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Wallachia: Reign of Dracula

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Storybird Studio
Release Date: Oct. 29, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Wallachia: Reign of Dracula'

by Cody Medellin on March 25, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is an action and shooter platformer inspired by great video game classics such as Castlevania.

Migami Games is much like Locomalito in that it mostly develops free titles on the PC. The big difference is that while Locomalito's stuff consists of original creations inspired by classic retro games, Migami splits between original fare and fan-made material based on popular franchises, most notably Castlevania. With lots of praise thrown its way for its takes on Konami's dormant franchise, the team has finally made its first commercial game with Wallachia: Reign of Dracula, a title that is both similar yet different enough from its previous fan works.

In Wallachia, you play the role of Elcin, a young woman whose family was killed by Dracula. Several years have passed since that event, and you've been under the guidance of an old man who has helped to refine your combat skills. With Dracula now targeted for assassination by his superiors, Elcin insists on killing him to get her revenge. What's unexpected is that the story doesn't focus on the monster version of Dracula but the real-life inspiration behind him, Vlad Tepes. As such, you fight real-world enemies like soldiers and animals instead of the usual slate of monsters that usually appear when Dracula is the villain.

Channeling the Castlevania games prior to Symphony of the Night, Wallachia goes for a typical platforming adventure spread across seven distinct levels. You'll typically move from left to right, with a few instances of vertical movement. There's no backtracking involved, and there are only a few hidden secrets in each stage, with typical boss fights punctuating the end of a stage. Elcin can perform double-jumps and slides, with the former being used often and the latter used for defensive maneuvers rather than tight spaces. She has a sword that can be used to mow down enemies and destroy any arrows slung her way.

There are a few pick-ups that she can obtain for points that feed into some old-school mentalities, as points are responsible for obtaining that rare extra life. There are a few pick-ups that refill her life, extend her hit meter, or power up her weapon's strength. The most important pick-up comes from orbs that are dropped by both ally birds and almost all enemies. The orbs let you call upon allies for help, whether you're asking your wolf companion to charge through enemies on a straight path or calling on someone to fill the screen with explosives.

The most curious thing about the setup is that a sword isn't the main weapon; instead, your main weapon is a bow and arrow with unlimited arrows in your quiver. You can charge up the shot to deliver a more powerful hit, but you'll normally be fine with a standard shot, which is multi-directional, so you can hit in eight directions, whether running or standing still. You can also obtain different arrow types, such as one that splits into three, one that shoots through all enemies instead of stopping at one target, and one that produces fire damage, but all of those arrows are limited in supply. The mechanics allow you to fire without worrying about any windup, so the game veers into platformer-shooter territory, making it feel like a classic Contra game blended with some Castlevania mechanics and aesthetics.

This hybrid system works well thanks to some tight controls and sturdy level design. The jumps are well designed in that nothing feels so far away that a leap of faith is needed, and the controls ensure that precise jumps can be done with ease. The character hitboxes are of a good size, so you aren't hit with projectiles that have already passed or are arriving too early. The level flow seems natural, and the essential power-ups, like health refills, appear in logical places. Enemies rarely pop up out of nowhere, and even the bosses can be beaten without relying on help from summoned characters. In short, nothing feels unfair.

If there's anything that might throw people off initially, it'll be the game's adherence to some classic — and outdated — mechanics. You have a limited stash of lives, and each life takes roughly four hits before it expires. There are a few checkpoints per level, but it's invisible so you can't predict where you'll end up when you respawn unless you do so at a boss fight (you always respawn one screen before the fight). Getting killed makes you lose everything, but getting hit once also makes you lose some of your sword and bow powers. Lose all of your lives, and you can continue, but you'll do so at the beginning of the last stage. You have unlimited continues, but the game has no method of saving or selecting a stage, so quitting means having to restart the game from the beginning. To be fair, employing a save system would've made the game too easy, as the levels only take a few minutes to finish, and the mechanics to make this more difficult force you to play carefully and master things.

There's only a few things here that give the player something to go after once the campaign is finished, but those playing on the Easy difficulty need to replay it on Normal anyway because Easy doesn't let you progress to the true ending. Replaying the game at a higher difficulty unlocks more material for the gallery and the sound test. Challenges are also unlocked by performing tasks like shooting down falling boulders in a specific area. Beating the game also gives you access to a costume based on Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, but don't expect much else.

The presentation straddles the line between the different portions of the 16-bit era. Graphically, you're seeing something similar to what you'd see from a cartridge-based game. The characters are taller with animations that are good even if they don't display the number of frames that are expected in a modern interpretation of a retro game. The colors are darker like a Genesis title, but the palette has more variety, so it feels like a SNES game minus any potential slowdown. It does a terrific job of looking great overall while also having the potential to fool others into thinking that this is a real game from the 1980s. Sound-wise, Wallachia emulates a TurboGrafx CD or Sega CD game, with music that sounds like it was inspired by Symphony of the Night with a touch more rock. The audio sounds clean without any of the looping issues with older CD-based systems. The voice work is nice enough, but the dialogue is reminiscent of the overly serious tone in some retro games. It's not terrible by any means, but it can make you roll your eyes.

Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is a solid, old-school experience. The decision to make this more of a shooter than a faithful Castlevania-style clone can be initially jarring, but it feels natural thanks to some excellent arrowplay and good boss fights. The high difficulty level due to some design decisions stretches out the seven-stage experience, but the endless continues make that bearable. While it may not appeal to everyone, those looking for something that mimics a good 16-bit adventure shooter will find this to be an easy recommendation.

Score: 8.0/10

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