Back to the nineties we go (sort of) with this throwback side-scroller. Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is bound to make you sweat bullets with its exceptionally challenging gameplay akin to the titles of yesteryear, but there’s a lot of merit to shower it with as well.
Set in the 15th Century, the protagonist, Elcin, must fend off the invading armies of Count Dracula, otherwise known as Vlad The Impaler. No vampires are to be found in this one, though it’s still a fantasy game through and through, with supernatural abilities and otherworldly enemies to fight. The storytelling is informative enough, though the voice acting is a bit hodge-podge, with a handful of dodgy voices for certain enemies and NPCs being a bit too silly to take seriously.
Visually, it’s certainly a step-above the standard-fare 16-bit pixel art that we’ve seen time and time again. It definitely has Castlevania vibes going for this one, in terms of its design and overall aesthetic, but it’s so much more detailed – especially the backgrounds. It’s soundtrack is pretty cool, with some pretty sweet guitar riffs layering these serious compositions. Also, the Switch runs the title without a hitch, even in handheld mode.
Elcin is pretty handy with a sword and bow, the latter of which can only shoot at 45-degree angles. It can make hitting certain targets hard, but temporary upgrades and different arrow types partially compensate for this. She’s not a very agile protagonist, as her jump is a lad low, but she can dash-slide. Even better, once you collect a number of orbs dropped by enemies, she’ll be able to use one of four special moves, ranging from launching an incredibly powerful spirit wolf to charge at the enemy, or make herself temporarily invincible. Other power-ups can upgrade these skills to do more fanciful things, like fully heal you, but they ask for a ridiculous amount to activate as a result. Dying will strip you down to zero, so chances are you’ll be lucky to use these if you’re not too hot at the game.
Expect a lot of resistance in the form of bowmen, wolves, armoured knights, catapults, and more. It may be a fair amount of fodder, but these guys don’t exactly muck around. Besides, numerous traps and dangerous setpieces (e.g. riding a cart over a pit of spikes) can also be expected. The bosses are a real threat, too, unless you’ve got enough orbs to spam your way to victory. Otherwise, you’re going to struggle.
There’s little room for making mistakes here, and that can be incredibly frustrating. A lack of a reset button in-game will force you to manually reboot it should you decide you’ve messed up your playthrough. You’re only given a limited number of continues, along with a handful of lives. While you can increase your health, these are just as rare as healing items. Touching water or spikes will instantly kill you, too. Thankfully, you can pick from a later stage if you’ve managed to reach it – it’s not cruel enough to force you to do it in one go.
By beating the game, you’ll unlock bonus challenges. These are none too easy, just like the main game, and will have you breaking rocks before they shatter the wooden platforms below you, shooting red blocks to destroy incoming spiky walls of death, and more. Some of them seem to drag on a bit longer than necessary, but it at least helps bloat the package a bit. The main game only has seven levels, and a full length playthrough will last about an hour, you see.
It may feel a little clunky, and is no doubt punishing, but Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is still a class-act of a throwback sidescroller. It’s like a combination of Castlevania and Contra – what’s on offer gels together pretty damn well. Still, even on the lowest difficulty, you’ll be in for a world of hurt if you’re not accustomed to these sorts of games, but those who are will certainly enjoy this rewarding title.
Review copy supplied by PixelHeart.