Demon Castle Special: I'm Kid Dracula
Review by Mike Finkelstein
Konami has always had a playful side with their games. Starting with the first game in the series, with its jokey credits (like Christopher Bee and Boris Karloffice), there's been a touch of humor to the various games, a slight parody of the horror movies of old even when the games themselves were brutally hard.
It should come as no surprise, then, that eventually Konami would poke fun at themselves and release a straight up parody of their own games. That game, Demon Castle Special: I'm Kid Dracula, never saw release in the U.S., bt through the magic of the internet we're able the play the game.
Not that the humorous approach to the game or the cutsey graphics should fool you -- I'm Kid Dracula is as hard as any other NES Castlevania game, just creatively so. Starting off in Dracula's own castle, Kid Dracula (presumably Alucard, although the games always refer to him as just "Dracula") has to traverse the world to get to the fortress of Galamoth, evil lord and nemesis to Dracula. Galamoth wants to claim the world for himself, and he's issued a challenge to Kid Dracula, declaring that the kid isn't nearly as impressive as he says he is.
That's it for the story, and then it's off to the races, fighting across roller coasters, pirate ships, underwater levels and space elevators, all for the chance to finally take on Galamoth. And you're going to end up earning that right if you can make it through the game. For good or ill, the designers at Konami were downright nasty at times, putting enemies is just the right places to damage you, setting up tricky jumps to traverse, and just making it very, very hard for you to get the end of levels (let alone making it through unscathed).
To aid you, though, Kid Dracula will earn a variety of special powers from the bosses he defeats. Bombs and ice pellets, bat transformation and the ability to reverse gravity for your character, these abilities can, at times, take the edge off some, but you're still going to have to work hard to get anywhere in the game (this reviewer was frstrated on more than one occasion, especially by the boss in the pyramids.
Its interesting to look at I'm Kid Dracula and in hindsight, though, and see all the ways it influenced later games, as well as trying to pick out what games might have influenced it. Beyond the Castlevania games, it feels like Konami drew some inspiration from the Mega Man titles, with the power you gain from bosses, level design, and the nasty enemy placement. But then, looking forward, and seeing, Galamoth show up in Symphony of the Night, the levianthan boss from Rondo of Blood that seems to have been taken directly from this game, the pyramid stage that feels so much like the one in Portrait of Ruin, and it's hard not to appreciate this game simply for its legacy.
Plus, despite the difficulty, there's a lot that this game does right. The graphics are cute, if it a little plain, but the music is so infectious -- the tunes may be a bit repetative, but they certainly keep the energy of the game up and keep a bounce in the players step as they move through the game. Plus, this game is just a lot of fun once you get caught up in it -- it doesn't take itself at all seriously, from the giant chicken boss in one stage to the Statue of Liberty boss who decides not to fight you but instead hosts a quiz show. This is certainly a Castlevania unlike any other.
For the fans of the series, this is definitely worth a play -- it's fun, but that fun often turns to frustration due to how hard it can be in places. There are easier games in the series for beginners, but to be fair, there's nothing quite like the Kid Dracula games. Play this is you get a chance just to see what it has to offer.
The ambiance is helped, in no small part, by the music and sound. Castlevania boasts a fantastic soundtrack for its six stages (plus boss fights) that rises above its plinky, chip-tune nature. These are songs (like "Vampire Killer" and "Wicked Child") that are worth listening to even outside the context of the game (and they're songs that have been referenced and remixed time and again by laters entries in the series). Coupled with a sound mix that emphasized Simon's journey through the castle (the crack of the whip, the grunt each time Simon get hit), Castlevania is a pleasure to listen to, and to play.
It may be hard, but the game isn't unforgiving. Control is precise where it needs to be and hit detection is spot on. When you die, you know it was your fault. The computer may be actively out the kill you, but it's not cheating to do it. Castlevania wants you to learn to best the castle, to make it through the traps and past the menacing bosses. It tries to kill you, but that's so you learn and do better next time.