Wallachia: Reign of Dracula Review: Castlevania Mania (Nintendo Switch)

Wallachia: Reign of Dracula combines a 16-bit Castlevania aesthetic with the run-and-gun gameplay of Contra. It’s an old school experience in every way, and does little to compromise on that vision. With only seven stages, and given its basic gameplay and story, does Wallachia offer enough bang for your buck?

Wallachia Reign of Dracula Review Nintendo Switch Cover

Migami is a team some retro fans may already know under the name MIG. These guys have been making a variety of freeware games since 1997, many of which were either inspired by, or are straight-up fan games of Castlevania. I only looked into the devs’ history after completing Wallachia, and when I read for how long they have been at it, everything about what I experienced made complete and total sense.

Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is available on Steam and Nintendo Switch.

THE STORY – IT KINDA BITES

You play as Elcin, a skilled archer girl, sent on a quest to slay Prince Vlad, whose forces killed her parents and kidnapped her brother. You are accompanied by some kind of spirit wolf, and a few other characters who don’t really do much outside of the opening and ending cinematic slideshows. The feminist message is a little ham-fisted, but very much well-intentioned. Both sides of the ongoing war initially disrespect and belittle Elcin for being a woman, but are ultimately proven wrong by her accomplishments.

None of the characters here are particularly interesting, never going beyond two word descriptors. There’s the wise mentor, the determined inquisitor, the jerkbag king, the bad guy, and so on. Elcin is too cool for school, to the point of being entirely unrelatable. I’ll spoil a plot point, not that it matters, but feel free to scroll past to the Gameplay section. One of the bosses is Elcin’s brother, who has been brainwashed by Vlad. Upon learning this, Elcin barely reacts and then immediately proceeds to kill him. She does later mention that she wants to avenge her brother, though she could have fooled me. On top of that, the story ends on a cliffhanger, and while I don’t necessarily care about what’ll happen next in Wallachia, I am looking forward to the sequel.

THE GAMEPLAY – CONTRAVANIA

Plenty of games draw inspiration from the classic Metroidvanias, but the original, git-gud-and-die-trying linear entries in the Castlevania series don’t get nearly as much love. Wallachia’s gameplay is quickly explained: Run, jump, double jump, shoot arrows in eight directions, and cut nearby arrows and enemies with your sword. Charging up your shots increases the damage they deal. You’ll be able to find limited special ammo, such as spread shots, and exploding projectiles, which are best saved for the stage boss.

It's less

It’s less “Run-and-Gun”, and more “Bow-and-Go”. (It took me all week to come up with that one)

Enemy behavior is simplistic, they either run at you, or launch projectiles your way. What makes them a threat is their clever placement; from the very beginning, archers will appear in windows, assassins jump at you from above, and swordsmen will charge at you from both sides. While the goons’ simplicity allows for immediately legible situations that can be skillfully navigated in a satisfying manner, the bosses sharing this rudimentary design is the largest blemish on an otherwise excellent retro romp.

All seven stages feature at least one boss, and with two notable exceptions, they are disappointingly basic. Most only have two or three attacks they will cycle through, rendering what should be a climax little more than an extended game of jump rope.

Dragomir jumps, and fires a projectile. Rinse and repeat.

Dragomir jumps, and fires a projectile. Rinse and repeat.

That being said, Wallachia overall offers a hugely rewarding challenge for those willing to deal with its at times brutal design. You start the game with two extra lives and four HP. Lose all your lives and you’re sent back to the beginning of the stage – continues are unlimited, and level select is available. Killing enemies and collecting certain pick-ups will increase your score, allowing you to gain bonus lives. 

You probably won’t make it through even the first level on your first attempt. Foes are relentless, traps are everywhere, and healing gems are rare. Chances are, you’ll throw yourself at a level two to five times until you master it and its boss, only to make it to the next stage and repeat the process. If you like the feeling of becoming an absolute unit, not through grinding XP or finding power-ups, but through practice and sheer determination, Wallachia will scratch that itch.

I also found it highly replayable. The game keeps track of your best times per stage. Now that I can blast through each level, I can’t wait to shave my current 55-minute total down as low as I can. I haven’t had the desire to speedrun since Sonic CD, which just goes to show how retro Migami’s effort is. The one upside to the simplistic bosses is that finding a laughably fast tactic is only ever one quiver of triple arrows away.

GRAPHICS & AUDIO – THE GOOD OLD DAYS

With its huge sprites and detailed backdrops, Wallachia’s pixel art is absolutely gorgeous, in a very messed up way. The animations are deliberately kept at just a few frames, lending Elcin a snappy, confident strut reminiscent of her spiritual Belmont grandpa. Standard enemies have very clear stances, signaling their intent shortly before attacking. Even inanimate traps will light up or shake shortly before activating, giving the player a fair warning without hurting their immersion. I am mentioning this specifically because the game does resort to a flashing “DANGER!” text in a few occasions, which did take me out of the experience.

There’s a great variety of backgrounds. From the expected forests, castles and caves, to a few standouts. I was most impressed by a particularly gruesome scene in the second half. Let’s just say he was called Vlad the Impaler for a reason and leave it at that.

Fighting the inside of a tower is... new?

Fighting the inside of a tower is… new?

The soundtrack doesn’t set the world on fire, but it perfectly underscores the action on screen. It establishes musical themes early on and reincorporates them cleverly throughout the adventure. In my head, there is now a sequence of notes that is forever tied to Elcin’s dauntless stride, which is more than I can say for most characters I’ve played recently.

 

Wallachia: Reign of Dracula was reviewed on Nintendo Switch. The game was provided by No Gravity Games.

Summary
Migami’s love for the timeless classics that inspired them really shines through in Wallachia. While the bosses lack depth, each level provides a challenge that’s both tough and greatly rewarding to master. If you’re looking for a tightly focussed, highly replayable action platformer, Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is an excellent choice.
Good
  • Awesome retro graphics and audio
  • Challenging and satisfying to master
  • Highly replayable and great for speedruns
Bad
  • Simplistic boss fights
  • Uninspired story
8
Great

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