Does it suck?

Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
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Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles

(Konami; Sony PSP)

GAMER I have a friend who only likes really, really hard games — the kind in which fast-moving, shooting things spawn more fast-moving, shooting things at an exponential rate. When he said Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is hard, I didn't laugh and call him a sissy.

Dracula X is actually a remake of a game for PC that came out in Japan in 1993, where it was concisely titled Demon Castle Dracula X: Rondo of Blood. It hailed from the end of the era when the purpose of a game was to devour as many quarters as possible. In both games you play Richter, a vampire killer. Dracula has kidnapped some hot, nubile females, and your job is to whip and beat your way through armies of his demonic minions in order to rescue them from secret rooms in his 2-D, side-scrolling castle.

You can only get hit a few times before you die, and almost everything deals damage. If you die three times, you have to start the level again, which is hair-pullingly frustrating if the thing killing you is at the end. You can unlock the ability to play one of the women, the spirited Maria, who has more powerful attacks than Richter but less life and takes more damage.

Your character gets one main weapon and one subweapon. The number of the subweapon's uses depends on how many hearts you have collected by beating up the scenery. One of Maria's subweapons is a cat. That's right — you can hurl cats at your enemies! "Look! It's a giant floating skull! Kitty bonzai!"

The graphics are pretty highly improved over the original: the game has been redone with excellent 3-D cut scenes and 3-D-rendered sprites. It looks better than most of the other things I've seen on the PSP. Most of the music consists of disco remixes of songs from various games in the Castlevania series. It took me a while to get used to it, and it kind of hampers one's immersion in the game. The reason that I decided to check out Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is that it comes with both the original Rondo of Blood — in English — and the well-loved Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which came out in 1997 for the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn.

Konami has made no changes to Symphony of the Night, which is good for fans of the original, and the quirks that were there in 1997 are still present. The new version handles the difference in shape between a TV screen and a PSP screen with vertical letterboxing, which struck me as both a bit cheap and a lot annoying. But the player adapts to it fairly easily. One suspects that Konami included the old games as a gimmick to sell copies of the Rondo remake, but having spent a good 20 hours replaying Symphony of the Night, I'm not going to complain too much.

In short, Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles is a pretty decent remake of Rondo of Blood. Its downfall is that it's frustratingly hard compared to other platformers today. But the inclusion of Symphony of the Night makes the game well worth the money — if you have the cockroachlike persistence to battle through Rondo of Blood to the point where you unlock it!

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