Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse Randomizer
Review by Mike Finkelstein
There is no doubt that Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is a difficult game. It ranks up there as one of the most difficult games not just in the Castlevania but one of the hardest on the NES. The challenge is part of the appeal, of course, with fans of the game mentioning the satisfaction in defeating the game. To make it through Dracula's Curse is to prove your skill as a classic gamer.
But let's say you want an ever bigger challenge (I mean, not everyone is going to, but there are masochists among us in the classic gaming community). There are those that have played Castlevania III, either to speed run the title or just because they like the casual challenge of the game. Maybe a new mix of the game, using the original title, is right up your alley. Something unexpected, something to test your skills once more. That, then is when you'd want to take a look over at the Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse Randomizer to get that new, hard game fix.
Created by Micheil Skeens at the start of 2021, the Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse Randomizer (as per it's title screen, or simply Castlevania III Randomizer on the creator's website) gives you essentially all the options you'd expect for a randomizer of this kind. We start with the most obvious features for a randomizer for a linear game: levels, enemies, and items. This randomizer will, in essence, shuffle up the meat of the game so that you end up with a new experience, start to finish, that hardly resembles the original game you might remember. It's not just a second quest but a whole new version of the title.
Stage shuffle on its own will break your brain if you don't have this whole game, on every playable path, memorized. Prefer to take Grant DaNasty or Sypha Belnades and you only know their paths through the game? Well, you're going to need to learn the Alucard route stages as well as those are going to get scattered in. No matter who you start with (and the game can start you with a random ally to join Trevor Belmont on his quest) you'll need to know every stage, and every way through the levels, to defeat this randomizer.
That might actually be one of the things that really ups the difficulty in this randomizer: you won't have a trusted ally you expect for every stage. Grant's wall climbing, Sypha's freeze spell, and Alucard's bat transformation allow players to skip whole sections of stages. If you have the wrong ally at the wrong time you may have to figure out how to clear a stage in a way you've never been tasked with before. It can be a real trip.
Adding onto that are the shuffled items and the shuffled enemies. You expect to have holy water to take out the fleamen in a given stage? Well, the holy water might not be there... but then neither are the fleamen either. I will note that these features are hit and miss as the alpha build of the randomizer hasn't shuffled up all the locations in all the stages. Going through the Mad Forest, for example, the torches all seemed to have the expected items, while most (but admittedly not all) of the enemies were their usual assortment. It was a confusing mix that, honestly, made me wish I hadn't shuffled the enemies at all -- better to have all or nothing shuffled in my head.
The randomizer will also let you shuffle the bosses as well, although I did find this also to be hit or miss. The Bone Dragon King at the end of the Aqueduct seemed to be fixed at this location without anything else being swapped in. Many of the bosses didn't seem to want to shuffle in the game, making me thing this feature is more glitched than the creator may have noted. Additionally, with the boss heath randomization feature, I saw more than one boss spawn in with zero health, instantly dying and dropping their orb. It was funny, but not really what I wanted.
Along with these major features there are the usual expected fun% flags. You can randomize the colors of the backgrounds, shuffle the sounds in the game, and shuffle the music in the stages. All expected stuff you want to have as base features in any randomizer, of course. There's also a smattering of quality of life improvements -- from reduced knock back, to more loves, less damage, and improved loading and respawning. If what you want it s remixed version of Castlevania III but with a smoothed out experience, this game does provide. Of course any of these features can be turned off so not everything has to be "easy", if that's what you really want. I lived off these features, though.
In many ways the randomizer is nice and full featured. It's really nice to see a linear game in the series get the randomizer treatment when so much of the air in the room is used up by the randomized Metroidvania titles. Castlevania III is a game with so much cool stuff going on, from the split paths to the multiple characters, each with their own abilities, that randomizing the game just makes sense. It'll reveal more of the game and it's various secrets to you than you even realized were possible, and that's great.
At the same time, though, the current state of the randomizer is pretty rough. Despite saying many more updates would be coming, Skeens hasn't updated the randomizer since Alpha v0.6 at the end of January 2021. That leaves the game with a lot of features only half implemented, begging for more development to feel stable and solid. This randomizer would be an easy recommendation if it were more feature complete and stable but, as it is, it's a solid core sitting on an abandoned site. I think anyone willing to put up with the randomizer's rough edges will find something fun to play in the Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse Randomizer. For anyone looking for something more feature complete, though, you'll need to look for another randomizer to play instead.