Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
Hmmm. I really don't know about this. I mean on the one hand Castlevania's whole side-scrolling, whip-cracking, action-platformer thing is so out dated you have to wonder why they keep bothering. But, on the other hand, you have the fact that over the years the developers have got very good at what they do and fans continue to excitedly lap up new instalments regardless of how the rest of the gaming landscape changes.
For a series that's already spawned a staggering number of games on a huge variety of platforms the release of Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles marks something of a retrospective pause equivalent to an established band putting out an album of rarities. Rather than being a full-on new chapter in the saga, The Dracula X Chronicles is actually a compilation of sorts although that may not be immediately apparent.
To start with you have a remake of Rondo of Blood, a game that was previously unavailable outside of Japan. This new and improved version features 3D graphics (albeit still viewed from a fixed side-on 2D style perspective) as well as completely new music and vocal recordings. There's also the chance to play the original Rondo of Blood just like Japanese PC Engine CD-ROM owners were able to in 1993. To round off the package you'll also get the chance to play confirmed classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night if you missed it first time round.
The freshly remade Rondo of Blood is clearly the big selling point of this package, a point rammed home by the fact the remaining two games are hidden at first and only become available after finding items hidden in the levels of first game. Granted the locations of these are easily found via the wonders of the internet if you're someone to who likes things made easy but it still seems an odd choice to have two thirds of the package hidden away to the point where it's possible the less aware gamer could miss them entirely. It's also questionable just how many of the series fans will have got this far without playing Symphony of the Night at some point which makes its inclusion seem a little redundant even when you bare in mind its technically a sequel to Rondo of Blood. No doubt a few new levels in the remake of RoB would have gone down better with the hardcore.
The basic Castlevania experience has always been one of side scrolling action platforming with a dark gothic tinge and as such this collection does exactly what it says on the tin (although Symphony does introduce some welcome depth in the form of some RPG elements). To be fair these are old games, even if one of them has had a fresh lick of paint, so to complain about design problems that were rife in every game of this type back at their time of release is a little unfair. However, viewed with today's more pandered gaming sensibilities it can be a shock to discover just how accepting gamers were of things like pixel perfect jumps, leaps of faith, instant death, hidden traps and seriously unforgiving difficulty spikes.
There's also something of a problem with stairs which require you to hold up or down to 'lock on to' and traverse. It's a system that almost makes sense in your head, how else could you choose to use or not use a flight of stairs in a 2D side on view, but there's something missing in the implementation that manages to make it a fiddly pain to reliably perform such a simple action. Mario never had this problem.
The new 3D graphics in the Rondo of Blood remake certainly look nice and sharp and the added depth they give to the backgrounds give the game a far more contemporary feel. However, in some ways Symphony and the original Rondo of Blood feel nicer, their old fashioned animated sprites fitting in with the old school gameplay making you far more forgiving of the design flaws.
The Castlevania games deserve respect for being one of the only series to continue the tradition of side scrolling action games after the rest of the world went full-3D crazy. The problem is that while to the existing fan base the retro design and gameplay are all part of the experience newer gamers will probably view those same qualities in a far more negative light. Personally I remember loving this kind of thing back in the day but to be honest my gaming senses have moved on a fair bit since then and while it's interesting to have a glimpse back to how things used to be I didn't find anything in The Dracula X Chronicles to make me miss those times one little bit. For fans of the series or those with an urge for a highly polished slab of retro style gaming then this is undoubtedly a fantastic example of the genre, however, anyone else will find it hard to see what all the fuss is about.