It was a sad day when Rondo of Blood was passed over for a US release. It should have been expected of course; Konami were not a licensed publisher for the Turbo Grafx-16 but there was some sliver of hope that maybe TTI or Hudson Soft would bring it over but it simply never happened. When Castlevania: Dracula X was announced most assumed it was a port of that game and at first glance it looks like it. In reality this is simply another adventure loosely inspired by Rondo of Blood and while decent is disappointing coming after the seminal games released in the previous years.
Dracula X carries over all of the same mechanics from Rondo of Blood. Richter is not quite as versatile with the whip as Simon in Castlevania IV but is less agile as well. You don’t have as much control when airborne but you can at least jump on stairs. He does have a few cool techniques to make up for it. The backflip is a cool move although there really isn’t much use for it here. Probably the most useful addition is the item crash, a devastating super move using your subweapon at the cost of extra hearts. If no weapon is equipped Richter attacks with a long flaming whip instead.
It is best to look at this as a game inspired by Rondo of Blood rather than a completely new adventure. Many of its levels share the same theme and enemies but with new layouts. For those that did not have the chance to play RoB (the majority of us) they seemed fine if a bit straightforward. But peer a little deeper and you’ll see the flaws.
It wouldn’t be so bad if the level design weren’t so boring. Most consist of simple left to right progression with little of the nuanced platforming that made the series so iconic. There are a few too many dual level hallways where the only danger comes from spearmen poking you from above or below. The list of enemies is significantly smaller as well which hurts the game tremendously. Outside of being shorter than Rondo of Blood it is repetitive as you’ll face the same five enemies repeatedly. Possibly the most egregious example of bad design is the final battle against Dracula. Here it takes place over an open pit with pillars as your only platforms. One bad move means the end of the fight and while this should be thrilling it is aggravating instead.
The cool alternate levels and playable characters are almost completely gone. There are only two alternate levels here and they don’t differ as much. Shame too as the game could have used some incentive to play it more than once. Maria is present but relegated to a damsel in distress. True she was game breaking but it was worth it to run through Rondo of Blood with her and curb stomp every boss. There are multiple endings although they only differ slightly and seeking them out isn’t worth the hassle.
I would rank this as one of the easier games in the series surprisingly. Meat can be found more frequently and the levels aren’t heavily populated. Some of the item crashes such as the Holy Rain and Holy Cross are very overpowered, able to drain a boss’s life bar quickly. Speaking of which, I can’t believe how much they have dumbed down the encounters here. For a series that built a reputation for its punishing boss battle it’s a god damn travesty that Dracula X has such simple fights. Aside from Dracula and the Werewolf I breezed through the game during a rental with days to spare.
At the very least you would expect the graphics to be enhanced moving to the SNES. However that isn’t the case. Rondo of Blood is a clear demonstration of the benefits of CD storage. The sheer variety in artwork in a single level was incredible and the game had a massive number of new enemies. You won’t find much of that here. The overall color palette is very muted in contrast to the bright visuals of its CD counterpart. Rondo of Blood had as many as four or five layers of scrolling; you are lucky to get one here. Most of the backgrounds are flat and drab which was embarrassing for a title released in 1995 alongside Donkey Kong Country 2 and Yoshi’s Island. Where the visuals are disappointing the music is not. Despite going back to cartridge the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic; I like many of the compositions better.
Even though I am disappointed with it Dracula X at its core it is still a good game. It’s Castlevania; outside of the Gameboy game you would have to do something monumentally stupid to make a bad one. Dracula X is disappointing not because of what it isn’t but what it could have been with a little more effort.