Bram Stoker's Dracula
Game Overview by Mike Finkelstein
You may be aware that there was an adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula released to theaters in 1992 (a movie the reviewers on this site really need to write about). You may also be aware that there was a video game adaptation of that movie. Of course you are -- we live in an age where just about every game with any kind of nerd-cred (and plenty without) gets a game adaptation, and vampires have a certain amount of cred all on their own.
You may not be aware of the fact that there were actually several game adaptations of differing quality released, nor that many of them play drastically different from each other. By and large (with a few exceptions) these games were run-of-the-mill platformers, middling at best and terrible at worst.
All of the games follow the mission of Johnathan Harker as he goes after Dracula to put the foul vampire in his grave. This may surprise you if you've seen the movie considering the fact that Johnathan Harker has very little to do with in the movie -- he shows up for the early scenes, and then is left so physically devastated by his encounter with Dracula (and Dracula's brides) that he can't really do much else for the rest of the flick. It's an odd choice, then, to make him the hero. It's like the various developers all watched the first 20 minutes of the movie, collectively said, "okay, we know where this is going," and then went off to make various vampire-themed games with a vaguely Gothic skin over each one.
In fact, many of the games are true platformers at all. The Sega CD/Amiga versions (which are actually a tad different from each other) are basically beat 'em ups with one hero to choose from (poor old Johnathan). The DOS version, meanwhile, is a first person shooter (ala Wolfenstein 3D) -- plainly the developer of this version, Psygnosis, knew just enough about the PC market to see that first-person shooters were the new "it" thing and figured, "fuck it, why not?"
Similarities to Castlevania Games
To be honest, the various versions of the game have little in common with Castlevania. The similarities are largely on the surface, and even then they owe mostly to a shared lineage -- Castlevania features monsters and settings from the Universal and Hammer monster films, and they in turn used Bram Stoker's original novel as source material for their various Dracula cycles. Add a smidgen of Gothic setting into a game, throw in Dracula, and you have a "Castlevania inspired game" however accurate that may be.
Sure, the various games (aside from the Sega CD, Amiga, and DOS oddities) are platformers. Sure, you use a sword that functions kind of like a whip, sort of (it attacks in front of you, at least). And sure, some versions let you collect sub-weapons you can use. But that could be said for a lot of different games (not all of which have Gothic settings), so the similarities are surface at best. To call these games Castlevania clones is to see the title of Bram Stoker's Dracula and assume the developers were lazy and just cribbed from a better series to make their games.
It is, in fact, worse -- the developers were so lazy they couldn't even be bothered to crib from better games. They just made half-assed platformers and called it a day. Take our advice and avoid all the various versions. You're better off.
Versions of Bram Stoker's Dracula:
Three different developers cranked out five different versions of this shitty game. To start, Probe software cranked out a low-end version for the Nintendo Game Boy, Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System, and Sega Game Gear. All these versions play exactly the same barring a smaller field of view on the portable systems, and variances in color and sound on the various releases (the Game Boy edition was, of course, in black and white). Johnathan goes through levels that feel like a cross between Ghosts and Goblins and Super Mario Land, collecting power-ups and fighting enemies all to get through to Dracula's castle and defeat the villain. Simple stuff.
The Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo versions were developed by Traveler's Tales (yes, the same group that settled into do exclusive LEGO games from 2007 on). While featuring better sound and graphics, this version is perhaps even worse than the "low-end" model. The platforming is rote and repetitive, with the character having to find way points spread through sprawling stages, fighting bats and spiders for most of the game, then taking on simple, one-note villains before finally reaching Dracula. It's rare that we at the Inverted Dungeon suggest an NES version of a game over it's next-gen iteration, but that's the case here. This version is simply awful.
Psygnosis then took over the the "high-end" versions, which are the absolute worst of the lot. The Sega CD version features linear brawling and platforming -- Johnathan literally goes left to right only, killing bats and other monsters with his fists and feet, sometimes jumping. And that's literally it. Throw in some terrible, grainy cut scene videos and you have the worst version of the game possible. Even the Amiga version, featuring similar mechanics, at least threw in some non-linear platforming and varied the direction Johnathan had to go.
Somehow the DOS version of this mess is a first-person shooter, and while terrible in it's own right, it's of a piece with the other, pretty bad Wolfenstein clones of the era, so at least it's in good company.