An "Improved" Version of "Castlevania 64"

User Rating: 8.5 | Akumajou Dracula Mokushiroku Gaiden: Legend of Cornell N64
Unlike most Castlevania fans, I loved the original "Castlevania 64" quite a bit. It stands as my second most-loved of the series. So of course I rushed at the chance of getting a game that acted as both a prequel to that game, and an extended version of it. My reaction to this game however was, mixed. Some aspects of it were obviously improvements. Some were better in the older game. Some were better left out altogether. I figure the best way to review this game is to deal with each of these attempted improvements one at a time.

Graphics are markedly improved in this game, if for no other reason than the game's use of the N64 expansion pack. Visuals seem less grainy, more defined, even those inherited from the old game. Music and sound in the game is almost the same as the original as far as I can tell, though I must admit that I much preferred the previous game's haunting opening musical sequence on the violin than I do the more action-inspiring musical opening in the newer game. Other than that, the numbers are the same in the actual game itself, with new numbers being included only for new areas.

Gameplay and storyline are the two most affected areas of this extended game. There are two new characters to choose from in addition to Reinhardt Schneider and Carrie Fernandez from the original game. The first of these is Cornell, the man-wolf, who has the remarkable ability to change into a werewolf for a period of time. This temporary transformation greatly increases his power. His story is not as touching or believable as those of the previous game, and actually seems a bit rushed together, but his adventure through Dracula's castle is a great addition. Since his story takes place 10 years earlier than Reinhardt's or Carrie's, many environments are the same but are approached with different goals. You still go through the "Castle Wall", but your puzzle to manipulate the towers to open the gates to the Villa are entirely different. You still go through the Villa, but your path and means are different. For instance, instead of following Malus through the hedge maze to escape from the Frankenstein's monstor with the built-in chainsaw for a hand, you save a young boy named Henry from that same monstor.

The other playable character is a grown-up Henry, the little boy that Cornell saves in the hedge maze. This selection is unlocked after successfully completing the game with Cornell. The Cornell game reveals that Henry's parents were the original owners of the Villa. Cornell actually fights a Vampire version of Henry's father in this instance. Henry isn't out to avenge his parents' deaths, but out to save the children kidnapped by Dracula through a period of seven days. I personally found this mission to be the biggest weakness of the game. The entrance to the latter three stages containing the last three children are time-sensitive, meaning the same exit from the "Villa" stage will take you to different stages depending on which time during the seven day period that you enter it. This is particularly annoying since there is very little indication of which time to enter which door, and even more annoying considering that to save all of the children, you must go to all areas very quickly. What's worse is that to even unlock Reinhardt's or Carrie's game requires that you save two of the most well hidden children, making this quest almost a requirement to complete to even be able to play the improvements made to the original game. This playable character's game seems so out of sync that it feels like it was thrown together at the last minute to add to the game. While its an interesting storyline to have a child who lost his parents to Dracula come back as an adult and seek revenge, the gameplay itself falls short.

There are entirely new levels added for Cornell's character, which turn out to be very nice additions to the Castle itself. For instance, to complement the "Underground Tunnels" of Reinhardt's game, and the "Underground Waterway" of Carrie's, Cornell will be traversing the outside of the Castle, climbing over rooves and up walls, to get to the towers. Additionally, there are two new towers for Cornell. In addition to going through Reinhardt's "Dueling Tower" and "Tower of Execution" and Carrie's "Tower of Science" and "Tower of Sorcery", Cornell will also traverse a "Tower of Art" and "Tower of Ruins". These additions are well designed and make for a more complete castle than in the previous game.

There are also new challenging stages added universally to each character's game/storyline. For instance, the opening stage is no longer the "Forest of Silence", but a boat ride with a Greek icon of evil, taking you theoretically to the underworld. In that time you go onto a much larger sinking ship, fight merman-like creatures while it sinks, and then hop along floating platforms, finally fighting a sea creature, before you even arrive at the "Forest of Silence".

Some stages have been altered dramatically. For at least one stage in particular, the result subtracts from the overall game. The "Forest of Silence" is literally nothing like that stage of the same name in the original game, and seems to lose the charming mood or expansiveness of the first game's stage. It feels so tight and closed in that I can't help but prefer the former over the latter. Fortunately, most of the stages have been more positively improved, such as the tower stages of the original characters. The "Dueling Tower", "Tower of Execution", "Tower of Science", "Tower of Sorcery", and "Clock Tower" are all completely redone, and I like the improvements quite a bit. They no longer seem like stages where the player is literally climbing internally to the top of a tower, but they are much more difficult to successfully traverse. The "Clock Tower" sees the most of this improvement. It contains everything that was the original "Clock Tower" and much more, remaking that stage into a truly challenging and ultimately satisfying adventure.

The existing boss battles for Reinhardt and Carrie remain mostly the same, including the ending battles with Dracula. Cornell's stage of climbing the outer castle wall ends in a difficult fight with a very well-done Griffin. The ending of the game will be much different for Cornell as well. He will be fighting a much older Dracula, and Cornell's fight with Dracula's "true form" is completely different, and quite a difficult battle. To complement Cornell's fight with the Griffin, Reinhardt and Carrie also confront new boss battles. Reinhardt's "Underground Tunnels" stage ends with a very demanding fight from a gigantic queen tarantula. Believe me, this battle is extremely challenging! Carrie's "Underground Waterway" doesn't end easily itself. Making up for the confusing absence of Medusa, a Castlevania staple, from the previous game, Carrie fights a particularly vicious and agile form of the old dame herself.

All in all, this game does serve as a good extension of the original game. It has an incredible number of new features which add to the overall value of the game, but I have to admit that the restricting nature of the useless "Henry" quest greatly limits that value for me personally, and having one of my favorite stages from the original game so completely and unnecessarily redone makes it much more difficult for me to appreciate even the additions made for the new Cornell quest, and the vast overall improvements made for the previous quests. This mixed bag makes it difficult for me to unabashedly recommend the game. One thing I can say is that if you love the original "Castlevania 64", you will appreciate the actual improvements made in this game on the whole, even if you won't be able to embrace all of them wholeheartedly.