When I think of Dracula, I think of ominous music, cloud-filtered moonlight, and torch-lit hallways filled with dancing shadows that conceal the things that go bump in the night. I imagine the smell of dusty spider-webs and the sound of batwings flitting past my ear, and if I close my eyes I can picture the glimmer of eyes watching me from outside darkened windows. Gondefire’s first release, Castle Dracula, has all the classic ingredients. Available for both Windows and Macintosh, this point-and-click horror game is a journey back to a time before Twilight, when vampires wore black capes and werewolves prowled the woods (not high school hallways).
In the game you play as a man named Luke, who up until now has lived a peaceful life with his beautiful (and now pregnant) wife, Grace, in a little Transylvanian town which tiptoes in the shadow of Dracula’s castle. One dark (though not particularly stormy) night, Luke is woken by the sound of Grace’s terrified screams; she has been spirited away to the castle. It is up to Luke to rescue his wife – and unborn child – before it is too late.
Castle Dracula has a fairly simple, if a bit odd, gameplay structure. Rather than the usual basic point-and-click style, it features three clicking modes, which the player switches between using icons at the top of the screen. One allows the player to choose a direction to move in, another allows the player to take certain objects and place them into the inventory, and the remaining icon lets the player use objects or interact with objects in the area. Simple enough, once you’ve figured it out; the trick is that at moment, there are no instructions or tutorial provided in the game. While the direction icon is fairly obvious, the other two took me a few extra minutes to understand. This is not necessarily a flaw, but it is at least a funny little quirk.
The difficulty of the game is relatively low, especially if you’re familiar with the old stories and already know what you’ll need in your arsenal to defeat certain creatures of the night. If you’re looking for a serious challenge, you may want to look elsewhere. But the game does have some interesting puzzle solutions – one, for example, requires the use of a leg bone as leverage – while never straying so far from logic as to be utterly ridiculous just to be challenging. It may feel too simple to serious puzzle aficionados, but the story and environment should be enough of a draw to keep most players’ interest.
The art and sound design work well together to draw players into the story of Transylvanian intrigue. Though there are no animations to speak of, sound effects and fairly impressive voice acting lend some dynamism to cut scenes and restore some much-needed tension to several dangerous encounters which, due to the static quality of the graphics (and the lack of any punishment for taking too long to react) would otherwise be disappointingly dull. The dialogue needs some grammatical tweaking here and there, but is delivered believably and with just a pinch of extra drama to add to the game’s overall doom-and-gloom brand of horror.
The characters and environment look great. The creatures are all beautifully iconic and easy to recognize, and the voices fit the faces well. The look of both the interior and exterior of the castle both invites exploration and sends chills up one’s spine in much the same way as a gorgeous – but undeniably creepy – graveyard. More than anything, I appreciated the subtlety that has been observed in this game with regards to interactive versus non-interactive items; there are no telltale hints like glowing outlines or discrepancies in quality to make useful items obvious, making exploration both more integral to gameplay and more realistic.
The game does, however, suffer from an unfortunate and irksome infestation of bugs. At Castle Dracula’s current level of development, there are several glitches that can occur, including items not following the cursor properly when clicked-and-dragged and crucial items disappearing from the inventory after leaving the room in which they were acquired. These issues tend to bring progress in the game to an utter standstill by preventing the player from successfully completing puzzles and defeating enemies.
Castle Dracula also lacks a “restart” or “new game” option, so for now the only solution is to delete the game completely, re-download, and try again, all the while crossing your fingers that this time, the bugs will let you hunt down mythical monsters in peace. The good news is that Gondefire is still ironing out the kinks and tightening the screws on the game, so hopefully by the official release day, these glitches will no longer be an issue.
Issues aside, the game’s strength lies in a solid foundation and an obvious passion for the project itself. It is not the most terrifying game I’ve played to date (though I admit I nearly had a panic attack once when I entered a room with a dark well and the soundtrack went horrifyingly silent), and the plot itself is far from groundbreaking, but Castle Dracula’s delight in exploring the diabolically sinister domain of old-school horror is a bit infectious. Any fan of classic monster movies or tales from the likes of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley is likely to feel right at home, and while skeptics may not be impressed, most gamers should still walk away with at least an amused gleam in their eyes.
As of this writing, the full game has not been publically released, and there is no official release date or price set yet. Castle Dracula is currently up for voting on Steam Greenlight, and more information on the game and developer can be found on the official Gondefire Productions website.
[review pros=”Sound and art design are attractive and perfectly suit the atmosphere, features a full cast of talented voice actors, nostalgic fun for fans of the genre” cons=”Current version is pretty buggy, solutions may be too easy, somewhat predictable plot” score=75]