Archive for November, 2018

Retro-Game Backlog Entry #5: Castlevania: Dracula XX

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on November 10, 2018 by slateman

After Castlevania III, I must’ve just stopped playing the series. I appear to have missed everything up until Symphony Of The Night in 1997. It makes sense; I had no SNES or Genesis and college meant poverty for most. So, as I address this backlog, these titles feel very new, despite their age. Now, I tinkered with some of them, Super Castlevania IV most notably, but I most certainly never beat them and with Dracula XX (not Rondo Of Blood, the SNES sequel to it), I never would have had the patience to complete it without emulation!

However, going back to the start…Dracula XX was Konami’s attempt to bring the legendary Rondo to the SNES without severely downscaling it. Instead, they made an entirely-different but kinda-the-same game. In every aspect it’s inferior. What we got was a noble attempt. Several of the key elements were recreated here and it rewarded exploration with a pair of bonus stages and girls to rescue. Unfortunately, since those same features were on the Turbo CD game, it’s impossible not to compare.

Richter returns and the fantastic hero traipses throughout familiar stages replete with beautiful fiery and watery effects. They look impressive but the design of those same stages is really quite weak. It was a product of its time; every jump was situated with a particularly-placed enemy crafted with the sole purpose of instilling frustration. Death comes from everywhere, jumps, floating heads, annoying enemies – it can be grueling. The foes are the customary ones, with many a true challenge. Saving the two girls is a must for the good endings, but even those were far too brief.


The game’s music, on the other hand, doesn’t let down. Well, it’s not that any game in the series at that time did. The familiar tunes don’t have quite the same punch as Bloodlines’ tracks did, but that’s no worry. I found myself muting everything else or turning up the volume as I played with headphones just because of the soundtrack. They rarely disappoint.

And then we have Dracula himself. After a rather easy battle in the original Dracula X, Konami decided to concoct the bullshittiest final boss I think I’ve ever encountered. The walk up to the tower was impressive, before a glowing moon, but the rest of it was memorable for all the wrong reasons. He had two forms: the first similar to what we all know and a second beast form where he flies above. However, the whole battle takes place on columns and the screen is wide. Therefore, you don’t have access to attack many times and in the time-honored tradition, a hit bounces you back – oftentimes to your death! Oh, it’s just so much fun, particularly when you manage to get to the final form and die by one misplaced jump. It’s fucking brutal and I would’ve been so pissed had I purchased this thing back in the day. You will die. Over and over. And not in any fair fashion. I’m getting angry just thinking about it and it marks one of those many gaming quotes, “I’m never going to do that again in my life.”

That final battle mars what is otherwise an OK game. It’s frustrating but looks good and sounds great. This title isn’t fondly remembered, understandably so. However, I’ll take Richter over those Bloodlines heroes any day. Another day, another retro game completed. I’m thinking I’ll hit up Super Castlevania IV next. I never loved that one, but most people do. See how it goes!


Retro-Game Backlog Entry #4: Castlevania: Bloodlines

Posted in Best / Worst, Blog, Castlevania, Games, Lists, Retro Games on November 1, 2018 by slateman

Having proclaimed my love for Castlevania already, one might expect for me to have played virtually every entry. However, it is not the case. Of course, I have gone through a vast majority of the series, but a handful eluded my gaze over the past three decades. One such title is the Genesis game Castlevania: Bloodlines.

I never owned the hardware and during the mid-90s, I avoided Castlevania entirely. In fact, it was only many years later that I got around to Super Castlevania IV. In any event, let’s address the best part of this game first: the music. The series is known for its hummable tunes and this game shows them off in spades. Familiar melodies return, but virtually every portion of the game’s audio shines and it stands as the title’s highlight, hands down.

Nothing else about this game stood out quite as much. The modern environments really didn’t work for me and were in direct contrast to the moody locales in every other Castlevania title. Some bosses and game effects just felt like excuses to show off the system’s tech. In a later level your screen is torn in half or you’re mirrored above the stage. Enemies flail about displaying interesting 3D effects but none were truly interesting themselves. Machine foes, reflecting patterns and fancy displays seemed more important than good level-design choices or enemy choices. I didn’t particularly enjoy big chunks of the game. This was compounded by the ending.

As with many other games of the time, the ending ramps up the difficulty substantially. I’m not a fan of boss-rush modes and the game’s finale is just nonsense. First you face Death who looks as bad-ass as usual. He dishes out these cards and whichever one you hit dictates who you fight: any of the bosses from stages 2-5. While they are random, you have to defeat all four. One of the cards is a screenful of meat. Hopefully you didn’t get that one first! So, after beating four bosses, you square off against Death who isn’t particularly difficult. OK! Now for Dracula, right? Nope…you head up another set of stairs and find a woman who summons a Medusa-like creature before you fight the woman herself. She’s rather easy once you’ve got the pattern down, fortunately.

And NOW you fight Dracula – assuming the stage – boss rush – death – medusa – chick boss combo didn’t kill you. Now you get a classic three-form Dracula battle before an atrociously-underwhelming finale boots you back to the beginning urging you to beat it on expert mode.

Beyond the music, there were certainly perks. Some of the effects were more than simply flash, and I’m sure at the time it was all really quite impressive. Large enemies and bright colors added a beautiful visual flair and newcomer Eric Lecarde changed how the game was played – with different paths for him and for John Morris. These all added up to a unique experience and one that is quite interesting in the series’ universe.

Ultimately though, while the game has a fair share of perks and good replay value, I will probably never return to this game. That soundtrack, however, will get some new spins as there is some truly phenomenal music. Beyond the killer tunes though, there’s not enough to beckon me back. I’ll stick with the classics of the series instead – spoken after 200.6%ed Symphony Of The Night and purchased Castlevania Requiem.