Set in the year 1792, Dracula rises from the grave wiser from all the years spent being beaten by the Belmont family. Instead of simply going straight after the latest Belmont, he instead waits and observes. The Belmont he discovers is Richter, and after some time spent following his movements Dracula decides he needs a tactical advantage in his latest battle against the forces of good. The master of darkness takes Richter’s girlfriend Annette hostage along with her sister, a Nun and the local Doctor’s daughter. Now Richter must take up arms against Dracula once more, however, one false move could end in the tragic death of one of Dracula’s innocent hostages.
Castlevania V is a very striped down version of the stunning PC Engine game and sticks to the standard formula laid down in previous instalments, what we get is a fairly standard hack and slash platform adventure game. If anything this instalment in the series is a step backwards from the original Super Nintendo game, levels follow the tried and tested pattern of jumping over tricky gaps, whipping skeletons and defeating a big monster at the end of each stage. While in the prequel levels where significantly different in both look and style throughout, the stages present in this instalment feel a touch too similar for comfort, this unfortunately means that at times things can get a little samey at times.
Graphically, stages are more colourful than the previous title- this however is not always a good thing. The new graphics seem to take the series away from its gothic style and at times almost seem to be making the game like a cartoon. This is not good as the series has always been centred upon a very intense underlying style that bubbles away under the surface.
Although the stages look a little out of place characters are much bigger and more detailed than before, instead of standard humanoid skeletons that look very fragile, new look skeletons have been added and are now hunchback like hulking embodiments of the dead, much more intimidating and a lot more dangerous. Richter himself looks completely different from Simon, with a blue tunic and more animations replacing Simon’s grey armour. However the inclusion of the mode 7 trickery present in the original is all but a distant memory now, it is hard to understand why it has not been used this time around as it conjured up numerous moments of magic in Castlevania IV.
Unfortunately, while the graphics of the game have become more detailed the gameplay side of things also seems to have taken a number of backward steps. The three-hundred and sixty degree field of attack has sadly been done away with, in fact Richter can only whip straight in front now, meaning on occasion enemies on ledges above you are stupidly difficult to get rid of. Furthermore the whip can no longer be used after an initial strike, whereas before it would remain active letting the player circle it around if the initial target was missed. Though the gameplay is somewhat basic the game still is a lot of fun to play and if you have not played Castlevania IV for a while it all becomes very forgivable.
Vampire X also has a few innovations of its own, though nothing as inventive as the prequels whip mechanic. Richter can perform a stylish, if a little pointless, back flip move and a super move that differs depending on what secondary weapon you are carrying.
Overall, Vampire X is nowhere near close to the greatness of its prequel or the full PC Engine version of the game. however, to overly criticise the title is to miss out on a highly enjoyable instalment in the Castlevania series. The look and music may have changed a little but that is forgivable as games are set centuries apart. What is disappointing is that all the innovations from the previous game have not been built and developed upon as it makes Vampire X seem unfinished in a sense. The loss of levels and characters from the PC Engine game is also a real shame. That said, any Castlevania fan is likely to forgive the faults and once you do there is a lot to like.