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Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles

For: PSP

Prince of hardness

Product: Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles | Developer: Konami | Publisher: Konami | Format: PSP | Genre: Action, Adventure, Conversion, Platform | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: US
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles PSP, thumbnail 1
Nintendo's all-conquering DS and Wii consoles have, as the company is so eager to keep reminding us, thrown wide the gates of video gaming. Now 90-year-old grannies eager to train their brains rub gnarly old shoulders with chubby three-year-old toddlers pining for Pony Friends. Indeed, in recent years all manner of unlikely demographics have started accepting that maybe video games are the colossal, idiotic waste of time and humanity they initially appeared and started engaging in pixel adventures.

Of course, widening the pool of people who play video games can only be a good thing: it will result in more games being made in a wider range of shapes and sizes. But sitting down to play Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles reveals another, more subtle effect that gaming's awkward thrusts into mainstream acceptance have brought about: lenience of difficulty. By contrast to the experiences aimed at grannies and toddlers, this PSP game is difficult and harrowing in the genocidal sense.

As you inch through the side-scrolling, brooding levels of Dracula's imposing castle, slinging your character's whip at its undead inhabitants, leaping spike encrusted pits before being smacked right back to the start for having slow reactions, making stupid decisions and being ill-rehearsed, you'll curse those senior citizens: they've made you weak and fat and dull.

This is video gaming back on the knife-edge where you're the bitch and the machine's the trainer: fetch, roll over, play dead.

Essentially this is a remake of Rondo of Blood, an older Castlevania title that never made it out of Japan. Developer Konami has sought to keep things fresh by repainting the game in 3D visuals, a move that will ensure the game attracts more attention from graphics-hungry westerners, but which doesn't actually add much to the package. The game still plays as an orthodox 2D side-scrolling action game and so the new polygons don't impact gameplay at all. In fact, while they are clean and polished, the visuals lack a little character and pizzazz and, for fans of the rock-solid 2D DS games, it will feel like a wrongheaded aesthetic choice.

The level structure has players trawling across numerous screens' worth of castle, fighting all manner of Halloween-ish nightmares with either a whip or a magical projectile. At the end of each stage there's a large boss fight in which you must discern the monster's weakness while dodging its violent advances in the long established gaming manner.

Your character can take few hits before he gives up the ghost but checkpoints are few and far between. In fact, with only three lives to play with before you're sent right back to the start of the level to have another go, the game is not a kindly mistress. Players easily frustrated or unused to having to learn enemy patterns with care and attention will quickly grow angry at it. Similarly, fans of the DS titles in the series are in for a rude awakening: this is classic Japanese gaming in the meanest, Ghouls 'n Ghosts sense of the phrase.

In order to keep you interested when you'd probably rather throw your PSP through the nearest window, Konami has included an astonishingly generous number of extras which can be unlocked. Not only is the original PC Engine version of the game available in its entirety, but also the whole of seminal PlayStation Castlevania game, Symphony of the Night. As the latter title frequently makes the 'top 100 video games of all time' lists, this is not something to be sniffed at.

But whether you have the perseverance to make it through the main storyline and uncover its vast and many secrets will depend very much on your temperament and it's something we've had to take into account when considering the score below. If you relish a challenge and fancy yourself as a good game player then this is one of the best and deepest PSP games to date. If, however, you're too used to American Dream gaming – where anyone can succeed – the extras will always seem frustratingly out of reach unless you put much time and a hell of a lot of effort in.

You must be the judge of which camp you fall into.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
Reviewer photo
Simon Parkin | 7 November 2007
A good-looking, deep and engaging package that should be in any self-respecting gamer's collection, save for the fact that many who lack the skill, talent and time to succeed in it won't be able to access at least half of what's on offer
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