It’s another trip to Dracula’s castle, where the grass isn’t even slightly greener

castlevania dracula x

Castlevania: Dracula X (1995)

It’s a desperate situation that we’ve all found ourselves in, perhaps with a beautiful lady to impress as well, which only makes the stakes even higher. The scene is dinner at your local ‘kid-friendly’, ‘family-oriented’ restaurant which, loosely translated, means they’ll let any scum under the sun in.

Oh well, no matter, you’re busy making your heavily rehearsed order, staying well away from potentially embarrassing choices: the steak that you’d end up asking to be cooked well-done, or those very messy chicken wings. Or that fish fingers meal that looks right up your street but is only available on the kid’s menu. Is that ageism or what?

Next up on your list of social hurdles is the drinks orders. Since you’ve practiced a bit of maturity for once in your life, you’ve driven you and your date here and the drink-driving laws are pretty Draconian so it’ll have to be a soft drink for you. Non-alcoholic beer is obviously a losing choice in every way, and diners don’t tend to carry Capri Suns.

So you ask for a Coke, maybe even a Diet Coke or Coke Zero to keep your gut from expanding too much in case there’s a chance you’ll get your endaway. The waitress sags, and gives you the distressing news that she probably has to give to victims like you a hundred times a day: “I’m sorry, we only have Pepsi Max.”

Pepsi Max?! But you clearly said Coke Zero, didn’t you? What kind of wicked deal have Pepsi made with this ghastly restaurant? Well, there you have the recurring theme of your date, the exact same predicament as the girl sitting across from you finds herself facing – being forced to accept second-best.

It’s the same as when your mother couldn’t afford the exalted shoe of skanger choice, the Nike Air Max, when you were back in school. For PE classes, you’d have to make do with a lesser brand, but you had to hope to God, they weren’t completely povvo. But Asics, Hi-Tec, Fila? Or worst of all, the Nike rip-off called Nicks? Forget it. You’ll be set upon and routinely beat up in the changing rooms by the bigger boys, until you emerge for a game of badminton with Air Max shaped indents imprinted into your face.

And right there, there’s another inferior substitute – badminton. What on earth sort of a game is this? You don’t get a glitchy, low-effort badminton video game on all the consoles every year, do you? And little wonder. The lower testosterone boys in your class might enjoy it, I would have said the types who wore berets to school but then I’d only be incriminating myself. The girls have no interest in it either, strictly preferring tennis. This is possibly because of the little booty shorts on offer, but I can’t be sure.

In badminton, you’ve got a more airy-fairy racket, you’ve got a ridiculous looking net, and the object to hit back and forth is called a shuttlecock, for God’s sake. You’ll never be able to smash a shuttlecock in someone’s face at 150mph, like you could with a tennis ball.

And nor will a shuttle offer the versatility of being an improvised football, a projectile to toss at people’s heads in the school study hall, or something for your dog to fetch. Badminton only seems to exist in PE class, and never on the TV or anywhere else. If you profess to enjoy and follow badminton, you are just trying to be different and me and the boys shall beat you up immediately.

It seems Castlevania: Dracula X for Super Nintendo was doomed from the start to be a badminton, a Pepsi Max, a Star Trek, a Digimon, when it came out in 1995. We got a version in 1996 in Europe called Vampire’s Kiss – so far as I can tell, this name change was done purely to avoid the graphical effect of Dracula X’s title screen which involves blood. Europe wasn’t allowed any blood in the mid 1990s, see.

Also as far as I can tell, it’s an exceedingly rare version of the game; go onto eBay and search for Vampire’s Kiss, and you’ll probably only find a load of reproduction versions (this is a nicer way of saying ‘counterfeit’). Though it pains me to say it, we know that PAL versions are themselves the poor substitutes to NTSC games, so let’s get back to Dracula X.

And it seems that the words ‘butchered port’ are stuck to Dracula X like that same Pepsi Max gets stuck to your hands and clothes if you spill it, but really, there’s enough differences and inferiorities here that this game needs to be looked at entirely separately from its original inspiration, Rondo of Blood.

After all, Rondo of Blood only came out in Japan, on a console that nobody here owned. Even the spoiled fat kid down the road who came from drug money and got every new toy months before you did, even he didn’t have a PC-Engine CD. So, we weren’t to know back then that a far superior version of Richter Belmont’s first adventure existed.

Still, for comparison’s sake we can at least stack this game up against the likes of Super Castlevania IV and Castlevania: Bloodlines, to see how it does in the 16-bit gauntlet. And it’s fighting a bit of a losing battle, I’m afraid.

I do think the graphics in Dracula X are excellent – if anything was reproduced well from Rondo of Blood, it was the lovely aesthetics. They did lose a little bit in translation, and so too did the music. But give Dracula X some credit, it was on a piddly cartridge when they were already on the way out. Pity the Nintendo 64 didn’t realise that fact, eh?

The music in Dracula X ends up sounding quite good still, though I know most people would still rate it below that of Castlevania IV’s. Check it out though, especially if you’re not into ecclesiastical organs. After that, we’re struggling for plus points with this game.

Certainly I’m struggling to get through the levels, because this game is balls-hard. It’s still one nanosecond of mercy invincibility every time you get hit, just like Rondo of Blood, so if you land yourself in a dicey situation or get cornered by a large boss, you could get wiped out in only a couple of seconds.

You should see the final battle against Dracula as well; two forms to get through with a zillion HP each, and bottomless pits everywhere. You can crouch (cower) to help bear the terrible brunt of his attacks, but ultimately one mistake will finish you. You better hope that mistake doesn’t lead to a Game Over either, because it’s a long walk back.

On top of that, there’s no Maria or indeed any other little girls around to bail you out. And there’s only a few hidden levels to try looking for more help on, rather than the entirely different set of seven alternate levels that Rondo of Blood provides.

I’m aware that there’s some unfortunate implications here in me claiming that one of the reasons Dracula X is inferior to Rondo of Blood is because there’s no little girls around. But even the local vigilante anti-paedo groups will be sympathetic to your cause as you lose to the boss monsters yet again, while you just wish Maria could come along to give you a dig out.

In all, Castlevania: Dracula X is a pretty short game too, only afforded length by its sheer difficulty. Get around that, and you’ll be done in less than 30 minutes. No, with obvious parts missing, no real cutscenes, inferior music, a lot less levels and some pretty sadistic design, Dracula X is the Diet Pepsi, the American Dad, dare I say it, the Xbox One.

If you’re feeling charitable, give it a look, and recognise that it does have more than enough differences from Rondo of Blood to warrant its own inspection. But really, you know as well as I do that life is a bit too short to accept anything other than the best.

13 October 2020

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