Trade that Whip for a Bow and Arrow
The best way I can explain Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is to first compare it to Fate/Apocrypha. At one point in that anime, they introduce Vlad Tepes, AKA Dracula. Being a huge fan of Castlevania, I immediately conjured images of bat wings, wolves, and undead minions. At first, I was sad to realize this Vlad was based on the human Impaler. Even though he stays human for most of the series, he also shows how devious and tactical the so-called Impaler truly was. Sure he transforms later on, and it’s glorious, but that was merely icing on the cake. While it’s true that sort of transformation never occurs in Wallachia, this arc does exemplify how Wallachia also defied my expectations. Cause although the Dracula here is pretty much human, his monstrous appetite for violence makes this an engaging tale.
Developer Migami Games isn’t shy about being inspired by the Castlevania series. They openly say as much on the Switch eShop page. But unlike most games that go that route, Wallachia: Reign of Dracula isn’t based on the popular Metroidvania titles like Symphony of the Night. Instead, it’s more apt to compare it to the SNES games, such as Bloodlines and Dracula X. This is a 2D, side-scrolling arcade-style adventure. Though it only features 7 stages, they get longer and more complex the farther you get. And like any good arcade game, there are some cool and very challenging boss fights strewn throughout. I expected most of those features, but one standout was the voice acting. The entirety of the attractive comic book cutscenes are voiced by accomplished actors such as Kira Buckland (Octopath Traveler and tons of other great games) and even Robert Belgrade (Bloodstained, Mega Man X7, and even SOTN!). Hell, there’s even voiced dialogue during levels and when confronting bosses. The result is that there’s much more ambiance and dynamism to the events of the game thanks to these talented actors.
A Bloody Compelling Tale
Story-wise, Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is simple yet forthright. You play Elcin, a young woman whose parents were murdered by Dracula, while her brother Enthu was kidnapped by him. She’s rescued from her despair by an old, wise man named Christian, who takes her in and trains her on how to fight back. Several years later, Elcin is directed by the sultan Mehmed to go and slay the Impaler, along with a group of allies. These include a ghost white wolf named Silviu, Christian himself, a turbaned tactician named Konstantin, and Radu, Dracula’s own brother. That last part shocked me, cause I’ve never heard of Dracula having a brother. I did some research, and much to my surprise, there are stories of the historical Vlad Tepes having a sibling named Radu. That attention to detail really impressed me, and more examples were prevalent throughout the story. And even though the plot isn’t super nuanced or life-changing, it provides enough momentum buttressed in historical details to keep you plunging forwards. Honestly, that’s totally acceptable for this style of game, even if I regularly find myself wishing for just a bit more in most games I play.
Once you get past the introduction, the game showcases how to play. Though it goes by pretty quickly, you can watch the tutorial again any time you come back to the game. And luckily, your progress is saved, so you won’t have to beat the entire game in one sitting. You’re able to continue from the latest level you’ve reached. Just keep in mind your progress is tied to your difficulty setting, so if you change that midstream, you’ll have to start all over.
Back to the Retro Future
I found the controls in Wallachia to work quite competently. Though the game is inspired by Castlevania, it also was influenced by other classic series. You can aim your bow and arrow in multiple directions like in Contra, and there are deadly traps like in Prince of Persia. Besides your bow and arrow, which is absolutely devastating to distant foes, you also have a sword. It’s only for short-range combat but has the bonus of being able to deflect arrows shot at you. But other than that, I found myself mostly sticking with my long-range options, especially since you can acquire different types of arrows and fire charged shots. I loved the multi-directional arrow blast, but you can also get piercing laser arrows and even explosive tipped ones. You’re also able to upgrade the strength and speed of both your arrows and sword, but with a huge catch. If you take ANY damage, your upgrades are toast. I love classic series as much as the next ancient gamer, but I could have done without this tribute to Ghouls ‘n Ghosts.
Easy as Slaying a Vampire Bat
That said, there’s a bit more to the combat. Since you’re traveling with fellow warriors, it stands to reason you can call on their help. Unlike the arrow upgrades, you’ll always have access to your entire team of helpers, and can even upgrade their abilities on a whim. The only downside is upgraded abilities cost far more black orbs to activate, but otherwise, it’s a nifty system. You can send your wolfen pal charging into foes, order an explosive strike from Radu, go temporarily invisible thanks to Christian’s “magic”, and even temporarily power up your armament with Konstantin. Best of all, Elcin is pretty limber and can double jump and slide. Though keep in mind the double jump is pretty shallow, so it’s mostly used to cross deep chasms than to gain an aerial advantage. And if you’re fast enough, you can fire on helpful eagles overhead to get them to drop useful items.
Overall, I really liked all the nuances of the combat system, other than losing upgrades when taking damage. And that’s good, since you’ll be constantly harried by enemy forces as you play. Enemy archers will constantly pop out of hiding spaces to feather you with arrows, and sword-wielding grunts will charge you as a distraction. Though there’s not a ton of enemy variety, with most being either soldiers in different colored suits or some variety of irritating animals, there’s some diversity. I liked the creepy claw soldiers that did fancy jumps before trying to slash you, as well as the armored knights that block you with a shield before firing their crossbows. But honestly, the true creativity comes from the boss fights.
Now, I’m gonna preface this by saying I did eventually enjoy the bosses in Wallachia, but it took a few stages. That’s because the first two bosses are more geared around cornering and maiming you than offering a distinct pattern of attacks to avoid. Once you get past them, the game mixes things up with cleverer bosses, such as a giant war wagon, a clockwork trap room, and much more. By far though, the best boss is the final match against Dracula himself. While he won’t transform into a monstrous bat, he does have some tricks up his sleeve I won’t spoil.
A Feast for the Eyes, Not the Teeth
Visually the game is attractive, if not overly ambitious. Again, it looks a lot like a SNES game, with all the provisos that entails. That said, there are some real standout stages, such as the Forest of the Impaled, a bloody and horrible battlefield you have to reach on the backs of a rampaging horseback caravan. Musically, I was more impressed. There’s a lot of inspiration from you know what, though none of the songs quite reach the heights of the classic series it’s inspired by. That said, the tunes kept me in the moment and enjoying myself, so I can’t really ask for more. And again, when you factor in the fantastic voice acting, I have to give the sound design glowing marks overall.
Now while it’s true that the game isn’t huge, there’s some reasons to keep playing after the credits roll. One is that there are challenges you can unlock by defeating stages on certain difficulties or while satisfying specific conditions. You also can get a Sound Test, a lovely feature more games should include. However, there’s one thing I want in the game that I’m not sure is there – a secret ending. Without going into details, after beating the final boss it’s implied there’s more to do in the game, and I fully expected a secret final stage. However, after beating the game twice, once on Normal and once on Hard, I have yet to unlock an additional ending. It’s possible this was just a ploy by the developer to hint at an upcoming sequel, which would be fine. I’m just wired for getting the best ending after years of playing Castlevania games. So hopefully I accomplished that here.
Praise the Dead
While I enjoyed my time with Wallachia: Reign of Dracula, it’s not a perfect game. For one thing, it’s pretty challenging. Foes will fully take advantage of your surprise, and love to corner you. You’ll need to memorize stage layouts to really have the best chance at success. Cause even though I technically beat the game in under an hour on Normal, that doesn’t take into account all the numerous times I died. I also think the game is a bit too old school for its own good sometimes. I hated you need keys to open up some chests in stages, and I was also frustrated by the upgrade system being so fragile. Lastly, while the bow and arrow is an amazing tool, the range is super narrow. It’s possible to miss a foe while lined up below it, which is crazy. And if a foe is just off-screen, your arrows won’t damage it.
Though I appreciate you can save and quit without losing progress, I do wish stages had more checkpoints. I often would have to start from the very beginning of a stage after dying several sections in, which is irritating. But as an old school gamer, there wasn’t anything game-breaking here. Hell, there’s not even knockback on the easier difficulties. It just might be more of a challenge for those unversed in such adventures. Overall, I’d recommend this to fans of retro games who want something new to check out.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC; Publisher: No Gravity Games, Storybird Studio; Developer: Migami Games; Players: 1; Released: October 29, 2020; MSRP: $14.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.