Kid Dracula (Game Boy) review
"A fang-tastic gag spin-off"
Much like the Japanese video game market, during the mid 80s to early 90s, the Weekly Shonen Jump was firing on all cylinders. Some generation-defining manga came out at this time, like the original Dragon Ball and Slam Dunk. Games and manga were entwined in ways that we in the West did not properly understand, and rightfully so. The Famicom library (including the Famicom Disk System) is more than double the size of the NES library and the vast majority of those games would never see a release outside Japan, nor would we see the majority of manga that was pouring out to that same gaming audience. The symbiotic relationship between manga, anime, and Japanese games not understood then like it is now. There's a lot of graphical trickery in Kid Dracula, including some fast scrolling segments that defy what you think the Game Boy can do. The gag of each mini-game is more entertaining that the mini-game itself "That's obviously just a hockey player, not Rick." - a Konami lawyer
While some games played up this relationship directly (such as Bandaiís Famicom Jump: Hero Retsuden), we donít have to look far to find games that took clear inspiration from manga ideas and tropes, including gag manga. We started seeing superdeformed parodies of existing games, like Namco's Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti, and Konami's Parodius (a portmanteau of Gradius and parody), Yume Penguin Monogatari, and Akumajō Special: Boku Dracula-kun. All of these were, of course, not released outside Japan.
It wasnít until 1993 that we saw one of Konamiís gag games in the West, localized simply as Kid Dracula. A follow-up to Boku Dracula-kun, a parody of the Castlevania series, Kid Dracula has the player as a young version of Dracula (or Alucard) who awakens from sleep to find his minions turned on him to join with Galamoth. With a few cut(e) scenes that look like something straight out of Shonen Jump and large, sometimes absurd sprites, Kid Dracula is as far as I can tell the only parody game from this era to actually be released in North America.
Despite the Castlevania connection, Kid Dracula plays more like Mega Man. It askews the series signature, deliberate, and stiff controls and physics for greater aerial agility. Rather than having a slow, short ranged whip, Kid Dracula starts out with a screen-reaching fireballs that can be charged and fired upwards. Heíll also start with the ability to transform into a bat for a few seconds and will gain new abilities after defeating bosses, much like the Blue Bomber.
Kid Dracula is not just a sequel to but also a remake of the original Boku Dracula-kun, reusing enemy designs, levels, and assets. By and large, these are translated perfectly to the Game Boy's smaller screen, minus the original's Master System-like use of color. The screen is more cramped but there arenít too many areas where the player will find enemies obfuscated or unfair on a technical level. One stage, for example, has Kid Dracula board a roller coaster that speeds around while enemies fly in or appear on separate tracks. Even though the play area is small, it doesnít feel too small to accommodate this set piece.
Scenes like the roller coaster are a technical marvel for the platform. Each of the eight levels offers something more visually impressive than the last. Whether it be foreground objects, diagonal scrolling, or a screen-filling animated sprite, Kid Dracula is more impressive than anything bearing the name Castlevania on Game Boy. This is to say nothing of the wonderful music. Starting off with a swanky remix of the opening stage of Draculaís Curse, each musical motif sounds like something that really does belong in the Castelvania series, but with pop and happiness. This Dracula eats candy before throwing his wine glass.
Between stages, the player is given the opportunity to spend coins to play some mini-games and earn extra lives. I found these mini-games poorly designed and not very fun. The Rock-Paper-Scissors game has controls that are way more complicated that you'd expect for something so simple and I still don't understand the one where Kid Dracula jumps around on a pogo stick wearing lederhosen. The gag for each mini-game feel more thought out than the mini-game itself, though the humor is the point anyway. Of course, the player is free to just skip these mini-games entirely.
Kid Dracula stands as a wonderful example of a gag game. Everything about it from the art and music design to the character's superior mobility and ranged attacks feel like parodies of the main Castlevania series. It doesnít take itself seriously, doesnít overstay its welcome, and stays true to its theme from beginning to end. There are gags here from several other series too, including Gradius and Splatterhouse: Wanpaku Graffiti. The only thing that unfortunately isnít a parody is the difficulty--Kid Dracula will still kick your ass like any other game in the series.
Being released in those middling, pre-Pokemon years of the Game Boy's life, it appears that Kid Dracula sold poorly. Combined with being in a well-regarded series that grew in prominence later, Kid Dracula commands an absurd price in the aftermarket and has not appeared in any compilations. You can play the original Famicom Kid Dracula as part of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. While the Famicom game lacks the cut(e) scenes and mini games in the Game Boy title, it still still has a lot of the same appeal and charm. I don't see Konami coming back to Kid Dracula again unless it's with a pachinko mobile game and that's fine. It would be fun to see a revival of parody games though--Dark Souls is practically begging for one.
There's a lot of graphical trickery in Kid Dracula, including some fast scrolling segments that defy what you think the Game Boy can do.
The gag of each mini-game is more entertaining that the mini-game itself
"That's obviously just a hockey player, not Rick." - a Konami lawyer
Community review by dagoss (October 14, 2021)
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