One thing I truly admire about Kid Dracula is that, although you earn many different special weapons and powers, the game still focuses much on pure platforming madness. There is, for example, an auto-scrolling elevator shaft in which you quickly leap up fast-dropping platforms. There is also a hectic rollercoaster ride that forces you to memorize enemy patterns and an area that continually scrolls down, as you try to keep up with it while avoiding spikes and falling enemies. These areas do not require special skills, and some outright ban the use of them. Ergo, you must rely purely on your jumping and shooting prowess. And, yes, it's nice to see a platformer for the Game Boy that can actually compare to the best of the console world.
While special abilities in many games are used to make areas easier, Kid Dracula's powers complement the action instead of undermining it. The reverse-gravity flip allows you to walk along ceilings and is the only means of traversing certain areas with pits and spikes. There is also a boss that requires you to use this maneuver to both avoid its attack and counterattack it. Another powerup, the bomb, is an effective weapon against enemies, but it's duly needed for destroying sections of moving walls so that you can slip through them without getting crushed. Most of these powers have a specific purpose (although a few, like the bat attack and homing weapon, are so useless that it wouldn't have hurt had they not been included), but the purpose is always to help overcome a new challenge, rather than to make the existing gameplay easier.
Although Kid Dracula is unquestionably a spoof of Konami's own Castlevania series, a definite case could be made for it being a parody of other, non-Konami platformers as well. The flying wooden ships of Level 4, with their side-mounted cannons that fire diagonally, are more than a nod to the airships of Super Mario Bros. 3. The robotic enemies of the later levels seem heavily inspired by the Mega Man series, particularly a boss whose method of attack is quite similar to the Rock Monster of Mega Man 1 and 3. There are also references to other Konami games scattered around, like the solar flares of Life Force, the rock-spewing volcanoes of Gradius, and (my personal favorite) the face of Ebisumaru of Goemon/Mystical Ninja fame engraved on a large coin. There is even an appearance from H.R. Giger's Alien, an hilarious Jason Voorhees spoof, and Claude Debussy's "Golliwogg's Cakewalk" is used as a level theme. These cameos not only contribute to the game's quirky atmosphere, but are something long-time gamers who'll recognize them can appreciate.
The graphics of Kid Dracula are drawn in a cartoon-like, "super-deformed" style. Characters and enemies are very large and emote unique personalities. Backgrounds are lacking in detail, but they were most likely done this way so that the characters would be easy to see on the small (original) Game Boy screen. The music is sometimes quirky and lighthearted, as in Level 1's wacky version of the Castlevania 3 "Beginning" music, and other times has an upbeat, hard-driving tempo, as in the elevator shaft. Visually and aurally, Kid Dracula is a nice little Game Boy package.
The game itself is challenging enough that some areas will require time and patience to master. The final level has an area that you ascend vertically by jumping into air shafts. There are usually spikes at the top of the shafts, so you'll have to employ your ability to change into a bat to proceed. But since you can only spend five seconds as a bat, it's imperative to time your transformation so that you not only change before hitting the spikes, but have enough time to fly over to the next air shaft. Other tasks simply defy description, such as one level in which you "create" your own path by hitting a flower in the head, which causes him to extend his vine. All the while you're avoiding attacks from the flower and other enemies, as well as owls that can steal the flower's head away, causing you to plummet to your doom. The challenges of Kid Dracula are reminiscent of the NES classic, Battletoads, in that each one feels like a new experience, even if it's a variation of an old theme, and each takes several tries to learn. Kid Dracula, however, is not quite as hard as Battletoads. In fact, the one downside of the game is that it's a little short, although it packs quite a bit into the few hours it lasts. I also beat the entire game without losing a life shortly after the first time I completed it, so it's not really that difficult, and there's no second quest.
Kid Dracula may not be revolutionary, but it is one of the best Game Boy platformers I have yet played. It certainly deserves more recognition than it received. Although it has no Super Game Boy or Game Boy Color enhancements, sometimes just having pure good gameplay is all that's really needed.
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