Review: Dracula – Undead Awakening (Sony PSP)

Dracula – Undead Awakening
Publisher: Chillingo
Developer: Moregames Entertainment/Abstraction Games
Genre: Run n’ Gun Shooter
Release Date: 01/28/2010

I haven’t been to impressed with Sony’s would be recommitment to the PSP. Purchasers of the PSPGo have been screwed overly a lack of content for it and a lot of the DLC only content that has come out since October has been underwhelming at best. This especially true for the PSP Minis. Games like Hero of Sparta and Vempire looked like they might be pretty good, but turned out to suck big time.

So of course, you’re probably wondering why I decided to pick up the latest PSP mini, Dracula – Undead Awakening. Part of it was because I’m a whore for traditional shooters, and this game’s screenshots resembled Ikari Warriors so I decided to give it a try. Plus, it’s a Dracula/vampire game and I’m a sucker for those, name jokes aside.

So is Dracula – Undead Awakening the first good PSP Minis experience I’ve had, or is this another stake in the coffin for the PSP revamp?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

There’s no real plot to speak of here. You’re a vampire hunter and you’re attacking a literally unlimited horde of the undead until you finally die. There is no winning in this game; it’s just seeing how long you can hold out.

There are four modes of play. The first is Survival, which is the standard mode. Here, you have constant enemies coming at you. It starts off slow and with only a few enemies at a time but eventually you get a constant stream of monsters in every direction. Every so often you’ll earn a power up and enemies sometimes drop weapons.

Rush has you start off picking one of three weapons. Unlike Survival, your weapon here as unlimited ammo and you can’t get any new ones. You are then attacking by a barrage of never ending enemies.

Wave Attack is probably the least cruel of the three. Here’ll you have a never ending set of rounds, but a limited number of enemies per round. Instead of dropping items and ammo, enemies will instead drop money. At the end of each round you can spend the money on ammo, health potions and new weapons.

Super Survival is basically the same as Survival, but there are exclusive power-ups like Time Stop or Haste. Vampires also seem unkillable as well.

You are also given a choice of three different stages to play in: Frozen Earth, Grave Park, and Castle Hall. Each stage has a different layout and different monsters to face off against.

For five bucks, I was actually impressed with the amount of modes, variety of monsters and the sheer number of power-ups and perks you could earn. My favourite mode was Survival, although I really enjoyed Wave Attack too. I was surprised how many hours I actually sunk into this and it’s actually a pretty good deal for its price tag.

Modes Rating: Good

2. Graphics

I was pretty impressed with the visuals here. The game runs at 60 frames per second and the animation is quite fluid. Monster look very nice for what they are, and especially so for a Minis game. You’ll encounter severed hands, ghosts, skeletons, weird floppy winged lizard hopping things, a Bela Lugosi inspired Dracula and more. The only weird thing is that the would-be werewolves actually look like the Hyenas from The Lion King. Everything looks nice and the backgrounds are quite large and detailed. In the Frozen Earth, there was an iced over lake and I thought for sure it was going to crack under my feet. Very nice.

One of the other things that is pretty impressive is that such a little game can handle so many independently moving and acting creatures at once without the slightest hint of slowdown. At one point I had over fifty monsters swarming at me and I could easy maneuver around and fire off machine gun bullets without the slightest pause. I’m actually really impressed at how smoothly this game comes off. There are some full budget PSP titles that could learn a few lessons from this game.

You’ll find Dracula: Undead Awakening visually appealing for what it is, especially for the price.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

3. Sound

Although there are only two tracks in the entire game, both are extremely catchy. They’re fast paced, hip and the frantic energy of the tracks fit the game nicely. They’re not tracks that will get caught in your head, but you may find yourself shooting to the beat or humming along while playing. The only downside is that the tracks are so limited, but at least what’s here is very nicely done.

Sound effects are equally impressive. Every weapon from the pistol to the BFG (Nice Doom homage) have their own sound along with their own rate of fire. Monsters too have their own noises, be it shrieks, or lightning bolts. Again, you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck. The musical tracks may be very limited, but at least there is a lot of diversity to the sound effects.

Sound Rating: Enjoyable

4. Control/Gameplay

Controls are simple. You use the D-Pad or analog stick to move, the shoulder pads to switch weapons and the shape buttons to fire. Each button fires in the direction that corresponds to the button. For example, Triangle is up, X is down and so on. This of course means you can only fire at 90 degree angles, which is a change from the eight way aiming that can be found in the iPhone version of the game. This is a bit disappointing and it would make the game a bit easier to play. Now, there is a way to get 360 degree aim and that’s to choose to swap the shooting controls to the analog stick and thus movement will be controlled by the shape buttons. It’s pretty awkward to do it this way though, so stick with the default controls.

Now that you know the controls, the rest of the game is easy. Shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot and eventually die. Depending on the mode monsters may drop gold, ammo, weapons, or special items. This is completely random and what they drop can either really help or hinder your progress. At certain score intervals, you’ll gain perks. Perks too are random in regards to what you’ll get, but at least you’ll receive a list of four and then choose one of them. Perks can include faster reload, a full health recharge, higher score modifiers, regeneration and more. There are also weird perks like Invulnerability which makes you impervious for thirty seconds but then you die or armour which makes you take less damage but you move a lot slower. It’s just a matter of seeing how long you can survive. For me it’s usually eight minutes, but my longest game has been twenty-one.

I wish the controls would have been as fluid as they are on the iPhone (Even though I haven’t played that version), but what’s here works quite well and I had a lot of fun with it. I loved all the different weapons and knowing that this was a bit of a Kobiyashi Maru made me far more accepting of the 90 degree angle aiming only issue. The gameplay is so fast and frantic and the controls are so simple that you’ll no doubt, like me, find Dracula -Undead Awakening a lot of fun to play.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable

5. Replayability

With four different modes and no true way to win, I actually found myself playing this game a lot in order to try and beat my previous high score in each mode. Younger or more casual gamers might find this a bit odd, but this was a fairly common thi9ngs for games in the 70’s and 80’s. In fact, it reminded me a lot of the old Activision title River Raid. I used to play that game on my Atari 2600 all the time with my only motivation being to beat my old score and/or to see how much farther I could get before dying. The same principle applies here.

Basically think of this game as a very gory Tertris or Bejeweled and you’ll have the right idea. You’ll find yourself returning to all four modes in hopes of collecting Nodes (which are dropped on the rare occasions you kill a vampire) and beating your scores. If this doesn’t sound like enough of an impetus for you, it probably means you won’t play this game very often. Otherwise, it’s a great game to play for ten minutes while waiting for something else, like a cake to bake or laundry to finish drying.

Replayability Rating: Above Average

6. Balance

Now I’ve described the game as a no-win scenario where you know you’re going to die – it’s just a matter of when and where. Some people might think that means the game is balls to the walls hard. In fact, Dracula – Undead Awakening is actually nicely balanced save for the Rush mode which is purposely designed to be merciless. With Wave Attack and both Survival modes, enemies start off slow and there are only a few at a time. The better you do and the longer you last, the more will come at you. Eventually, new types of monsters will be added to the mix and then faster or more powerful versions of the older monsters with a pallet swap. At some point a vampire will come at you. Again, this all keeps going on until you die. The goal seems to be to survive long enough to encounter a vampire and kill it. Then you pick up the node. After ten nodes you “rank up,” which is just a pat on the back.

Everything is pretty balanced and you’ll find the game getting noticeably harder as you progress. It’s just a matter of when the sheer numbers overwhelm you. Dracula – Undead Awakening is just the game you’re looking for if you’ve been in search of a real challenge.

Balance Rating: Good

7. Originality

Dracula – Undead Awakening harkens back to a time where games didn’t have a set ending or a last level. It’s very much an homage to the Atari 2600, Collecovision and Odyssey age of gaming. There are so many games like this that I played as a little boy. River Raid, Barnstorming, H.E.R.O. are just a few. Yes D-UA is a throwback to the early 80’s in terms of style and gameplay, but it’s also a perfect example of why so many of these games were highly addictive and fun. It’s nice to see this gameplay aspect revived and it’s even more entertaining to do it with a “hordes of the undead” motif.

Older gamers will find D-UA reminiscent of pre 8-bit era games while newer games will find it pretty outside the box compared to what they normally play. It’s not a highly original game, but it is one that decides to revive nigh-extinct gameplay elements instead of being a carbon copy what’s already been done to death, and I appreciate that.

Originality Rating: Decent

8. Addictiveness

I found it extremely hard to put this gain down. I loved trying out the different weapons, testing out the various modes and/or power-ups and seeing how long I could last. It was always an awesome moment to take out a vampire and snatch up their node, and each play through felt completely different from the last.

In only a few days I racked up well over a dozen hours with this game. I was ecstatic the one time I finally pushed past the twenty minute mark in Survival and although I haven’t done it since, I know I’m going to keep trying.

D-UA has actually been the best Downloadable-only title I’ve picked up from the PSP Store and it’s definitely a game I’ll continue to play for a long time. It’s short, simple and hard to resist.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9. Appeal Factor

Some gamers may be put off by the idea of a game you can’t “beat” or that never ends, but this was fairly common twenty years ago, and it’s something we still see today with “endless” puzzle games. The game is only as long as you are skilled and the fast, frantic and intense game speed might be too much for some gamers. I personally loved this title. It was a mix of bullet hell shoot ’em ups, River Raid‘s “How long before you die?” aspect and Ikari Warriors. I was hooked after my first play of Survival and this little five dollar game is seeing more playtime than a lot of the thirty or forty dollar PSP games I own.

With four different modes and a constant challenge guaranteed to improve your hand-to-eye coordination, Dracula – Undead Awakening is a game most gamers will get their money’s worth out of and then some. It’s definitely worth the download.

Appeal Factor Rating: Above Average

10. Miscellaneous

Dracula – Undead Awakening is not only proof than a simple game can be fun, but that there’s still hope for the whole PSP Minis concept. Many PSP Mini games are badly ported iPhone or cell phone games that cost far more than the original superior version. Not so with D-UA. This is quality game through and through and I’m still shocked at how low the sticker price is with this. Four modes, three level designs and a ton of monsters and customization gives you a game you may not be able to beat, but it certainly is one you can have a lot of fun with. About the only thing I could ask for is a two player co-op mode. Supposedly this is also coming to WiiWare and DSiware, so Nintendo fans will get a chance to experience it as well!

Miscellaneous Rating: Good

The Scores
Modes: Good
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Enjoyable
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Good
Originality: Decent
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Good

Short Attention Span Summary
At only $4.99, Dracula -Undead Awakening is a no-brainer. The frantic no-win scenario gameplay is extremely addictive and a lot of fun. The graphics and sound are limited in comparison to a full budget PSP release, but what’s here is done exceptionally well. This is easily the best PSP Minis release to date and it’s so well done, you’ll feel like you ripped poor Chillingno off. If you’ve got the five bucks to spare, download this from the PSP store as you’ll definitely get your money’s worth and then some.



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