Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
What's up with Konami and handheld reteo throwbacks? First Contra 4, then this? Well whatever... we aren't complaining.
Don't be fooled by the snazzy 2.5D visuals - Dracula X Chronicles is retro. Very retro. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is wholly a matter of perspective. Chronicles is actually a remake of 1993's Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, one of (or maybe the only?) Castlevania not released in America. Many elements and enemies present in modern Castlevanias actually began right here. In fact some of the sprites from the game have been reused over and over, to this day.
But enough history.
The most noticeable difference between Dracula X Chronicles between other recent Castlevanias is that this game begins with the dramatically-titled "Level 1: River of Blood." Yes, the adventure this time around is a wholly linear one. No gigantic castle to explore. No map to fill in, or new abilities to earn. There are branching paths - sometimes levels will have a couple of different exits, which will then take you down a modified game path. But still, Metroidvania this isn't.
The second thing that struck me about the game is how damn hard it is. Another retro throwback, to be sure. I died on the first level. And then promptly spent the rest of my lives on level 2, bringing up the "game over" screen much faster than I would have liked. I'm not sure I ever saw the Game Over screen in Konami's last Castlevania platformer, Portrait of Ruin. Even simple enemies like crows will chew off nearly a fourth of your life bar when you run into them.
When you die, you start the level over. And when all your lives are gone, at least in this E3demo, you're sent right back to the beginning of the game. Hardcore!
The hardcore difficulty I can appreciate, but some retro holdovers are better left to the 80s and 90s. The action itself feels a little too slow and clunky for my tastes. You can't whip in multiple directions, just straight forward. And to walk up staircases you can't just walk towards the stairs. You have to place Richter directly in front of the foot of the staircase, then press up to climb them. Awkward. I know Castlevania purists will be quick to remind that this is how things used to be, but that doesn't mean it's a convention that should be brought back.
Based on my playtime so far, I'm on the fence. On the one hand I've never been one to shy away from retro throwbacks, and this game includes the original Rondo of Blood AND a PSP port of Symphony of the Night, to boot. SotN, if you haven't played it, truly does deserve the hype, and is nearly worth the price of admission alone. Still, after playing more fluid Castlevanias in recent years, Dracula X Chronicles might feel too clunky for some.