Ouch, man. Just ouch. Alright, so it has been a little while since my last game review and the biggest reason why is for the last 2 two months, I’ve been trying to complete this game through all possible paths. More importantly, I think Dracula’s Curse gets the least recognition of the three NES games and doesn’t have the same legacy that sticks with its predecessors; Castlevania is a masterpiece of game engineering, Simon’s Quest is a flawed, but playable game that is probably more famous for the mixed feelings between fans of the series. But what defines Dracula’s Curse from its former other than being a freakishly hard game? After playing this game for two months, I think what defines Dracula’s Curse is “ambition”. Castlevania III attempted to expand its gameplay as much as possible by fixed the issues Simon’s Quest had with providing replay value and multiple endings (Even with a properly translated walk-through, I still had a hell of a time getting the good ending in Simon’s Quest, so I just played it over and over until I memorized the notes written in my own blood) with the ability to select branching paths and playable characters, each with their own unique skills and abilities. Given the aging tech of the scrappy 8 bit hardware, it was truly ambitious for Konami to push its limits as far as possible and creating a game that was ahead of its time.
VISUALS 8.9: The graphics in this game are pretty damn amazing. The first game had a cool color palette that looked interesting, and though I loved Egoraptor’s Sequelitis episode, I actually liked Simon’s Quest’s scheme as I felt it reflected the darker tone of the game’s story; a shadowy atmosphere serving as an outward manifestation of the curse that is slowly debilitating Simon from within . Dracula’s Curse returned to the color palette of the first game and added some new flair!! In the first stage, you travel upwards through this chapel with a beautiful stained glass window and its pretty breathtaking. It’s so hypnotic that you’ll have to forgive yourself for taking damage from the bats. I completely dig the 8mm film crawl that exposits the story in the opening, it’s so stylish. Dracula’s Curse got really creative with color placement and adding depth to some of its levels. One of my favorites was from stage 3-03. At first I thought that you were traversing through mist, but its actually a river in the background!
It took me a while to figure that out, and that shows some awesome creativity on behalf of the staff. Probably most notable from this game are the iconic clock gears from the tower and later towards the end of the game. Surprisingly, I didn’t experience a lot of slowdown with this game, given all of the action that can take place at one time. Certain boss fights, like Dracula’s second form, got a little bit glitch, and those auto scrolling death stages lead to lots of cheap hits, like that’s new for Castlevania.
GAMEPLAY 8.1: Returning to the more linear style of gameplay and the familiar control scheme, Drac’s Curse introduces the ability to play as multiple characters, whom you can acquire depending on the path you take. As I said earlier, this is a great idea to extend the game’s life and each of the three, Alucard, Syfa, and Grant. The problem that I have with these three is that outside of Grant, who can change midair velocity while jumping and can climb walls, I found no real reason to use Syfa or Alucard. While Syfa’s magic is good for paralyzing multiple enemies at one time, her physical attack is laughable. Fast, yes, but she has a dinky sword that gave me horrible Symphony of the Night flashbacks and you pretty much have to be right next to an enemy in order to hit them. Alucard can transform into a bat and fly, but his standard attack is even more unreliable than Syfa’s.
He can shoot up to several short to midrange fireball projectiles like his dad and they arc at an angle, but they are very slow and only do marginal damage unless all three hit the same target. Even then, it’s just as strong as a well-placed shot with the whip. It doesn’t help that he’s a slightly bigger target in a game where some enemies move in jacked up patterns. Perhaps with more practice, I could get better with controlling these three, but I am so accustomed to playing as a Belmont and their style of combat that using another character requires getting used to a slightly different learning curve so unfamiliar with the Castlevania game engine. Fortunately, playing as them is simply an option, not a necessity.
MUSIC & SOUND 8.5: Castlevania has some of my favorite BGM tunes in all of video games. Drac’s Curse may be the weakest as far as memorable scores outside of Beginnings and Aquarius (Aquarius is awesome), and they don’t get stuck into my head as often. The sound effects are solid, admittedly, I miss the whip sound effect from Simon’s Quest. Now, upon defeat, some of the bosses will emit a roar, which is kind of unsettling and visceral.
DIFFICULTY 22.5/10: …And a good portion of the praise and accolades I gave this game, which are all rightfully deserved, nearly gets thrown out of the window because this is, without question, the hardest game I have ever beaten in my entire life. I would like to go back and see the other endings, but during my last two plays, I rage-quit through Syfa’s stages. Drac’s Curse has all the Castlevania tropes that attributes to its difficulty; knock back damage, medusa heads, enemies with psychotic patterns, water hazards, STAIRS!!!! so it’s not so much anything new that keeps killing you, so much as it is all of those same challenges thrown together at the same time at various intervals.
There is only so much your brain can process at one time in order to solve a challenge, but this game had me throwing fits! It starts to become a test of wills. How much are you willing to put up with from a game?
I read that there was a programming error that makes it so enemies deal more damage than the Japanese version, but that still doesn’t equate to the sheer amount of insanity that went into some of these puzzles and ways to mitigate damage you may receive!! Take this stage from Alucard’s path, for instance. In this portion, these blocks fall, forming surfaces for you to jump on. It keeps going, up and up, block after block. The whole time, the tedious music is playing in the background, almost taunting you as the blocks build up ever so slowly, its water torture!!!!. You can’t hurry it up either, so you make sure not to disrupt your own flow in hopes of just trying to get it over with. Talk about a hellish test of patience!! And this portion is really only the tip of the Kryptonian iceberg. Get used to crumbling platforms with Fireskulls shooting at you, water that pushes you into mermen, that same sentence, only with annoying ass crows thrown in…
Even worse at the end of this level, you fight a doppelgänger who mimics your attacks, ala Link’s Adventure. So even after getting through this madness with a decent amount of health, I now have to survive an ordeal with a clone!? Did someone piss this game off in middle school, what the hell is your problem!?!
IN CLOSING: So, yeah, this is one hell of a way to cap off the series of games for the NES. It does feel like a game that tried to do more than it’s format and engine could maintain and shows what can bolster creativity with limited resources. While the first game is still my favorite and I like Rondo of Blood better, Curse is a pretty damn good Castlevania, though the notorious difficulty makes it a little bit more frustrating than fun at times. OVERALL SCORE 9.2/10
BONUS: LET’S BEAT DRACULA!!!!!
The Count really pulls out the stops for this hellish boss battle, and this battle is far one of the cheesiest fights he puts up. Or so it seems? I never looked up a walk-through on how to do this fight, no save states, no emulators. Just carpel tunnel-inducing repetition. So before encountering him, be sure to load up on hearts, 60 is a safe minimum, and proceed.
First form: What starts out as the similar encounter from the first game takes a turn for the WTF when Drac brings up dual flame columns, trapping you in between. The first time you see this, your initial reaction is to pause and assess the situation, or get some quick strikes in. A full second later, however, a huge fire pillar arises and burns you in the ass! Well, how are you supposed to avoid that nonsense!?
Staying still almost guarantees damage. The trick is to stay in constant motion, depending on where he appears, to keep the two initial barrier flames as far apart as possible to provide you with enough room to land several shots (two or three at the most) and avoiding the third pillar, which flickers before shooting upwards.
Second Form: A little more straightforward than the first, he becomes a grotesque, floating head(s) that drool deadly loogies over your head.
Wail on him as much as you can with whip shots and axes so that before he reaches begins levitating upwards so at least you can knock out two heads. This will make it easier to run underneath his spittle. A little bit like that shower head boss from Stage 4 in Super C. While he won’t run into in the corner, he will drift over you, so best to take out as many heads and then boot it beneath him. Continue hammering him until he goes down.
The floating platforms are there mostly to deceive, I think. With the ax and enough ammo, what’s the point of jumping on them when you can get a bead on him from the nonmoving ground? He has two laser beams that he shoots out of his eyes that have a slight hesitation as it telegraphs your next move in an effort to cut you off. If you jump prior to his shot, the lasers should sail safely over you, leaving him wide open to assault from below with a barrage of ax tosses. A +3 ax upgrade will make this even easier and faster if you still have it from the previous rooms leading into this fight. Hope this info helps if this fight has you stuck, and if you beat it with a different method, sweet, I’d like to hear it!!