Konami often cross-referenced and parodized their own IPs in the early 90’s. Be it one of the mechanical mid-bosses of Rocket Knight Adventures doing its best Gradius impression or the infamous Konami code killing the player instead of granting them 30 lives every now and then, you were bound to recognize the nods and humor if you’ve played a decent number of their games. Kid Dracula attempted to do for the Castlevania franchise what Parodius did for Gradius– offer up an adorable spinoff loosely based on the source material. While the Famicom game never made it overseas (most likely due to characters that resembled KKK members and a particular mini-game that involved guessing the panty colors of some burlesque dancers), the US was fortunate enough to get the Game-Boy version in 1993.
Despite this being the first (and only) Kid Dracula game the States received, the plot still carries on as a sort of sequel. The game centers around a childlike version of Alucard who (thought) he disposed of a beast known as Garamoth in the previous adventure. Unfortunately for Alucard, a reaper informs him that Garamoth has returned and is “stronger than before”. Although I had no idea who the hell Garamoth was until late into the game, I still adored the opening cinematic and the various facial expressions during the conversation between Alucard and the mentor. What could have easily been a wall of text or static images is something with a great deal of charm, even though plot is hardly a necessity for this type of game.
On the subject of charm, it’s one thing that Kid Dracula has no shortage of. The game is full of cute, goofy renditions of enemies one would typically find in a Castlevania game. There are skeletons who dance around and roll their heads across the floor when hit and winking witches among others. Big heads and eyes bugging out whenever a monster (or boss) is hit are staples during the adventure. Alucard himself has an equal amount of expression, and this even extends to the HUD. Whenever a shot is charging up, Alucard’s face will change from neutral to aggressive on the HUD. The set pieces and backgrounds are also well-done, and I experienced few instances of slow-down. If I’m honest, Kid Dracula is probably one of the best looking games on the Game-Boy that I’ve played to date.
The soundtrack is also memorable and full of bright, peppy tunes that mesh well with the goofy, alternate Transylvania that the game is set in. The game opens with a tune that will remind Castlevania fans of “Beginnings”, which plays at the beginning of Dracula’s Curse. The theme for the third stage, which revolves around a series of rollercoaster rides, is especially energetic. Curiously, there’s even a rendition of Golliwog’s Cakewalk in here.
Kid Dracula plays similar to the classic Mega-Man games, having an emphasis on running, jumping and shooting. In addition, Alucard learns new “spells” as the game progresses. He starts out with the “Bat” transformation that allows him to turn into a bat and fly around for a few seconds at a time. Eventually, he learns to fire homing shots and walk upside-down. Also similar to Mega-Man is that the power-ups are never truly needed except in certain situations, such as needing to go upside-down to cross a bed of spikes or using the Bat Umbrella to plow through a bunch of enemies as a ceiling collapses.
In between rounds, you’re given a chance to earn extra coins (which are earned in levels by killing monsters with charged blasts) or extra lives via a selection of mini-games. While extra lives are never found in the main stages, it’s quite easy to rack up an impressive amount via the “Grab Bat” minigame since it’s the only one that isn’t based on chance.
Despite Konami games being notorious for their incredibly high level of difficulty, I found Kid Dracula to be a breeze in comparison. There are few moments where the levels offer a challenging platforming gauntlet and it’s not until later in the game that you’re required to think a few steps ahead in order to succeed. In addition, while the bosses are charming, they follow fairly simple patterns with the exception of the final encounter with Garamoth. In addition, it’s pretty easy to get upwards of 50-60 lives by grinding the minigames, assuring you’ll never get a Game Over. While I had a blast the entire time through, I do feel that some of the spells went underutilized. I would have loved to see some tougher sections involving the upside-down and bat spells in particular.
Overall, Kid Dracula is a stellar spin-off with a fantastic presentation, solid run-and-gun platforming gameplay and a handful of interesting power-ups to play with. It won’t challenge you nearly as much as other platformers bearing the Konami name, but there’s still a lot to love in the short amount of time that it takes to complete.