Title screen for Bram Stoker's Dracula

A Vampiric Blast from the Past

Welcome to the month of October. Since Halloween falls at the end of the month, I figure this is the time to really go all-out for Page to Pixel, and what better way to start this off than with that venerated tale of vampirism, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For those unaware of the basics of the story, it involves a young lawyer traveling to the wilds of Eastern Europe to work out a real estate deal with the eponymous Count. The Count traps the agent in his castle, traveling to London to fulfill his need for fresh blood. Late 19th-Century horror ensues.

Now, Dracula has probably been featured as a character in more individual media appearances than any other. In addition to the novel, there have been many film adaptations from the legendary (Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee versions, for example) to the laughable (Coppola’s 1992 film with Gary Oldman and Dracula 2000 spring to mind), as well as comics like Tomb of Dracula…and that’s barely scratching the surface. Dracula has made his chilling presence known in the videogame world for quite some time as well, appearing in titles for the Intellivision and VIC computers, and probably most famously appearing in Konami’s Castlevania series. He also appeared in the Sony Imagesoft tie-ins to that godawful Dracula film with Gary Oldman (don’t get me started on the many reasons I hate that film). However, I don’t really want to talk about any of these.

No, I want to go back to a game that didn’t have the benefit of advertising or the kind of marketing or distribution that companies like Konami could put behind their games; no, this was a humble shareware game from 1988 that made the rounds on a lot of the shareware compilations back in the day. I always thought it was pretty interesting and ended up whiling away quite a few hours playing it. It’s an RPG/adventure game that draws heavily from the novel it’s based on.

Dracula in London title screenThe game allows you (and possibly 5 other friends, as the documentation and in-game prompts say things like “pass the keyboard to player 3”) to take control of the novel’s vampire hunters (Van Helsing, Arthur, Quincey, et al) and explore 1890’s London, searching for clues to the Count’s whereabouts, talking to witnesses, exploring possible hideouts, and following up on leads in the newspapers. This is all done quite simply – I think in the entire game you get the map of London and an occasional door or window drawn on screen for you. Otherwise, the game is almost entirely played via text – even the houses and battles (in turn-based D&D style) are drawn in (rather nicely done) ASCII art.

Gameplay of Dracula in LondonI played this game for hours on end back in the day. The lack of sound besides an occasional PC Speaker blip meant that I had to use my imagination (something that was standard issue among kids born before the Unreal Engine). This was a game that was true to the text of the novel (incorporating a great lot of it into the game), and later being updated for Windows 95.  You can still find it out there on the Abandonware sites, and if you feel like traveling back to the time of Crystal Pepsi and floppy disks, this old ghost is waiting to rise again.

In addition, I figured I’d cover the one Castlevania game that acknowledges and has the most to do with the novel; 1994’s Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Through some considerable artistic license, the game stars the sons of both the novel’s Quincey Morris and Symphony of The Night’s Alucard, as they fight their way through World War I-era Europe to prevent Dracula’s resurrection. It’s actually a pretty cool game, if lacking in a lot of the new features that made Super Castlevania IV the best game in the series. It managed to do a lot of cool things that the Genesis technically shouldn’t have been able to do – parallax scrolling, mirroring effects, and probably my favorite – the upside down level (which is a royal pain in the ass but MAN, is it cool).

Castlevania: Bloodlines title screenIt also has a truly excellent soundtrack, the first game in the series which Michiru Yamane would compose. And sadly, it’s probably the last of the “classic” style Castlevanias, before Symphony and the “Metroidvania” style games took over (and before each and every awful attempt at 3D which we will not speak of).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s