I'll admit it: I'm a fan of the 1992 film, Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Most people pan the film for Keanu Reeves' admittedly wooden acting (fair), but I love Gary Oldman's portrayal of the iconic vampire and the generally spooky feel of the film. Plus, it really does capture the Bram Stoker novel better than any other adaptation. So, when I saw a copy of the Super Nintendo (SNES) game at my local used game shop, it was inevitably going home with me.
Unfortunately, the game suffers from quite a few problems that land it squarely in the "forgettable" pile of SNES side-scrollers. It's clear that the developer wanted to channel Castlevania, which makes a lot of sense given the source material inspired that series, but they fell short in almost every regard.
Let's start with the story, since this is a game based on a movie based on a book. Despite featuring a "storybook" framing for the opening (including a sort-of cool zoom in on what appears to be a picture in the book but seamlessly becomes the opening level), there is very little story presented here beyond chapter titles. And, while the movie does start with Jonathan Harker in a gypsy village en route to Castle Dracula, there certainly weren't any bar fights with zombies or wolves running amok.
I know that this sort of thing was standard practice for 1990s-era movie-based platformers (take a scene from the film and turn it into an action-filled level), it would have been much more interesting if the developers had let the opening level involve some foreboding conversations with locals that helped set the stage for Harker's unfortunate destination.
There was really no need for slicing and dicing yet, especially when the level and enemy design leaves so much to be desired. The knife that Harker starts with has barely any range and the enemies respawn as you move back and forth through the level as if it was an NES game without the capacity to remember which enemies you had killed.
Worse, though, the game doesn't often reward you for fighting. Enemies don't drop any kind of health or loot, which would greatly improve the flow of the game. The Castlevania series got this right back on the NES, so it's confounding that such a simple design decision wouldn't have made it into this 16-bit outing.
I had hoped that, since fighting wasn't the game's forte, exploring might yield some fun; however, the game keeps an arrow at the top of the screen at all times pointing you in the desired direction. Attempting to explore the nooks and crannies of the level in the opposite rarely yields hidden items or level secrets; it's like the developers built larger and non-linear levels with certain hopes that never got a chance to be realized, so they just stuck a primitive GPS arrow on the screen and called it a day.
The first sequence is punctuated by a chainmail boss (above) that is neither from the movie nor very interesting. After identifying his dead-simple pattern (far attack, close attack, far attack, close attack, etc.), you can vanquish this foe with literally no skill.
From there, the game completely skips past some of the most interesting scenes in which Harker meets Dracula, explores the castle, or becomes trapped there. Instead, you skip straight to a level spent escaping from the castle. This could have been handled with a great level in which you explore deep into a level without enemies only to realize it was all a trap with a Metroid-esque escape sequence, running back through the level (this time with enemies).
Instead, you get a completely forgettable romp through more bland levels with some impossible-to-avoid spikes that are best beaten with a full health bar and some fast running. And, of course, a boss fight with a dragon (no, there's not a dragon in the film).
The game can feel cheap and overly difficult, even on the "normal" setting. To make matters worse, you aren't given any indication of how many times you can continue after losing all your lives, so you might ended up seeing a "Game Over" screen (and the credits) when you least it expect it—and, of course, there's no save functionality. So frustrating!
Thankfully, the game gives you a lot of options beyond just selecting a difficulty (though that is present). You also get to choose how many lives you get and how many health vials, which is fairly unusual. Even further, the game prompts you to customize the button mapping for the three primary functions (jump, attack, and missile). I'm not sure why you wouldn't want the number of lives and number of health points to be maxed out, but perhaps this is a fun option for the masochists out there.
Without any compelling gameplay, meaty story, interesting level design, impressive graphics, or even compelling music, there's really very little to like about Dracula. I gave up after an hour or so, and I can't recommend spending more time with it than that. You'd be far better off with any Castlevania or Metroid game (or watching the movie!).