Everybody knows Dracula is immortal and drinks blood. A few others may also be aware of his ability to turn into a bat and exhibit mind-controlling powers. But what doesn’t get so much press is just how much of a woman-thieving cockblocker he is. You don’t even have to live in or near Transylvania anymore – if you’ve got a gorgeous fiancé then Dracula will gladly show up at your house and fuck your relationship up. It’s like a service you don’t pay for and don’t want. Once again, you play as a young lad who has suffered this indignity. Once again, you’ll be strolling up to Drac’s castle door, plowing through six stages, and kicking some respect into him.
Nosferatu’s actually an easy game to describe. It’s a horror-themed Prince of Persia. The pacing and movement are identical. All the elements of original PoP appear here: platforms stacked over each other, pressure switches that trigger gates, moves that require running, leaping, and climbing down platforms, and an ever-present timer rushing you along. The major difference is a greater expansion of combat. You still engage a “combat mode” by pressing the attack button, but instead of a weak scimitar swing, you have a whole range of fisticuffly combos, dodges, and kicks. The number and difficulty of monsters gets upgraded as you progress, to reflect your increasing combat prowess.
So it’s not just about running around and hopping platforms, though that’s certainly still the focus. The strict timer keeps this from becoming a scrolling brawler or a chance for exploration. You’ve got to hurry your way across the level, past traps and pits, to the stairway leading up. After enough levels and enough stairs, you’ll fight a boss to end the act. If you’ve played the original Prince of Persia, you’re going to be right at home.
Controls are basically simple. The D-pad moves you around, Y attacks, B jumps. Different pad combinations result in different jumps, all based around climbing or leaping across ledges. Nosferatu uses a grid-based system just like PoP, so aligning yourself with the ledge above you takes an extra bit of work, and you’ll need to get used to not stopping and starting exactly when you intend to. I also had trouble with the double-tap to run system (which I find pretty wonky in general) and am not sure if it’s the game or my controller. Running is pretty imperative throughout the game, so you’ll want to be able to execute it with precision.
Attacks are handled well, and there’s quite a variety of them. Your default attack is a punch combo ending with a powerful strike (it varies, more on that in a bit). You can also combine the attack button with the jump button for various kicks, dodge forward or back, execute a slide needed to slip under small ledges, and throw a running shoulder charge that will be invaluable in knocking back foes in your way. There’s about 14 different attacks total, plus ones that change based on your current power level.
Crystals are the main pickup. Red crystals determine the power level of your attacks, and are found by defeating enemies. You can hold nine at a time, with your standard punch combo improving every three crystals. At the maximum of nine, you’re laying out ghouls pretty quickly and effortlessly with a powerful roundhouse kick at the end of your combos. You lose a crystal each time you fall or are knocked down by an enemy, and must fight more enemies to replace the ones you lost. Treasure chests are also scattered around the levels, and hold green and blue crystals. Green crystals refill your health bar, while blue crystals extend it. Most chests actually have more than one item in them, so keep hitting Up when you find one.
This is a videogame, so naturally there’s a host of generic monsters in Nosferatu’s employ. Zombies and short claw monsters are your main foes. They don’t offer much of a challenge to begin with, but turn into upgraded versions as the game progresses. The rest pretty much act as standard traps. Corpses fall from the ceiling as you pass, hands grab and trip you if you aren’t running past them, mummies leap out of windows placed behind pits and can block you mid-jump, books and hovering axes chase you down platforms. Floating eyeballs and the unexplained appearance of Frankenstein act as mobile obstacles – the eye zips from one end of a platform to another when it sees you, while Franko acts like a ridiculously tough shambling wall that requires a number of hits to remove. This is in addition to the usual collection of spike pits, crumbling platforms, blades from the ceiling, hidden walls, and timed gates. All standard platform challenges, but plenty tough with a variety quite capable of keeping you on your toes.
Boss fights are fairly strong as well, with a few inventive ones. The end of the first level pits you against a hunchback who slowly turns into a werewolf. Trick is, you can see the moon in the background, and he will become tougher as the moon fills. It’s a nice in-character time limit. Another boss’ head keeps up the attack after his body decomposes, and yet another is a floating mist that resolves into various spectral forms to attack. Nosferatu’s final level is appropriately the most difficult, though The Man himself is a bit of a pushover. It’s still satisfying to beat him, and I suppose the epic final battle was actually just getting past all the tricky levels.
Graphics are pretty stylish. The castle is appropriately dark and gothic. All enemies and traps are easy to see. Character animation is sharp, though not quite as fluid as some similar rotoscoped offerings. Cutscenes are also fantastic, expertly using CG stills, moving textures (like clouds) and the occasional SNES zoom effect. Foreground objects like railings or similar decoration pass by cleanly, and even when you’re stuck behind a mesh-like grate, you can still see enough to follow your character. Props should also be given to some nice use of lighting effects, such as candles casting flickering glows on nearby columns, and a neat effect at the beginning where pushing a box covering a hole fakes an accurate shaft of light through the hole.
My only real complaints are that the monsters sometimes feel out of place (sorry, but the floating eyeball does look naff) and that the castle in general lacks detail. Each stage gets a new look, but that look is repeated throughout without much variation. Some middle-level backgrounds feel especially plain, to the point that I was actually excited to see a candle or background door break up the repeated marble texture.
The music is pure Japanese arcade synth. It’s very “videogame” and not terribly distracting, but wasn’t what I was expecting. The intro music (and the whole intro actually) is totally awesome, but the later in-game music kills any serious horror vibe and is sometimes cheesy as all hell (especially the “Stage Clear!” tune). Effects are in the same boat – excellent work, no doubt, but close your eyes and you’ll think you’re playing Street Fighter (complete with “HYUP!”s and “HAAAI!”s). I’m not sure if I’m really complaining here, but just be aware that the audio wants this to be far more of a standard arcade brawler than the gameplay does.
In all, Nostferatu’s a good game. The Prince of Persia platformer style plays differently that the usual brand (especially in the controls) so you’ll need to be able to enjoy that scheme. If so, Nosferatu is challenging in all the right ways, both similar and different enough to PoP to offer a fun experience in its own right, and is certainly worth a look.
16-bit platforming at its finest. Nice mix of levels, everything stays pretty varied, fun throughout.
Rarely frustrating, but controls sometimes act up. Not every great moment from the films makes the game conversion.