Inspired by older games such as Castlevania, Shinboi and Contra; Wallachia: Reign of Dracula attempts to pay homage to its predecessors in both substance and style while bringing classic coin-op gameplay to a unique setting and, for the most part, it accomplishes what it sets out to do, but it isn’t without its fair share of pitfalls.
An action/adventure game developed by Migami Games, Wallachia places you in the capable boots of Elchin Floarea as she fights for the people against the tyrannical rule of Vlad the Impaler and the minions under his control. The story both finding familiarity in and setting itself apart from the more fantastical vampiric mythos used in games such as Castlevania essentially making it more like Bram Stoker’s Dracula than the previously mentioned video game. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking there aren’t unique and inspired creatures, weapons and locals in this game. There are plenty to go around!
Through the seven stages you are presented with, you will find yourself fighting against various unique backdrops from burning grasslands of a village to lush tropical waterfalls in the mountains even to the wagons of a moving caravan. Every local is beautifully detailed in unique ways that help bring the level to life and help tell the story of the game. The second stage, for example, starts on the outskirts of a village being raided and as you progress further you realize the deadly atrocities being committed by Vlad as you lay eyes on the many deceased bodies of the villagers strewn throughout the caves, cages and the burning fields beyond.
However, you won’t be gawking at the backgrounds too long because, much like Contra, the various types of enemy from foot soldiers to archers to mounted samurai and even bees (insert Nicolas Cage meme here) will bombard you from all angles. It’s clear that the developers have playtested all of their stages because the enemy are located in the perfect areas of the stages to offer their comrades intersecting fields of fire or to overwhelm the player by sheer numbers at the most inopportune times. So much so that it can become a frustration because there is little to no time to react to what is being thrown at you; you can only get hit and remember their location to avoid in the inevitable second or third run of the stage. All of this can be written off as paying homage to the aforementioned game series, but the cheapness in some of the attacks are hard to overlook.
Much like the older games it takes inspiration from, Wallachia locks you in 8 directions of fire which is perfectly fine except your enemy can fire arrows with 360 degrees of freedom which immediately gives them a tactical advantage. From the start, Elchin is touted as one of the best archers in the land which effectively shown when she performs her rendition of William Tell shooting an apple out of the king’s hand pinning it next to his head on his throne so I find it hard to believe that these enemy archers, whom you dispatch in the hundreds, would be more skilled than you. No, this is just a way for the developer to “fudge the numbers” and make the enemy more challenging when they are not. This is something these games are notorious for to lengthen the game and falsify the difficulty.
This is only amplified later on in the game with enemy that jump out from bushes in the background, throw spears at you with 360 degrees of freedom and then disappear from whence they came. These enemy are, much like their friends, placed in the optimal positions for their attack putting you at a disadvantage from the start.
If it feels like I’m harping on this “small” portion of the combat, it’s because it matters. These games are similar to a bullet hell experience in that you memorize enemy patterns and take that knowledge into battle which is imperative especially when the screen fills up with multiple enemy of varying types. However, even when these arrows are coming straight toward you, you’ll have a difficult time spotting them in the chaos as they are the same height and similar color to the many wood and stone platforms you’ll find throughout the stages. However, when an enemy has an unpredictable attack (ranged at that), this makes things infinitely more difficult bordering on the cheap. It gets frustrating, and it’s only exacerbated by the game’s mechanics.
You have a wide variety of moves to help your character get from point A to point B in each level. You can double jump from the start allowing you to get to higher platforms, but I found that the game uses double jump like the basic jump meaning you need it pretty much all the time which takes away the special nature of such a move. You also have a slide which allows you to get under arrows into safety or melee range which works great, but thanks to the way the game is setup control-wise you may hit it accidentally more than a few times.
As you play, you’ll find a lot of the controls are this way. They are functional, but not ideal. For example, you’ll be on a platform slightly above a group of archers and they can shoot directly at you but because of your 8 directions of fire you are forced to jump and try to shoot diagonally down at the enemy without falling off the ledge, but waiting for the opportunity to jump gives the enemy enough time to be able to notch another arrow and fire again. Your animations don’t finish fast enough for you to land and swipe with your sword to break up the arrows coming at you meaning you’ll take damage or be thrown off the ledge to be one shot because of your crazy hit animation – a bombastic motion that literally throws your character backward in the air with nearly no control. That’s of course if you don’t just accidentally kill yourself after jumping off the ledge trying to get in the perfect position for a shot only to find you don’t have enough time to get back on said ledge.
As I’ve stated, you can shoot in 8 directions even when jumping or running by pushing in that direction and the fire button, but this obviously moves your character which could lead you into peril. You can get around this by holding the Left button which acts as a brake holding your character in position while you fire; however, sometimes the game doesn’t seem to register this button press causing you to fall off a cliff which at many times in the game will mean immediate death or run right into enemies which will trigger your hit animation.
You have a set number of lives in Wallachia that can be increased once you have collected an unknown amount of points. Points aren’t displayed on screen but I noticed once I collected enough of them (books, jewelry, etc.) I was awarded an extra life. Much appreciated, because you will need them! Once all lives are used up, you must restart the entire stage or end the game. There are no save points, no save feature or stage passwords so if you choose to quit the game you will have to start over from the beginning.
This alone wouldn’t be so horrible, but upon being hit by enemy you start to lose you buffs you’ve been collecting through the stage. Upon your characters death the game strips her of everything you have collected up to that point including any HP increases, magic orbs and alternative arrows. Talk about kicking someone when they’re down! This game will punish you for making any mistakes, so don’t make them.
To your benefit, you have a good selection of attacks and moves to help you move forward. You start with a basic bow and arrow ranged attack that can be charged up for a power shot, and a melee ranged sword attack that can also break arrows coming at you. Each of these can be upgraded in strength by collecting power-ups dropped from the birds flying overhead, crates on the ground or from dispatching enemy. You’ll also be able to acquire different arrow attacks including spread shot, fire arrow and piercing arrow. Aside from the improved strength of the attacks, I didn’t find too many areas where I needed to switch to them.
More often you’ll be spamming the arrow button and collecting black orbs in order to gain enough to use your special attacks which come from the help of your companions. There are four companions you can call upon for a black orb cost which is displayed under your lives/health: Silviu (the wolf) who has a forward rush attack, Radu (young man) who has a flare attack, Christian (old man) who gives you temporary invincibility, and Konstantin (middle aged man) who gives you an armor upgrade. I honestly just saved these until the boss battles which allowed me to quickly take down these creatures with minor difficulty.
Graphics are very good, though they look a bit smeared especially at 1080p. As I’ve stated before, there is a lot of detail put into the many backgrounds and character sprites making them interesting to look at. The animations are, for the most part, well done within the limits of the game engine and are everywhere. Obviously, your player character and all the enemy are animated on the screen, but also the backgrounds with fires burning or waterfalls dropping into the water below.
Probably the best part of the game is the great music composed by Jeffrey Montoya who is the composer of their previous project Castlevania: The Lecarde Chronicles 2. His talents are not wasted here as every song fits perfectly in and helps construct the world around Elchin. Adding to this is the wonderful voice acting from the talented Kira Buckland (NieR: Automata, River City Girls) and Robert Belgrade (Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Soul Blade) and great sound effects. The audio is the high point the entire game is built on.
All said and done, Wallachia is a very good game that is more than competent at what it sets off to accomplish. It looks and sounds great, and controls are, for the most part, strong enough to feel like you have control of what’s happening around you. Although there are some aspects of the game that feel cheap or not well thought out, it does add a bit of challenge to the overall experience, even if it is forced. I understand what the devs were going with with the lack of a save/password feature, but I still see it as an oversight. Thankfully, the game is short and sweet leaving you wanting more of the good stuff.
Wallachia: Reign of Dracula can be picked up digitally on Steam for $9.99 and the Nintendo eShop for (oddly enough) $14.99. Physical copies are a bit more rare and are around $35-50 per unit depending on where you can find them for purchase.
|Developer:||Migami Games, Storybird Studio|
|ESRB Rating:||T (teen)|
|Release Date:||February 28, 2020|
|Platforms:||PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4|
Both visually and auditorily Wallachia: Reign of Dracula excels. The locations, animations and details on every level help keep you invested and help drive the basic story. Controls and weapons are decent and varied, but could be tighter and more useful. Overall, it’s a short but fun game worth the purchase.