could cut you a break at that point? NOPE.

For starters, you're confronted with lots of mud-men right out of Xenogears. I thought the mud was lava or acid at first and avoided it like the plague. It slows you down to walk through it, but it isn't damaging.

This red skeleton is creepy as hell, and for a moment I thought it was the boss. It isn't, but it might as well be classified as a miniboss because it takes TONS OF DAMAGE. I eventually gave up and just sprinted past it.

Don't sprint too fast though, because AAHHHH WTF IS THAT

Get past red skeletons and bone-serpents, and you arrive at the boss: Phantoon from Super Metroid. Seriously, the fight intro is very similar, with blue flames materializing and converging in a circle.

This isn't a flying eye-monster, though. It's some sort of lich, and it's one of the toughest fights in the game. The first form isn't too bad because you can knock it backwards with whip strikes. Wait, did I say first form? That's right, unlike every other non-final boss in the game, this boss has a second life meter. Why is this alternate stage so hard? It isn't even for the good ending!

Defeat the lich and he's all "this isn't even my final form!" and...

HE RETURNS, now telekenetically swinging a bunch of tombstones in the air. They can be destroyed mid-flight, at least, but only if you have some distance on him before he starts throwing them. This fight is difficult, yo.

YEAH! DISINTEGRATE! DAMN YOU TO HELL!

Our Halloween adventure continues with an alternate stage 5. Featuring bats. Lots of bats. This game loves to combine bats and pits, ala Ninja Gaiden.

Here I am getting killed by a refugee from Dark Souls. At first I didn't know how I was supposed to get past these guys without getting mauled, but then I realized that the whip has a slightly longer range than their swords. Turns out that most of the more difficult enemies in this game have a trick to them if you're careful.

When things get hectic, UNLEASH RAIN FLUSH!


"Oh Yeahhhh. Nice."

This alternate stage 5 continues along the path of the alternate stage 4, leading to the final stages. Despite being much more challenging than the "real" stage 4 and 5, following this path results in the bad ending. Go figure. After I finish this stage I'll be going back to the original path.

Boss here is the werewolf, with what I think is Dracula's Castle in the background. Awesome visuals here, but the fight is probably the easiest in the game. Given the size of the boss and the shape of the room, this looks more like a Ninja Gaiden series or Mega Man series boss.

Returning to the original path, I re-do the first version of stage 4. This time I take the door that I missed earlier, which leads me to...

 ...Maria? I think this is Maria. Isn't she an adult and super-hot in the later games? This must take place a lot earlier.

Stage 5 is very cool, sorta an underwater temple/ruin. I'm a big fan of this theme and would like to see it in more games. Everquest does this particular theme a lot and has an entire expansion dedicated to sea ruins.

There's something a little suspicious about this room. If you whip the water spout...

...it causes the room to de-flood and scroll downward a bit. Feels like something out of Super Metroid. Actually, this is probably an updated version of the blue crystal deal in Simon's Quest.


Down here is Annet (or Annette), Richter's girlfriend and the second of the two people he had to rescue. Now that I've done everything, onward to the end!

The boss here seemed impossible at first because it flies around so rapidly. It's a matter of hitting the serpent in the head, but good luck with that.

The key is to wait until it goes vertical and hovers in place for a moment, then unleash a crush attack. I used the cross boomerang, not sure if others would be as effective, and got a ONE HIT KILL out of it. I was ready to call this the hardest fight in the game a minute ago...

Looks like the designers included a lot of convenient outs for the more difficult sections of the game.

We're on the edge of the landscape now. Is this island floating in a void? It's like an eviler version of Zeal Kingdom. In any case, Stage 6 is the infamous Clock Tower that seems to appear in every game in this series. Stage 7 is the end and takes us back to the left for the castle tower.

The clock tower is full of BATS. So many BATS.

BATS.

Soon I reach the actual Clock Tower. This vertical bat-hell is filled with gears that you need to ride upwards. Well, you know. This is nothing new at this point...

Climbing these spinning gears is already a chore, and when you factor in these flying medusa heads... yeah, this is a series trope that I really wish they wouldn't have kept going back to.

Speaking of serious tropes, here's Death. You know Dracula is a badass when DEATH plays second-billing to him. Death actually isn't too bad...if you bring the axe. The arc that the axe travels in happens to do a really good job knocking Death out of the air as he swoops in.

When his health gets low, Death sheds his cape and goes full-on melee-mode.

A vicious Crono Cyclone ends the hope of Earth. DAMN IT! DAMN IT ALL!

I win on the next go by using hit-and-run tactics on the grounded version of Death. YEAH! VICTORY

If you reach this point without rescuing the women, you fight an alternate boss. Instead of Death, here's Carmilla... who looks like Death's sibling. It's a slightly easier fight overall though.

Stage 7 is the finale, Dracula's Castle. This is the final stage regardless of what paths you took through stage 4 and 5, or which boss you fought in 6.

This time around, the castle is gothic in architecture and very cool. Unfortunately it's full of BATS and these annoying spear-wielding knights.

Dracula himself is just chilling on his throne when Richter arrives. The first sign that this fight will be rough: There's, uh, very little floor.

Dracula's first form isn't too bad. It's his usual fireball-throwing first form, but the varied platform elevations actually make the fireballs easier to avoid. If you bring the axe (and tons of hearts) you can easily hit him from the lower platforms without being in any danger.

His second form is... a digitized Arnold Schwartznegger from the early 80's Mr. Universe contest? I'm pretty sure it is. This is the hardest final fight of any game in this series, at least from what I've played.

This form is deadly because it can hit you from anywhere, and the pit is an ever-present threat. He also likes to fly over and hover right above where you're standing, essentially trapping you. You can leap out from under him if you get right on the edge of your platform quickly, at least.

Lose, and you have to fight his first form again. WHY! WHYYYYYYY!!!

"You seem to be having trouble. Do you need assistance?"

NO! Get out of here!


Actually I do, so I reach for the power. Nintendo Power! They also wonder aloud if this is the toughest of the Draculas. Their protips here are pretty much all common sense, but they do offer one crucial bit of advice: Use the axe.

On my second go, Richter takes a moment to wail on Dracula's penis before he takes flight. Just really wail on it.

Axes do indeed make all the difference, and it's much easier to hit him with those than with the whip. If you're standing on a platform chucking axes, you can give yourself room to not fall off if you get knocked back. If you're jumping to hit him with the whip, then when you're hit you almost inevitably sail back into a pit. Using the axe is key. The axe super-attack renders you temporarily invulnerable, too, which is helpful for avoiding a hit back. It's a good idea to save the ammo for regular shots, though.

Even with the fight over I throw a few more axes just in case.

During the ending cinematic, Dracula turns into... Steve Buscemi? I did NOT see that coming!

The sun comes up and that does him in. Everyone then lived happily ever after, at least until the next game in the timeline.

Richter, suddenly looking a lot like a Street Fighter II character, embraces his girlfriend while her little sister peers on.

God bless those magnificent bastards.

That concludes my look at the retro Castlevania titles. It was a good run, and I enjoyed all of 'em. Super Castlevania IV was the best, easily, but the gameplay is timeless and fun across the board.


NOW IT IS TIME TO WHIP IT.


3 comments:

  1. Some of the disdain for this game is from comparing it to Super Castlevania IV, but I think most of it is from comparing it to Rondo of Blood.

    Well, it should be noted the original version was for the CD-ROM add-on to the Turbografx. So that explains a lot of the technological gap.

    Rain Flush is hypnotic.

    Yeah, this is OG Maria, who is younger. In the original Rondo she was a playable character too, which led to her older version also being a playable character in Symphony of the Night... but that was the Saturn version we didn't get over here. If I'm not mistaken you can play as Maria in both games on the PSP release we got later at least.

    Whoa, melee Death? Cool.

    Man, not even having a proper floor for the final battle is just a low blow. This fight is a lot more fun in the Symphony of the Night intro stage.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the in-depth post. Now I'm curious how the better Turbographx version of this game played. Is it available online?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It should be, but I've never really fooled with TG-16 emulation. I should play Bonk.

      Delete