TL;DR VERSION: More Shinobi and Contra than Castlevania, this decently priced run-and-gun shooter suffers from repetition and some uninspired boss designs while still offering a mostly fun retro-inspired arcade experience.
What is Wallachia: Reign of Dracula?
A 2D run-and-gun arcade shooter draped in Romanian folklore. The official Nintendo page describes the game as being inspired by Castlevania, though I’d argue it has more in common with the likes of Contra and Shinobi as you’ll spend most of your time firing off arrows while taking down fodder enemies and larger-scale boss battles.
In Wallachia you play as Elcin, a female archer who returns from a hunt to find her home burned to the ground and her brother and father impaled alongside it. This is clearly the work of the infamous Vlad the Impaler, Voivode of Wallachia. Elcin’s entire motivation is that of revenge and you’ll control her through 7 levels of classic run-and-gun trappings until inevitably coming face to face with Dracula himself.
As an archer, Elcin can fire in all directions and in rapid succession by mashing the attack button. Her standard arrows are infinite in supply, though special arrows can be found throughout the levels and offer piercing shots and wide-spread volleys. You can also charge her shot, similar to Mega Man, which, as expected, deals increased damage. The Shinobi comparison comes by way of Elcin’s short-ranged melee attack, used to thwart smaller grounded foes and to (more importantly) deflect enemy projectiles.
There’s your standard slide and double jump, but, more interestingly, Elcin can call upon four different companions to aid her in battle. From temporary invulnerability and increased arrow damage to a screen-clearing firebomb and a deadly strike from her trusty wolf Silviu, each use requires 30 orbs which are collected from from fallen foes. Enemies don’t spawn endlessly and you can only hold 99 orbs, but there’s little reason to use them outside of boss battles (which I’ll get in to in the section below).
Wallachia: Reign of Dracula features Kira Buckland as the voice of Elcin, whom you may know as 2B from NieR: Automata, as well as Robert Belgrade, who voiced Alucard in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.
And to get the general information out of the way, the game is entirely single-player, offers three difficulty settings (more down below), a bonus costume for Elcin from the Bloodstained series, offers fully remappable buttons for accessibility, and barely takes up any space on your Switch at 147 MB.
Where does it go wrong?
For the most part, Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is a competent run-and-gun arcade shooter and a game that I would have fallen in love with back in the Sega Genesis days. In 2020, though, there are some issues I had that were hard to overlook.
For starters, the game offers three difficulty settings (easy, normal, hard) but for a reason I highly doubt makes sense today, you cannot finish the game on easy. Instead, you’ll reach a point in the game where it’ll just end and tell you to play on normal instead. Without mincing words, this is fucking ridiculous.
Wallachia: Reign of Dracula is meant to be challenging as a retro-inspired game, but provides infinite continues on normal and most levels only took me two or three tries to get through, but why even offer an easy mode if it’s an incomplete experience?
The game also has some serious balancing issues, mostly due to how powerful Elcin’s special wolf attack is. Outside of one boss battle that spawns the same enemy one after another, you can literally melt the rest within seconds by saving orbs and using Silviu up to three times. You do lose your orbs if you die before reaching the stage boss, but there are plenty to grab along the way and you’ll likely have enough to use at least one special attack for nearly half of a health bar. It’s kind of insane.
I’ll admit that watching a boss get vaporized is hilarious, but this makes them all pretty trivial. I mean, I’m not even sure if they had multiple phases because they went down so fast. Maybe lowering their overall damage and encouraging their use outside of boss battles would have been better?
Level designs are pretty run-of-the-mill and boss battles are equally uninspired. You’ll take Elcin through pretty standard environments, like forests, caves, and castles, but it’s all stuff I’ve seen and done in hundreds of similar games over the last 30 years. I do love these kinds of games, though, and I did have a good amount of fun with Wallachia: Reign of Dracula, but it never really tries to distinguish itself from its inspirations.
Another negative aspect is the story itself, but we all know these types of games aren’t regularly played for their narrative offerings. It’s just that Elcin’s revenge tale has no resolution so the entire plot felt meaningless.
Should you check it out?
At $14.99 USD on the Nintendo Switch (while it’s only $9.99 on Steam), Wallachia: Reign of Dracula does offer a totally serviceable gothic arcade shooter, but it doesn’t go above and beyond to make it more enticing than its competitors.
It’s an arcade-style game that’s meant to be blasted through in a single go, which will take around 90 minutes, but after finishing it I’m not sure I’ll be reinstalling it for another run (like I would with something like Contra).
Overall, it’s fun; it’s fine; but I’m not sure I’d recommend it right now. It’s the type of game I expect to see on many “hidden gems” lists in another year or so and maybe it’ll go on sale between now and then, but whether or not the price matches the amount of content you’re getting is up to the consumer — not me.
For what it’s worth, you can grab the Contra collection for $5 more and play through multiple games that defined the genre. The Sega Genesis Collection frequently goes on sale for $20 as well, which has a few run-and-guns to juggle. There is no shortage of arcade shooters on the Nintendo Switch.
I don’t want to downplay the effort the developers put into Wallachia — again, it’s a totally serviceable game. I just think there are some glaring issues and there are ultimately better options out there.
Full Disclosure: a digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher, PixelHeart, for review purposes. As always, thank you for your support! If you have any questions that were not answered in this review, please leave a comment and I’ll do my best to reply as soon as I can.