Castlevania is one of the most popular IPs in Konami’s arsenal. Along with Contra, it’s one of the series that made the company a household name in the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Over the last few years, a few independent studios have made games clearly inspired by Castlevania. Like the Bloodstained which were actually made in part with Koji Igarashi. The person who helmed many of Castlevania’s entries. Many of these Castlevania inspired games took their influences from either the earlier action platformers or the later adventure style games.
But today’s game is much different. The focus on Dracula, monsters, and other environments Castlevania is known for is here. However, the story, execution, and gameplay elements have some influences that are clearly from entirely different places. And while that might make some looking for a Castlevania-like take pause, this is something you really might want to check out.
PROS: Character design. Soundtrack. Play control. Visuals. A different take on Dracula.
CONS: At the end of the day the story is a bit basic. Minor bugs. Can’t adjust audio.
BLOODSTAINED: The Castlevania-like series does have a small link here.
Wallachia: Reign Of Dracula is a seven stage campaign with some of the best 2D assets and gameplay you’ve seen in a game of its nature. You play as a woman named Elcin. She’s trained to be a top archer, marksman, and swordfighter. One day, in a scene straight out of Star Wars, she comes home to find her family’s home destroyed and her relatives’ charred remains. Upon learning that Vlad The Impaler was the one behind it as well as the subjugation of the inhabitants of Wallachia she sets out to find her missing sibling and get revenge on the bloodthirsty Dracula.
The game’s narrative takes a slightly more historic approach here going with some of the Romanian histories around Vlad The Impaler. As such the game downplays some of the more fantastical elements Castlevania and Bloodstained celebrate. You don’t see flying medusa heads, reanimated skeletons, or movie monsters. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be seeing any horror elements or strange enemies. There are a few moments where you do indeed see some pretty crazy stuff. But the characters do try to downplay some of it with their dialogue.
The voice work in the game is very good too. Two big names are here: Kira Buckland and Robert Belgrade. You may not know the names but you know some of the work they’ve done. Nier: Automata and Castlevania Symphony Of The Night were pretty big games they respectively appeared in. I was also surprised to learn well after I’d bought the game, my buddy Mike Levy of Dude You Haven’t Played This Game and XVGM Radio had a small part in the game.
All of the voice work is performed exceptionally well, which is why it’s a bit of a disappointment the story breaks down to a simple revenge arc. There’s nothing wrong with that mind you. The gameplay doesn’t really need something that requires analysis or interpretation. But it would have been nice to see the story go a little further with the historical context it dips its toes into. Still, it keeps you entertained, you’ll like the characters presented here, and the sketched and inked cinema screens do a good job of moving things along between stages.
So what do you do in this game? You kick people’s asses in a matter that perhaps only Teela could rival. Elcin is armed with a bow and a sword. You can jam on the arrow button to rapidly shoot off arrows, or you can hold it down for charge shots. You can attack at melee distance with your sword button and once you’ve collected enough orbs you can have an NPC jump in with an assist. Some of them give you temporary invincibility, others beef up your attacks for a short time. The coolest one is probably summoning Minvu, your pet wolf who can clear a medium-sized villain or wave of enemies with a dash. You can cycle between which helper you want to come to your aid with a shoulder button press (assuming you’re on a controller). The other shoulder button lets you cycle between alternate arrows you can pick up. Some are more powerful, some are spread shots as well as others still. All of which can be charged. If that wasn’t enough the NPC helpers do different things if you collect even more orbs and you hold the UP button while selecting them.
You can also find general power-ups that make your arrows and sword stronger or let you charge shots faster. Each of the locales takes two or more forms. You’ll find every two areas or so the environments will have a mild change until you get to a boss before moving onto the next stage. This does a great job of conveying that each of these stages is a journey. Most of the stages do not play like the typical Castlevania game though. While there are still war-torn castles, areas of wilderness, and abandoned villages, you’re not going to be taking sluggish walks up flights of stairs or feeling heavy jumping between blocks. Instead, the game moves along at the pace of games like Revenge Of Shinobi and Rolling Thunder. You’ll have to carefully traverse each stage, memorizing enemy types and placements while using your arrows to dispatch them. Some of course you’ll cut down with your sword when they get too close. Sometimes you can find alternative ways through a section but in general, it’s a linear experience. One that will require some trial and error. This is where the Rolling Thunder influence comes to play a bit as there are soldiers of different color schemes that will attack you with their own specific attacks. They can often come from the background to attack you like in Namco’s classic.
All of these influences make Wallachia stand out because it isn’t just trying to be a Castlevania NES trilogy-like or a Symphony of The Night sendup like some of the other games have been. On top of that, there are some autoscrolling sections and other additions that keep mixing things up. Boss fights are especially fun as at first, they will seem insurmountable. But eventually, you’ll figure out the patterns and be able to move onto the next challenge.
As great as the gameplay, performances, and the soundtrack truly are, there are a couple of small things I had some problems with. The first problem is the audio. Yes, I just praised the soundtrack and sound files. But this is one of a few examples of a game I’ve reviewed where you can’t change the volume level. That’s going to make it something streamers will have to tinker with on PC to try to make it so their audiences can hear them and the game audio at the same time.
The second problem I ran into was on the level select screen. The game has one small bug. When I chose the level 0 bonus stage before going on to the first stage for the first time, the game crashed. After I played through a couple of levels, it notified me I’d “Unlocked” the bonus stage, and then it worked fine. Hopefully, a future patch will fix this and add a volume option. That said, I like that it had an option to map your controller buttons. So at least you can make things comfortable in that regard.
There are a lot of things to love about the game though. The gameplay is terrific as I said earlier. The soundtrack is great. Graphically it looks like it could be on the Amiga 1000 which is pretty much an instant win. And there are even a couple of neat things to do when you beat the game. There are more bonus stages you can unlock when you beat it based on the difficulty you choose at the beginning. But you can also unlock a special costume and that’s Miriam’s gown from Bloodstained!
Overall, I really enjoyed Wallachia: Reign Of Dracula. It’s a tough, but fair action game with elements from several genres and retro games. I can highly recommend checking it out whether you’re a hardcore Castlevania fan or just someone looking for something different. The slightly more historical look at Vlad The Impaler and his possible inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula character is also a nice change from the often fantastical, Hollywood horror version of the character we’re all used to. This is still very much a video game version of the character, but one that stands out.
Final Score: 9 out of 10