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Oct 292014
 

This Halloween I thought I would cover the most famous vampire in pop culture, Count Dracula. There’s no doubt that this vampire is so iconic because there have been so many versions. Whether it’s about his own story, or if he’s part of a group of other monsters, the role of Count Dracula has been played by more actors than any other vampire. Here are the versions I remember best in chronological order, even though most of them are highly obscure.

Dracula (1932): Frankly, who doesn’t remember the original movie with Bela Lagosi as the Count. This may be a classic horror feature, but it’s not one I was hugely into compared to the following films and TV appearances, even though he was the inspiration behind the Count from Sesame Street.

Mad Monster Party (1967): Normally when the classic movie monsters are together, Dracula is the one in charge because he’s the toughest in the bunch. Although he’s quick on the attack, Dracula tends to fumble especially since Frankenstein’s monster is stronger than he is.

Electric Company (1970s): Believe it or not, one of Morgan Freeman’s reoccurring characters was Dracula. He has a mysterious presence that can scare people, but isn’t dangerous. It seems that this Dracula’s favorite pastimes include drinking vanilla malts and taking a bath in a casket.

Ghostbusters (1975): This version of Count Dracula, played by Billy Holms, is very goofy and as a bat he tends to bump into walls. What really stands out are his fangs since they look so fake. Luckily his wife Countess Dracula is with him to keep him in line.

Ghostbusters (1986): Although this version of Count Dracula looks a lot like the Dracula from Groovy Ghoulies, he’s actually a lot tougher than many of the evil spirits the Ghostbusters ever faced. His ambition is to take over Transylvania by taking human slaves with his hypnotic power instead of a bite. He also hates mirrors as well as garlic. A little strange, don’t you think?

Castlevania Games (1987-1991): Dracula has appeared on video games before, but the best known is in the Castlevania franchise as the main villain. Instead of the Van Helsings fighting Dracula, it’s the Belmont family. It goes to show that the Count always returns no matter how many times he’s been defeated.

Captain N: The Game Master (1989): The animated version that’s based on the video games is a warlord trying to take over the world of Castlevania. Though I must admit that the Count has a creepier look.

Monster Force (1994): As the main villain in this series, Dracula prefers to be called Dracule. Even though he has a charming persona, don’t be fooled. Dracule is very powerful with his metamorphosis, hypnotic spells, and other magical abilities, which gives the Prince of Darkness an edge over humans and monsters alike.

Leslie Neilson as Count Dracula

Dracula: Dead and Loving it (1995): I remember when I first heard about this comedy classic. After discovering that Leslie Nielsen was going to star as Dracula, I knew from the start that it was going to be a good one. This Dracula is clumsy and his shadow has a mind of its own, but don’t take him too lightly. He’s powerful in the ways of mind control, sometimes even more than he realizes.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2000): Dracula’s only appearance on this show was in the season five episode Buffy vs. Dracula, where Rudolf Martin played the role, but he did leave his mark during his time in Sunnydale. He seduced Buffy, made Xander his Renfield, even Spike remembers Dracula as an old rival before he got famous. This certainly covers a lot of ground on how Dracula stands out from other vampires and it’s hilarious when Buffy slays him… twice.

Van Helsing (2004): Richard Roxborough plays the role in this movie. As the main villain once again, he introduces a new skill that vampires have and that’s the ability to walk up walls and on the ceiling like it was nothing. Though Dracula is both strong and deadly, it’s really his three wives that stand out as big favorites to me.

Hotel Transylvania (2012): Adam Sandler voiced the most recent animated version of Count Dracula. Unlike other Draculas, this one is actually one of the good guys. After losing his wife to a group of angry villagers, Dracula created a hotel resort as a safe haven for monsters. However, he also became an overprotective father and control freak. Dracula is also funny, especially when he tries to tell humans that he never did say, “Bleh, bleh, bleh”.

Oct 292013
 

Okay, let’s review. So far I have talked about the original Castlevania game, its RPG sequel, and the prequel/sequel. Now comes the first installment to come to the Super NES, Super Castlevania 4. Simon Belmont is back and so is Dracula, but this time things are different and I’m not talking about the task of every Castlevania game.

I have mentioned this game before on a couple of my top 10 lists. Now I intend to expand on why I think Castlevania 4 is such a masterpiece. Let’s start with the graphics. It has everything from eerie mist over the cemetery to creepy areas with several backgrounds. I know it doesn’t sound like much compared to today’s standards, but for its time, especially if you grew up playing the original Castlevania trilogy, you will definitely see it as a major improvement.

Speaking of improvements, one thing that has really improved is the game play control. Simon can use his whip in eight directions just by where you aim the directional pad and you don’t have to press “Up” to use a special weapon. I guess it’s because there are more buttons to spare on the Super NES controller than on the original NES controller. It’s also cool that you can swing the whip around while holding the button.

You can also swing on anchors to get to other platforms, which did take some getting used to once I figured out what they were and what they’re good for.

I’d also like to point out that you can actually jump onto the stairs and not have to be on the ground just to get onto them like before. You can also drop down from the stairs just as easily. It’s definitely an improvement, especially in Stage B-2 because the stairs are in midair and they give way. You also have to be quick while dodging a flying spiked wheel from below that kills you in one hit.

Many of the same enemies from earlier Castlevania games return, but are more graphical and feature a cool effect, especially the skeletons that explode when whipped. It never gets old. Oddly, in later stages the enemies are stronger, but at least they don’t kill you as quickly.

The bosses are even more graphical. Some of the common ones return, like Frankenstein’s monster and Medusa, but there are many new bosses also. I know Castlevania features classic horror monsters and creatures from Greek Mythology. The most common is Medusa, but this one also includes the Orphic Vipers that were based on the hydra.

The newer original bosses that are cool and graphical include the dancing specters, Koranot the rock monster, the Zapf Bat which is made out of deadly coins and jewels, and Puwexil the giant skull with a slithery tongue.

This is also the first Castlevania game to have voice acting. However, the only times that occurs is when Simon takes damage or falls into a pit. Some enemies have voices too, but are also limited in the same manner.

Then we have Dracula, but first you have to get past three bosses to get to him, Slogra the bird man, a gargoyle, and the Grim Reaper. You can’t have a Castlevania game without the Grim Reaper. Not to worry, there’s actually a separate password for each of the Stage B-3 bosses, so you can start at any of them. That’s another major improvement.

This is definitely one of the greatest Castlevania games I have ever played. It has excellent game play, cool horror theme levels, and an awesome soundtrack that uses upbeat and creepy music to set the mood. Believe it or not, I wouldn’t have even considered getting this game at all if it weren’t for that old Gamepro TV series that showed how to defeat Dracula and the password to get to him, not to mention that there’s an invisible platform near the stairway that instantly stocks you up. Even though Dracula was easier than on Castlevania 3, it was still very helpful.

There you have it, the original Castlevania games that were the start of a highly popular franchise. Many other Castlevania games came afterward, but like other classic franchises such as Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda, it goes in many different directions, so there’s really no chance of a Castlevania 5 game, but that’s okay. These four will always be among the classic video games I grew up with as all time favorites. Happy Halloween!

Oct 252013
 

Yes, it’s true. The Castlevania franchise continues to grow with its third installment Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse. Now this game is more like a prequel then a sequel because the hero is Simon Belmont’s Great-grandfather Trevor Belmont and takes place 100 years earlier.

The task is still the same to get rid of Dracula and restore peace to Transylvania. It’s all in the prelude, which looks like it’s on a filmstrip. As Dracula keeps coming back in the movies, he does the same in this franchise. You just can’t keep this old vampire down.

The game play is very much like the original Castlevania game. Unfortunately, that means it’s also tough. It isn’t as hard as the first game, but definitely a close second.

There are some added twists to this game. On occasion you come to a fork in the road and decide which set of levels to go through. Sometimes it’s helpful, but other times it isn’t because some stages are much harder than others, so you must choose wisely.

Another great addition to this game is that you can play as other characters as you find them. There’s Grant Dynasty the pirate ghost that can walk up and on ceilings, Syfa Belnades the mystic who can cast spells, and Alucard the son of Dracula who can turn into a bat. They all make great allies, but you can only team up with one of them. If you choose another, the old one leaves. I find that very disappointing.

If you thought many of the levels and bosses were tough, Dracula is harder than ever in this game. He takes three different forms one after another, which must be done in one setting or you have to start all over at the beginning of the final level. It’s bad enough that Trevor’s life meter drains a lot faster in later levels, even more so with the other characters. At times like this I’m glad Game Genie was created. Unfortunately, Castlevania 3 is one of few games that it doesn’t work on, which I find hard to believe.

First you take on Dracula as he is while having to dodge tall fiery spikes from the ground. Then he turns into a floating blob with six heads, which isn’t too bad. I can’t tell if it’s drooling or in need of a tissue.

But it’s Dracula’s third form that’s the real killer. You have to aim for his head, which is at the top of the screen, while riding random platforms on the ground. Dracula also fires lasers diagonally, which are hard to dodge.

Believe it or not, I have played this game for years and I have only beaten it once. I was at my next to last life with only one life bar left. It felt like it was all luck. Would you believe that Syfa was the best character to defeat Dracula?

Don’t get me wrong though. I still think Castlevania 3 is a real NES classic. Although this marks the end of the NES versions, the Castlevania franchise still doesn’t end there. Check my blog for part 4 for the exciting conclusion of classic Castlevania.

Oct 222013
 

Welcome back. Not too long after the success of the original Castlevania game, there came the sequel Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest for the NES. I must admit, when the title says “quest” they aren’t kidding.

Although the task is the same as in the first game, with an additional prologue, this game takes on a whole different approach.

That’s right. Castlevania 2 is indeed a quest game. As the story goes, after Simon Belmont defeats Dracula in the first game, Dracula’s body parts were scattered in five separate mansions. Now it’s up to Simon to gather them all up, bring them to Dracula’s castle, and defeat the Count once again. Oddly, the body parts only consist of Dracula’s rib, heart, eyeball, nail, and ring. So where’s the rest of him? Back at his castle?

In a way, it’s like the Legend of Zelda franchise. You go through different towns to talk to people, hunt around for hidden items and clues, and collect hearts by killing enemies and use them for currency to buy items and weapon upgrades. Normally I hate those kinds of games, mostly because I never know where to go, but this game is one of few exceptions because I have a map in a Nintendo Game Atlas. But let’s face it, no matter how many times I play this game, I need the map every time.

There are points that are annoying like when it becomes day and night, leaving the impression that Simon’s task takes days to complete. The enemies are stronger at night and the townspeople are all asleep while zombies roam the streets. On the bright side, it helps you collect hearts because the items and upgrades are expensive. One thing I find odd is that the time elapsed is unaffected inside the town buildings and mansions. Okay, does that mean all time stands still when you’re indoors?

Unlike the other Castlevania games, the bosses are pretty tame and it’s not because there are only a couple of them. I wonder if it has to do with including the Grim Reaper in this game, since he’s a boss in every Castlevania game, at least all the ones I’ve played.

It also includes Dracula himself. He’s actually pretty easy as long as you have the golden knife and some laurels to make you invincible for a short time.

Even though I have this game figured out, thanks to a Game Players strategy VHS tape, one thing that usually puzzled me was the ending sequence. There are actually three different endings and it’s hard to tell which one you’re going to get. Does it have to do with how many items or hidden clues you find? I’ve been trying to figure that out for years since there were no other sources that mentioned it. Then not too long ago I finally find the answer, thanks to YouTube. The ending sequence is entirely based on how fast you get through the game. Wouldn’t you know it? Just like with Metroid, it’s all about speed.

Needless to say, Castlevania 2 is an improvement from the first game. The graphics are better, the obstacles and enemies aren’t as irritatingly difficult, and despite the need for a map every time, the game play is enjoyable. It’s not over yet though. Check my blog for part 3 for the next classic Castlevania game.

Oct 182013
 

It’s Halloween once again and I have something real special for my blog this year. I’ll be going over one of the most popular video game franchises in the horror genre. No, it’s not House of the Dead or Resident Evil. It’s none other than Castlevania, which is about the heroic vampire hunter Simon Belmont. He fights his way past all sorts of monsters that are based on classic horror icons like bats, mummies, zombies, knights, ghouls, flying Medusa heads, etc., all led by Count Dracula.

There are many Castlevania games, but the only ones I’m going to focus on are the original four, starting with Castlevania for the NES.

I originally first heard about this franchise from the classic cartoon series Captain N: The Game Master, where Simon Belmont was one of the featured heroes. He’s courageous and skilled with a whip, but is also vain and full of himself. Now I don’t recall that being part of Simon’s persona in the games and he looks nothing like the Simon that’s featured on any of the video game covers.

Anyway, here is Castlevania. When I look at the title screen, where the only moving graphic is a bat flying from a distant castle, it makes me think about the horror themed video games back in the 80s compared to the games of today.

There’s not much of an intro to this game because it has no story line, but the task is simple. Kick monster butt as you go through the many levels. Of course that’s easier said than done. Luckily, Simon can gather weapons and points by whipping candles everywhere. As for life restorers, they are hard to find, so it’s worth whipping the wall blocks to search for them.

Normally when I play any video game, the high score isn’t that important to me. However, you need points more than ever in this game because it provides extra lives. Sure that’s important in other games also, but this one is even more so because of one fatal flaw. There’s no password feature. Now come on, the other Castlevania games have it. Why not this one? It certainly boggles the mind.

This game has its share of interesting bosses, but one boss I really dislike is the Frankenstein monster because of the Hunchback that jumps around in no given direction and shoots fireballs. He’s hard to dodge and Simon’s life meter drains too quickly. I’ve never made it past this boss, which means I’ve never beaten this game either. I can only assume that it gets harder later on. Any suggestions?

Overall, Castlevania is a fun game, even though it’s one of the hardest to get through. This is only the beginning though. Check my blog for part 2, which will be about its sequel.