An impressive introduction to Konami’s glory days
PCEWorks has released their latest love letter to NEC’s PC Engine with The Gems Bundle. This collection bundles the venerated whip-cracking classic, Akumajou Dracula X (known on this side of the pond as Castlevania: Rondo of Blood) alongside the short but sweet horizontal shooter Force Gear to deliver a one-two punch of Konami goodness. Of course, as with any PCEWorks release, the games are just one part of the overall package. As expected, PCEWorks has produced some exceptionally slick bonuses to go along with this collection. However, gaming sure has changed over the past two decades. Having said that, do these 20-something-years-old titles still deliver the goods? Read on to find out!
It goes without saying that Akumajou Dracula X is The Gems Bundle’s main course. Widely regarded as one of the most desirable titles for NEC’s 8-bit powerhouse, this entry in Konami’s long-running Castlevania series didn’t make its way to the US didn’t make its way to North America until 2007 with the Sony PSP’s Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, which, while keeping the feel of the original release, also managed to sacrifice the game’s splendid 2D spritework in favor of some rather garish 2.5D visuals. It wasn’t until 2010 that the game finally returned in its original form on the Wii’s Virtual Console.
The forefather to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Akumajou Dracula X puts players in the vampire-hunting boots of Richter Belmont as he embarks on a quest to rescue his lover Annette from the series’ omnipresent vamp. The game still feels fantastic to play to this day, featuring large stages with branching, hidden paths and jaw-dropping creature designs. Even though it’s been 22 years since it first graced the PC Engine, Dracula X still looks fantastic – a true testament to Konami’s mastery over the sidescroller genre in the early ’90s, and their ability to squeeze the most out of the PC Engine. The painstaking attention to detail can’t be stressed enough, from the mammoth creatures that occupy the grandiose corridors of Dracula’s castle to the flashy special weapon effects and fluid animation that moves without a hitch, even with tons of action on-screen, Akumajou Dracula X is a bloodcurdling feast for the eyes. The game even makes clever use of scaling effects to give certain objects and creatures a sense of depth that would look at home on Sony’s 32-bit PlayStation.
The PC Engine is known for utilizing the benefits of CD-Rom media to provide gorgeous hand-drawn cutscenes, and Akumajou Dracula X continues this trend. From the game’s eerie intro to the epic encounter with Dracula himself, these scenes shine and add to the game’s sky high production values, especially when considering the game’s 1993 release date. Add to this the ability to play as the demure vampire huntress Maria Renard and you have a game that feels especially grand for its age.
In short, Akumajou Dracula X is still a must-have title, and its inclusion in this set is enough to make The Gems Bundle one of PCEWorks’ most desirable collections to date.
In addition to the game itself, the deluxe edition of Akumajou Dracula X comes in a handsome Digipak case with a suitably eerie holographic sheen. Tucked inside the covers of this package are two discs, one featuring an English-translated version of the game, and another the game’s original Japanese form. Players will also find a color manual (translated into English), a glossy foldout replica of the two full size ads Konami was running in Japan when the game was released in 1993, a bookmark featuring classic Dracula / Vampire Slayer images in striking byzantine style along with a metallic Dracula X sticker among the extras in this package. All of these collectible bonus items look fantastic and are extremely well constructed, making this release a welcome addition to any PCE collector’s bookshelf.
Next up is the obscure horizontal SHMUP Force Gear. Originally featured in Konami’s PC Engine version of the dating sim Tokimeki Memorial, this is the first time the game has been released in standalone form. While the “game” itself is really just a one-stage minigame, it’s still an absolute blast to play. Essentially a high energy score run, putting players in the cockpit of a morphing mech/spaceship hybrid as you tear through the cosmos, laying waste to a wide array of enemy ships, turrets, and heavily-armed giant robots. Force Gear is fast, frenetic and extremely addicting. This bite-sized shooter culminates with a challenging boss rush that will make you wish this obscure space shooter actually saw a full release on the PC Engine. The title’s brevity may make the standalone version a bit of a hard sell at 29 euros, but if you’ve got the extra money to spend then it’s it’s still an entertaining oddity for the system, and worth experiencing as part of the collection.
Of course, as a standalone versions of a minutes-long game, it goes without saying that Force Gear hasn’t been given quite the same all-star treatment as Dracula X received. Even still, the game comes packaged in a jewel case with a flyer, high-quality insert and Super CD-Rom 2 spine card to match the rest of your collection.
When all is said and done, the PCEWorks Gems Bundle is yet another high quality introduction to some of the games that make the PC Engine one of the most beloved retro consoles out there. Given the current cost of Akumajou Dracula X in the wild, this set offers a lavishly-produced and more affordable alternative to those looking to experience the game on its original hardware. Combined with the addition of the criminally short but sweet Force Gear, this set serves as a reminder of Konami’s legacy as a titanic developer during gaming’s glory days, and is well worth the price of admission.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: PC Engine / Turbo Duo (Reviewed); Publisher: PCEWorks ; Developer: Konami ; Players: 1; Released: August, 2015 ; MSRP: €99.00
Full disclosure: This review is based on a promotional review copy of The Gems Bundle provided by PCEWorks.