Kid Dracula is a Castlevania spinoff released in 1993 for the Gameboy. It’s a sequel/remake of an earlier, inferior Japan-only NES game. You play as Dracula’s son, on a quest to save the castle or something, the story was neither clear nor important.
The game doesn’t really play similar to Castlevania as you might expect, it’s a bit more like a linear Mega Man. Movement isn’t nearly as clunky as it was in earlier CV titles, the jump is floaty and it’s fairly easy to dodge enemies, a benefit from the Gameboy’s very small screen. And since you’re not playing as a Belmont, you don’t use a whip, but magic instead. Fireballs are your main attack, which can be shot by tapping the attack button. Holding the button results in a charge, which will unleash a large fireball. You can change your active spell with the select button, which changes what a charged shot does. The first spell you get lets you transform into a bat for a few seconds.
Things get interesting from here, since these nonviolent spells (plus the added mobility) are uncommon for a Castlevania title, especially at the time. Instead of a game solely about combat as progression, Kid Dracula encourages a little exploration and experimentation with the various spells. One early stage has a falling bridge, which requires you to continue running to keep up, and, as one might expect, enemy monsters start swarming you. I first thought to take the classic CV approach, and jump over certain enemies while killing the others, plus a little bit of trial and error. But Kid Dracula isn’t Belmont, he doesn’t want to put up with this bullshit.
Equipping the bat transformation spell, I started flying halfway
through the bridge and flew over the entire section. The game is filled with these little puzzles, both in the stage’s path and in optional item pickups. This is where I draw comparison to Mega Man, since each stage in each entry has a respective boss item that makes the stage (or boss) easier. Kid Dracula is linear, however, so spell unlocks come at predetermined points in the game.
Kid Dracula is also pretty easy. Checkpoints are frequent, and after each stage you’re given a chance to gain extra lives with a minigame. Maybe “a chance” doesn’t apply here, since it’s dead simple to amass a large amount of lives if you know what you’re doing. There are four minigames: Grab Bat, Stick’Em, RPS, and Jump&Pop. Of these, the first and last are highly skill-based, while the middle two have heavier random chance. Jump&Pop is the easiest for me, you just jump on a pogo stick and hit the light gray balloons to get at least 1 life. Hitting the dark gray ones causes a “loss”, but I never noticed losing anything. Maybe it takes a life away, but I didn’t notice from the usual 7-8 minimum extra lives I’d get. Anyways, it costs 10 coins to play any of these minigames, and you get to select the minigame by tracking one of four shuffling crystal balls. It’s a pretty clever way to implement multiple minigames, since getting the one you weren’t looking for will still get you a minigame. Also, if you have more coins, you’ll get to play more often. There’s another minigame for getting extra coins but it’s just pure random in comparison to the other minigames.
This game takes on a distinct visual style, more childish and cartoony, which fits well with the Gameboy’s small screen and lack of colors. Reminiscent of Wario Land (which came a year later), sprites are large and the enemies have many distinct animation frames. You should know what to expect if you’ve ever played one of Konami’s parody/crossover games, like Parodius or Wai Wai World. Everything looks great despite the shortcomings of the handheld, and Konami didn’t cheap out with level backgrounds and other details.
There’s 8 fairly short stages to the game, all laid out on a pretty level map. Each level has a theme, from castle, to forest, to ghost ship. The enemies reflect the level theme, and there’s no shortage of creative and expressive enemies
I know what you’re asking right now: is the game scary? You bet your ass it is. Okay, maybe not, but it’s got the right mood. The game is filled with monsters and other horror-themed enemies, so it counts, at least for me.
A Cuphead-like experience
Also published on Medium.