Review – Wallachia: Reign of Dracula

There is current trend of releasing spiritual successors to classic Konami franchises on the indie scene. Blazing Chrome is basically a new old-school Contra. Brawl was a failed attempt to revitalize the Bomberman franchise, even though the series is somewhat alive with the decent Super Bomberman R released a few years ago. Then we have the two Bloodstained games that brought back both the gameplay styles from Castlevania III and Symphony of the Night to a new generation of consoles. Although I’m pretty sure we won’t see anything new from that franchise outside of the Netflix realm in the near future. Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is yet another attempt to ride on the Castlevania hype train, but there are some neat features that make this game different from its source material.

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Castlevania would force you to fight against a kraken. Wallachia makes you fight a ship with a catapult as your first boss. I’m fine with that.

Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is a love letter to two Konami franchises at once. It is largely inspired by Super Castlevania IV, as it can be seen through its visuals, animations, setting and some of its soundtrack. It also feels like Contra, due to its shooter-focused gameplay and brutal, albeit not entirely unfair, difficulty. Both the title and the fact that Dracula is the main bad guy may hint that Wallachia is a totally unoriginal Castlevania clone that pitches you against the most famous non-sparkling vampire of all time, but there’s a catch. A very interesting catch.

Sure, the main objective in the game is to hunt down Dracula, but we’re not talking about the vampirical Dracula created by Bram Stoker. In fact, we are talking about Vlad Tepes himself. The real life Romanian Dracula, the one known as Vlad the Impaler, the source of inspiration behind Kasabian’s hit single. In fact, there’s little to no magical influences or monsters to kill. Most of your enemies are Romanian soldiers, ships, catapults, and some animals. I actually really liked the whole subversion of expectations, as it turned what could have been the most generic of clones into a neat deconstruction of the genre and setting.

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I think the vampire version of Dracula is the less despicable of the two.

I was initially displeased with Wallachia‘s visuals, as its main menu art looked like someone just grabbed a 240p picture and stretched it all the way to a 1080p size. However, I ended up really liking its overall graphics. It retains the overall art style from Super Castlevania IV, but with more detailed sprites, richer environments, a larger color pallete, and a sky-high and super steady framerate. I was also very impressed with Wallachia‘s sound department. Not only was its soundtrack awesome, featuring influences from both Super Castlevania IV and the more upbeat Symphony of the Night, but the voice acting was way better than expected, featuring professional voice actors with impressive resumes.

With every good game, there’s always a gripe, but in Wallachia‘s case, there’s a big one: its controls. In theory, the controls aren’t terrible, as they are fast-paced and responsive enough, for the most part. They are clearly inspired by the limitations of the 16-bit era, so you don’t have a lot of control over your character when jumping, and you can’t spam that many arrows onscreen. No, the problem in question lies in something I don’t think I have ever complained about before: key bindings.

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Instead of skeletons, Romanian soldiers.

I think that the best way I can describe Wallachia‘s key bindings is by calling them “amateurish”. Playing it on a keyboard is far from ideal, but feasible. Commands aren’t exactly bound to the best keys, but you can change them to something more tolerable. You can also pause the game with the space bar and quit it entirely with the Esc key. Things go downhill when trying to play the game on a controller. Menu interfaces aren’t bound to a specific button, but to a specific action.

That means that accepting or declining an option aren’t tied to A or B, but instead to the arrow and sword buttons, whichever you decided to bind. You can’t use the analog stick, which wouldn’t be too much of a hassle, if it wasn’t for the amount of times that aiming diagonally ended up being a lifesaver. Doing that on a d-pad is clunkier than on a stick, of course. Finally, there is no way to bind the Start button to pause the game. You can’t pause the game at all on the controller, which, considering how brutal Wallachia is, makes things even more complicated. You can only do that by pressing the spacebar on your computer. Definitely not an ideal solution.

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The game is hard, without a doubt, but boss battles are all about memorizing patterns.

I don’t remember the last time I liked a game so much even though I really hated its controls. Ironically enough, it must have Castlevania 64, now that I think about it. I really liked almost everything Wallachia: Reign of Dracula had to offer: its visuals, its really good voice acting, its overall gameplay loop, its new take on the whole “Dracula hunting” schtick, and so on. If only its controls weren’t so clunky and the if only the button mapping wasn’t so limited and nonsensical, Wallachia could have ended up being one of the biggest surprises of the year.

 

Graphics: 8.5

Although the main menu art looks cheap and stretched, the overall game features beautiful graphics that make it resemble a high-end title from the 16-bit era. The framerate is also excellent, as to be expected.

Gameplay: 5.5

The controls themselves are responsive enough, but the game’s overall key binding interface is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. Playing Wallachia on a controller is way more cumbersome than it should have been.

Sound: 9.0

By far the most impressive bit in Wallachia is its sound department. Not only is the soundtrack pretty good, being largely inspired by Super Castlevania IV and Symphony of the Night‘s score, but the voice acting is way better than expected, featuring professional voice actors.

Fun Factor: 8.5

If you can endure the terrible button mapping and confusing controls, then you’ll be greeted with an actually pretty good platformer with great production values and a crushing, albeit not completely unfair, level of difficulty.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Wallachia: Reign of Dracula was provided by the publisher.