Released: May 2019
Originally Released: October 1990
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment/Konami Industry Co. Ltd
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Game Boy, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Switch, PC, and PlayStation 4
Well, this is it; over the past few weeks, I have been reviewing each of the titles of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection and we’re finally at the end with perhaps the most obscure title in the collection. By 1990, Konami was pretty much knee-deep into establishing Castlevania as a successful franchise; Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (ibid, 1989) had released the previous year and both Castlevania II: Belmont’s Revenge (ibid, 1991) and Super Castlevania IV (ibid) were due to come out in the following year.
So, naturally, this was the perfect time for a chibi-style, super-cute parody platformer starring Dracula’s son. No, not Alucard (or, at least, not explicitly…); this title would, instead, be a spin-off starring the titular “Kid Dracula”, a mischievous little imp with a super-deformed, cartoony aesthetic. His self-titled games released exclusively in Japan until the release of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, which included the original NES version for the first time, in English, but was Kid Dracula worth the wait or is it just another example of a wacky Japanese title that never should have seen the light of day in the West?
After waking from a long sleep, the self-proclaimed “Demon King”, Kid Dracula, is challenged by the demon Galamoth. Arming himself with his father’s cape, Kid Dracula sets out to destroy Galamoth and his minions and retake his throne as the Demon King.
Kid Dracula is a 2D, sidescrolling action/platformer that, in a change of pace, has players take on the role of Dracula’s son, Kid Dracula (also called “Lil’ Drac” and, presumably (given their similarities), a super-deformed version of Alucard), and journeying across a number of levels defeating Galamoth’s minions.
Rather than using a whip, Kid Dracula attacks with a fireball-like projectile, just like his Dad. You can blast enemies in the direction you’re facing, shoot upwards, and shoot downwards while jumping, making Kid Dracula a relatively versatile character. You can also hold down the attack button to charge up a shot, which will allow you to collect Medals that you can use to play one of the game’s four mini games at the end of each level. Rather than collecting the traditional Castlevania sub-weapons, you’ll acquire new attacks after defeating each of the game’s bosses; you can switch between them by pressing the “Select” button to assist both in disposing of enemies and your traversal through the game’s nine brisk levels, though there is a significant delay in switching between attacks and there’s no option to mix and match them.
Unlike the protagonists of other Castlevania games in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, Kid Dracula is a floaty, slippery little devil but no less sluggish in his movements. When you jump, Kid Dracula gets some serious height (even more so when jumping underwater) and floats his way downwards slow enough for you to make sudden course corrections to avoid instant-death spikes or attack enemies. However, he also comes to a dead stop when jogging, meaning it’s pretty easy to slip off platforms to your death, especially in the ice world, which has some of the worst slippery ice physics I’ve ever encountered.
Kid Dracula’s health is represented by hearts; you start the game in Dracula’s Castle and with three hearts but very quickly upgrade to four and, eventually, five, by picking up bigger heart containers. Regular hearts will replenish Kid Dracula’s health and he can earn as many extra lives as he needs by playing the mini games at the end of each level.
Kid Dracula features a fair amount of level variety and gimmicks; in level one, you’re tasked with escaping Dracula’s Castle, a journey that takes you from the throne room (traditionally the end of most Castlevania games) and through the obligatory clock tower. It’s a very vertical opening level but the game quickly switches it up in level two, which sees you hopping over clouds across a bottomless pit of death and riding a track. A significant portion of level three is underwater and, after jumping around on rooftops in level five, you’ll end up riding a subway train, dodging low-hanging ceilings and fighting off monsters as the level auto-scrolls you forwards.
Generally, Kid Dracula balances these different gimmicks pretty well but you’ll be faced with the same issues that have plagued all of the Castlevania games in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection: wonky physics, tricky jumps, and knockback from damage. As a result, a lot of Kid Dracula’s levels can be more frustrating than enjoyable and the game can be a bit of a chore to get through thanks to some dodgy enemy placement and instant-death traps; in level six (a desert), you have to jump around falling spiked blocks (just brushing the edge of these instant-death spikes will kill you), are chased by a giant boulder that will kill you the moment it touches you, have to out run a collapsing spiked ceiling, and then have to battle the boss on floating hands, meaning that one hit will send you plummeting to your death.
Graphics and Sound:
Kid Dracula has an amusingly charming little art style; it’s hyper deformed, turning Castlevania’s traditionally gothic and horrific aesthetic into a chibi, over-exaggerated, cartoony style that is pure Japan through and through. Kid Dracula himself stands out at all times thanks to his massive head and cute little face but each of his enemies hold their own as cutesy-fied monsters that seem more adorable than threatening.
It’s a good job that the sprites are so large and cartoony and expressive as the game’s backgrounds leave a lot to be desired. It all kind of falls apart after you leave Dracula’s Castle, which is when Kid Dracula throws such cliché level designs as a pyramid, an ice level, and a city at you. Though there are some interesting level designs outside of the first level (the second level being set in the clouds and the airship are quite interesting), a lot of the backgrounds are criminally plain and uninteresting at times which you would think would allow Kid Dracula to run quite smoothly but you would be wrong.
Instead, Kid Dracula suffers from the worst slowdown and sprite flickering in the Castlevania Anniversary Collection so far…and I’m struggling to see why. It’s not as if the game is overly complicated or full of that many moving elements but you’ll stutter and jitter about during critical moments, slipping to your doom or making fatal errors when fighting the game’s various bosses because the game slows to a crawl and the sprites start bugging out on you. Thankfully, the game has a whimsical soundtrack and loud, cartoony sound effects, all of which add to Kid Dracula’s quirky nature, but none of which can help reduce the frustration the slowdown and sprite flickering brings to the title.
Enemies and Bosses:
Kid Dracula has to battle a whole host of wacky enemies in his debut game; level one features all of the staples you’d expect from a Castlevania title (bats, zombies, spear-throwing knights, and Frankenstein’s Monster) but, from level two onwards, you’ll come up against such enemies as a broomstick-riding witch, cloud-riding imps who throw lightning bolts at you, Olympic swimmers, axe-welding maniacs who wear hockey masks, aeroplane-throwing apes, and even aliens dropped from flying saucers.
Each of these is rendered in the same exaggerated, cartoony style as the kid himself, which can often undermine the very real threat they pose to your health. Sure, the skeletons in Kid Dracula look funny but they can still be a pain in the ass when they throw their heads at you, and the enemies still respawn once you leave the screen. Luckily, most can be put down with one of Kid Dracula’s regular fireballs and those that are trickier can be done in with either his charged shot or Bomb technique.
As for bosses…well, you fight a giant chicken at one point so what does that tell you? The first boss is a little ghost who runs off and gets his bigger brother after you’ve damaged him enough and most of these encounters are a pretty simple affair where you just dodge their attacks or run underneath them and blast them with your more powerful attacks until they are defeated. However, when you reach the end of level five, you’ll encounter Lady Liberty who challenges you to a quiz rather than battling you, which is an amusing twist.
Things get a bit trickier with level six’s sphinx head boss; you have to jump precariously from its disembodied hands and avoid the bubbles it shoots out all while floating over a bottomless pit that spells instant death. Once you reach level nine, you’ll have to run a gauntlet of sub-bosses including an massively annoying, teleporting dragon who can only be damaged in a small window of opportunity by your Ice Shot and a giant mechanical drill and is so big that it’s difficult to defeat it without taking at least one hit.
Eventually, you’ll go one-on-one with Galamoth himself not once but twice; the first time, you battle “Demon Lord Galamoth” at the end of level seven and he attacks with both a sword (easily jumped over) and a stream of fire (easily ducked). The second time, you battle “King Galamoth” at the end of level nine but, despite being the game’s final boss, he’s not much of a threat. He’s completely immune to all damage except in the small window where he opens his mouth to drop a fireball on your head; just stay between the lighting bolts he shoots down and keep as far left (or right) as you can and be sure to fire a charged (or Bomb) shot upwards before you miss your window and you’ll be back as the King of all Demons in no time.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Every time you defeat a boss, Kid Dracula learns a new technique; you can learn the Homing Shot (which fires a spread of projectiles that home in on enemies, but isn’t particularly strong), a Bomb Shot (which deals explosive damage and one-shots every regular enemy), and an Ice Shot (which, apparently, freezes enemies in place but I only ever used it against the aforementioned dragon boss).
Kid Dracula also learns two useful techniques to help him progress further through levels and past hazardous obstacles; the first is the Bat transformation, which turns you into a bat, and the second is the “Up Up Down Down” technique that allows you to walk on ceilings. Both of these only last for five seconds so you have to be quick when using them and, while you can fire a standard projectile when on ceilings, pressing the attack button when you’re a bat instantly turns you back into Kid Dracula (and, generally, sends you falling to your death). It’s also worth noting that you’ll lose the bat transformation if you hit a wall and won’t be able to perform it at all if you’re standing too close to a wall, and it’s pretty difficult to control Kid Dracula when he’s in this form, so it’s best to have a route figured out before attempting this transformation.
At the end of each level, you are asked to pick a route and, depending on how Kid Dracula makes his way downwards, will play one of four mini games: Roulette, Cancan, Garapon, and Jab ‘N Pop. In each, you must pay to play with your Medals, so it’s advisable to hit as many enemies as you can with your charge shot so you can collect a lot of Medals, and can win extra lives if your luck is in. These mini games aren’t especially difficult, just based more on chance than skill, and the instructions for their play can be a bit vague; I still don’t really get how Roulette works and I just tended to randomly select stuff and hope for the best and still walked away with at least one extra life each time.
Like other Castlevania games, Kid Dracula features a password system that allows you to return to (or jump to) any of the game’s nine levels whenever you want. The Castlevania Anniversary Collection also awards you an Achievement after you clear the game, allows you to make liberal use of the save state feature, and apply different frames and display options to customise the game’s appearance to your liking as standard.
Kid Dracula is a quirky, amusing little title; the way the characters talk in cutscenes is charming and the game is clearly meant to be a fun little spin-off of the traditionally dark, broody, and gothic Castlevania series and I can appreciate its humour and artistic direction. Indeed, it’s hard to deny that the sprites look great; everything has this hyper deformed, chibi-aesthetic to it and it’s like playing a peculiar Japanese anime rather than a horrific battle against bloodstained monstrosities.
Yet all the humour and artistic charm in the world can’t change the fact that Kid Dracula is a laborious experience; the controls are slippery, the level layouts frustrating, and the slow down and sprite flickering absolutely maddening. Maybe I’m just burned out on the series by this point, especially the issues that dogged the 8-bit Castlevania’s (and many other titles, to be fair), but I feel like Kid Dracula really doesn’t have any excuse to struggle as hard as it does to run at an appropriate speed and level of quality due to its more simplistic nature.
What are your feelings about Kid Dracula? Do you feel it was a worthy attempt at expanding the franchise or do you think it was maybe a bit too “out there” as a concept? What other Castlevania characters would you like to see get their own spin-off? Are there any other genres you think Castlevania could try to fit in to, like racing or a first-person shooter? Whatever your thoughts on Kid Dracula, or Castlevania in general, feel free to leave a comment below and, if you have followed along with my marathon of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection, then thanks for showing up and be sure to come back for more reviews and articles and rantings in the near future.