CASTLEVANIA. The mere mention instantly conjures many warm memories for gamers of all ages. Hell, the name is nearly synonymous with the NES and classic gaming itself. Play through any of the pre-N64 renditions and it’s easy to see why this beloved franchise has been lionized by so many fans throughout the years. The epic NES series naturally transitioned to the SNES with the epochal Super Castlevania IV in 1991. Dracula X was the final 16-bit Castlevania game as we know it. Being that it’s Halloween season, let’s grab our magical Belmont whip and take a closer look…
A GOLDEN AGE
When I got back into all things Super Nintendo in early 2006 (January 17 to be precise), I was lucky to be at the right place at the right time. Early 2006 was a great time to be buying SNES games by the truckload. Many didn’t cost more than $10 shipped, and a ton literally went for as cheap as $5 shipped. Titles were not only cheap but they were plentiful as well. However, even back in 2006 there were a few key titles that commanded $40+ even cart only. Castlevania: Dracula X was one of those games, but I was fortunate enough to nab a copy for exactly $40. I beat the rush and nostalgia train by several years, and boy was I thankful about that. These games now command a small fortune and I would never have assembled my collection if I got back into the SNES scene post-2012 or so. Timing is everything.
LOST IN THE SHADOWS
Nearly 26 years ago today, Super Castlevania IV arrived on the Super Famicom and made its mark as one of the all time Super Nintendo greats. Japan received it on Halloween 1991 (how fitting) while North American audiences got it in time for Christmas ’91. Konami showcased the raw power of the brand new SNES and it left a lasting impression to say the very least.
I reviewed Super Castlevania IV back in October of 2008, nearly 10 years ago. Man, time flies! This was a massive effort that took many hours piecing together, and it’s one of my personal favorites. The liberal plot re-imagining used shots from Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. It really fitted in well! That whole review has a crazy Halloween vibe to it. I think it stands as one of the best reviews I’ve ever created and I’m super proud of how it all came together almost a decade ago now.
Growing up, Halloween was one of my favorite film franchises. I still recall watching the first one in 1989 as a wee six year old thinking that Halloween was a movie about kids trick-or-treating. Later that night, I had a lucid nightmare that Michael Myers was stalking me in my bedroom! I became a fan for life — go figure! Every Halloween I try to watch at least one of the Halloween films as well as play games like Super Castlevania IV.
These images, which I splattered throughout my Super Castlevania IV review nearly 10 years ago, really evoke the spooky and atmospheric pulse of the Halloween season. It’s a fond trip down memory lane for me. I hope you enjoyed the Halloween 4 Simon Belmont intro as much as I had fun making it. After all, Halloween isn’t complete without a little Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers action! [That sounds like a fan fic someone already wrote -Ed.]
My initial impressions with Dracula X were certainly not too favorable. Here’s what I wrote in my gaming journal: Super Castlevania IV this ain’t. Hey where’s my up and diagonal whip? Where’s my rotating whip? Why is the attack shorter on time? Why does Richter walk up stairs like he just crapped in his pants, eh?
So, yeah, not too good first thoughts. But don’t judge a book by its cover right? After some help and motivation from various gaming pals, I marched on determined to see if the game would get better. After all, it’s not how one starts but how one ends. Let’s delve deeper into Dracula X…
THE STORY GOES…
The moon hovered ominously over the village… something afoul was brewing…
An evil DARKNESS had befallen the land, giving rise to sinister vampire legends. Until now the people of Transylvania had grown accustomed to their nice peaceful existence, secure in the knowledge that their famed hero, Simon Belmont, had sealed the fate of one, Count Dracula, several hundred years prior.
But as we all know, peace doesn’t last forever. People became complacent in their security over time. Then late one night at the witching hour, wicked townsfolk possessed by the darkness gathered in secret holding demonic séances in an attempt to bring back the Prince of Darkness… Sir Dracula!
Night after night they chanted relentlessly, calling out to revive Count Dracula. While everyone else had already retired for the evening, these heathens scurried out from their dark holes to convene in an ancient abandoned abbey.
Thunder rumbled across the night sky as lightning cracked the abbey. From the dead rose the Prince of Darkness!
Dracula plotted to exact revenge upon Richter Belmont, the descendant of the family that destroyed him. The Prince of Evil viciously attacked the town with his unholy legion. In a single night, lives young and old were wiped out. This time Dracula brought some brand new toys. True abominations, towering monsters of destruction and nightmares ravaged the village. The townsfolk never stood a chance — it was a blood bath.
Dracula was more ruthless than ever before. He kidnapped Richter’s girlfriend, Annet, as well as her little sister, Maria. Imprisoning them in his vile castle, he awaits Richter’s inevitable arrival.
Richter, burdened by his destiny, left for Dracula’s castle with his legendary ancestral whip in hand. Not only that but the stout determination to save his loved ones and the resolve to send Dracula to eternal damnation once and for all.
As the full moon casts an eerie glow overhead, Richter Belmont gazes at Dracula’s castle ominously looming in the distance. He knows once inside that there’s a chance he might not make it out alive. But he’ll boldly risk life and limb in order to save his girlfriend Annet and her sister Maria. The chilly night air sends tingles up and down his body as if someone took electrical wires and brushed them against the back of his neck. There is much terror and pain before him, but this is the life of a Belmont… the destiny of Richter Belmont!
Richter Belmont’s less than athletic control can be a bit off putting at first but thankfully, having a sub-weapon like the axe certainly evens the odds up a bit.
And what would a Castlevania game be without bloody annoying bats that fly and swoop at ‘cha? This is definitely where you’ll miss the incredibly versatile whipping skills of Simon Belmont. Without question this makes Dracula X harder.
The skeletons in Dracula X are a bit more nimble than the ones we saw in Super Castlevania IV. The ones here tend to leap around like Mexican jumping beans.
I’ve heard many complaints over the SNES version of Dracula X, but here is one major win. Remember how frustrating it was to lose your favorite sub-weapon by accidentally touching another one? Dracula X gives you a few seconds to pick up your previous weapon should you grab (accidentally or not) another weapon. Brilliant.
Believe it or not, this guy ain’t a boss! In fact, you can’t even kill it. All you can do is walk as briskly as you can (‘coz you know, Belmont boys just don’t run). This is a neat twist on forced scrolling. Of course, you’ll be required to make some pixel-perfect jumps, which if successful, will land Richter right on the edge of the platform. Get used to it.
Level two opens with a bang as your ears are suddenly treated to a familiar tune. If this doesn’t get you feeling all tingly inside, you are without pulse.
Murderous merman and bridges that break — all classic staples of the famed Castlevania franchise!
The drawbridge lowers as you reach the end… it’s another nod to Super Castlevania IV fans!
I love this barrel chucking enemy. In general I just love when games add a wrinkle or two to their bad guys. Little touches here and there helps to spice a game up.
And of course, what would a Castlevania game be without a haunted castle hallway?
Their shields are no match for your knives. I like how you can pick this fool off safely from this perch.
A new feature in Dracula X is the Weapon Crash. This allows Richter to launch an all-out assault of his sub-weapon. It inflicts more damage but eats up more hearts, too. Each Weapon Crash is different and has its own strengths and shortcomings.
The Spear Men are a true menace. It could easily be Game Over if you find yourself surrounded by a couple of these purple bastards.
In true Castlevania fashion, certain blocks can be destroyed. This may unlock hidden goodies such as meat. So swing your whip around — you never know when you might find a breakable block.
This gigantic vampire bat is the second boss you’ll face. He looks rather nasty but his bark is bigger than his bite. Whack him down to size. Literally.
Although Richter doesn’t control as well as Simon did, he does have at least two moves on Simon: backflipping and the moonwalk. Both come in handy at various points, as you can imagine. F’rinstance, moonwalking does wonders here.
How I loathe those bloody annoying Medusa Heads. Use the Pillar Bones to give yourself a boost.
ARRGGHHH! The Spear Men are almost as annoying as the Medusa Heads. By the way, it’s amazing how they can poke a spear through that thick block but I digress.
You gotta love moments like this. You know the programmers had some fun here. I’ve always preferred the cross AKA boomerang but Holy Water has its uses as well
Super Castlevania IV features 11 stages while Dracula X has nine, but you can only trek through seven at a time. Levels four and five have two different levels you can take, depending on what you do (or don’t do). And this will also change the outcome of the game. Yes, there are three possible endings: best, OK and bad. Nice!
You’ll secure the best ending only if you can save both Annet and Maria as well as slay Dracula. It’s a tall task. If you lose a life, the key is lost for all eternity!
Unintentional humor abounds when Richter’s arm goes straight through the door. Oops!
Remember how Super Castlevania IV grants you a brief moment of invincibility after taking damage? Not so here. Like I said, everything is harder in this game by a considerable amount.
Sweet background. I’m a sucker for anything ancient ruins. This is the alternative level five by the way.
This huge pile of Bone Pillars, while intimidating, is no match for Richter Belmont. The final showdown is almost at hand. But before you can take on Dracula, you must first contend with an old friend named DEATH. They don’t call him that for nothing, believe you me. It might be Richter’s fate as well as your controller’s as well, if you get my drift.
To say that Dracula X is a difficult game is a gross understatement. It will test your will, possibly breaking it too. At times I was cursing like a sailor. It’s not really my style but the pixel-perfect required jumps, swooping bats, Medusa Heads, and Richter’s somewhat stiff mobility led to many moments of frustration.
After beating Super Castlevania IV for the first time ever back on April 29, 2006, I decided to fire up Dracula X the very next day. I was enjoying it somewhat at first until I made it to the boss of level four. He’s got two forms. Frustrated, I vented on a gaming board and it was there that an old internet pal urged me to stick it out with Dracula X.
He defended it, saying it’s got a stilted gameplay system that forces you to be absolutely perfect if there is any hope of win. Somehow, the sentence stuck with me. I decided to stick with Dracula X, and that fateful night finally defeated the Cloak boss.
I would go on to face DEATH who absolutely destroyed me more times than I dare count, but then I got locked into the proverbial zone. I ended up perfecting his ass and went on to defeat Dracula for the very first time. I don’t think I could ever accomplish that again. It was exhilarating.
By the way, a special shout out to this bad guy. He’s not a boss but he’s one of my favorites. It’s a shame that he only appears once. He’s sort of like the Abobo or Andore of Dracula X.
Many claim the Dracula showdown in this game to be among the toughest in the franchise. Initially, I would agree. But not so if you know where to position yourself properly…
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Almost everyone adores Super Castlevania IV, but the same can’t be said for the SNES version of Dracula X. It’s been knocked over the years and its reception is a mixed bag. When compared to the superior PC-Engine original, the SNES version falls short. You’ll find just as much criticism as you’d find praise for this game.
However, Dracula X fared slightly better with most gaming publications. EGM gave it scores of 6.5, 6.5, 7 and 7. GameFan gave it ratings of 82, 84 and 93%. Super Play rated it 80%. So while it didn’t quite live up to the lofty Castlevania standards set before it, it still earned fairly respectable marks.
Not having played the PC-Engine import, I’m unable to compare the SNES version. This is perhaps a blessing in disguise. However, coming off the heels of playing through Super Castlevania IV, I had to put that aside and judge Dracula X on its own merits. The game grew on me before I knew it. Do I wish we got a proper Castlevania sequel with 1995 SNES trimmings instead? Of course. But so many times I feel we can focus too much on what wasn’t instead of enjoying what is. And Dracula X is, in my opinion, a fine action adventure. Once I adjusted to the difficulty level and the stilted control of Richter Belmont, I found myself inching closer to Dracula step by step as I disposed of his cronies one at a time. Most importantly, I found myself having a pretty good time.
Being that it’s Halloween time, I’ve been replaying the two Super Nintendo Castlevania games all month long. I’ll always love the first game and I’ve come to appreciate the second one over the years. Taken for what it is and judged on its own merits, there’s plenty to like. While not the Konami swan song we were all hoping for in their final Super Nintendo Castlevania offering, it’s still a pretty good game at its core. One that is worthy enough to be in any Super Nintendo library and deserving to be played every Halloween season or so. If you’re looking for a challenging action game with awesome music and a wickedly macabre atmosphere, then you’ve found a pretty good candidate here. Stick with it and you might find you’re glad that you did. Finally, two tips to help enhance your Dracula X experience: 1). Turn off all the lights and 2). Tell yourself it’s not the PC-Engine original or a sequel to Super Castlevania IV. Happy demon slaying and happy Halloween!