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New Dreamcast Indie release review - Drascula: The Vampire Strikes Back

It's shaping up to be a momentous year for the Dreamcast's already active indie scene, with (literally) dozens of titles on the horizon. After the unbridled success of titles such as Xenocider and Xeno Crisis (Indie games not beginning with X are available), and some very tasty offerings in the pipeline from JoshProd, Senile Team and Headup Games, there's never been a better time for the scene - and certainly, never a more active one. 

It wasn't a major surprise, then, when yet another title was announced for the console just weeks ago. Erbe Software, a Spanish publisher, started a Kickstarter campaign for a port of a 1990's point and click adventure, Mortadelo y Filemon, itself based off a popular Spanish comic. With a low goal, and the community's ever rabid desire to see more DC games, it sailed past its modest funding target and should be with us sometime later in the year. But this wasn't the first we'd heard of Erbe Software. Back in 2020, they announced a similar, rather unambitious Kickstarter campaign for a port of another 90's point and click adventure - Alcachofa Soft's Drascula: The Vampire Strikes Back. This too sailed through its meagre funding target, but little had been heard about it since the campaign. That is, until copies started being received by the modest number of backers, around the time of their latest Kickstarter.

The original PC cover for the game. If only we got this for the Dreamcast version...

Now we at the Junkyard didn't back the game. Whilst we're purveyors of all things 'Dreamcast', we have to admit it did pass us by. But new Dreamcast games, even ports of old PC adventure titles, are never a bad thing. Only, with Drascula, things did seem a little off. First, the original developers Alcachofa Soft had allowed the game to be distributed for a not-for-profit basis some years back. With the wonders of ScummVM, the emulator which makes these classic point and click adventures easier to run on more modern platforms, some Dreamcast owners would, no doubt, have been able to experience the games rather campy, cheesy comedic horror before. 

Now, this isn't unprecedented; Dreamcast owners who've dipped their toes into emulation may have seen a few examples of games being made available via that method some years ago, only for Indie publishers to release them as 'legitimate' releases some time after (Flashback, Captain Tomaday etc. etc.). There's nothing inherently wrong with this - if the rights holders can release the game officially, that's fair enough. But with information so scarce about this release, some did wonder whether this would be a 'bells and whistles' special packaged release, or simply a version of the ScummVM engine running the game. One of these, unfortunately, ended up being the case.

Thanks to friend of the Junkyard Chris Nunn, one of the few people who backed the game on its original campaign, we've managed to grab a hold of the game and...well, we've got some thoughts... 

The opening scene of the game.

Now, this article has been called a review, but truth be told, I'm not going to talk about the game itself a massive amount. If you like distinctly European style comedy adventure titles, with nicely drawn pixel art and a very firmly tongue in cheek, LucasArts-inspired, slapstick, camp horror style; chances are it's worth a look. The problem is that if you want to seek out this disc release, you'll not likely see any of that, as it runs terribly. The fears of those who thought this may just be a version of the game running via ScummVM have been realised. 

Sure, Erbe Software have added their name to the Sega splash screen, but straight after that it's into the standard ScummVM menu screen where you can select from the various language versions of the game (more on that in a bit). The issue, well known to anyone who uses the software regularly, is that whilst ScummVM is fantastic, the quality of how well games run varies quite significantly. Some run almost flawlessly, but others are beset with audio issues, glitches, crashes and odd display artefacts. It's not going to shock many if I say that Drascula falls into the latter category. 

Good luck getting even this far without any issues (this is straight after the opening movie). As ever, apologies for the shoddy screenshot - but then, I've probably put as much effort into taking this as the publishers did for this game, eh?

Audio is incredibly choppy, and the sound levels (at least the default sound levels) are oddly balanced so that the music makes hearing what the characters say problematic. This continues throughout the game, and whilst I'm sure there may be some way of changing this via the in-game ScummVM menu (pull the left trigger if playing on a controller), it makes playing the game somewhat difficult. The games opening cut scenes are jumpy and prone to skipping, and that's if you can manage to get through them without your Dreamcast resetting. After trying it on 3 different consoles, I encountered at least half a dozen crashes, mostly during the initial few minutes of the game. Various freezes occur, audio skipping and glitching is a continuous issue, and making any progress in the game is made near impossible by all these problems combined. 

Checking the data of the disc comes up with some interesting bits. Date 2011?

I want to go back to that opening ScummVM menu as well. It lists various 'versions' of the game, but I could only guess what they are as the descriptions go off screen and there's no way (at least, as far as I can tell) to scroll across and see them. The first version crashed on every attempt for me, but the second version allowed me in much further. This ended up being English audio and German text, but it did at least work. In fact, I would later find out that there is a list of which of these versions is which, in the games 'manual' (more on that as well, a little later), so at least the publishers did provide something, but it still smacks of a pretty poor, low quality effort.  

The ScummVM menu you're met with in-game

And that, really, is the issue. The game had a low goal on Kickstarter, so no one probably expected the opulent delights of something like the Pier Solar limited edition box release, but it's fair to say that we've seen better quality Etsy productions than this. Coming in either a CD jewel case or in a DVD case, the game comes on a CD-R with a low quality inked title printed (or possibly stamped?) on it, a front and rear cover which clearly has been put done via an inkjet printer, and a simple 4 side 'manual', again seemingly printed via a home printer, which lists the controls, which version of the game is which in the game’s menu, and a single picture on the front. To be honest, I could have forgiven the production method if the cover was at least attractive, but boy... this is a really unattractive one, looking more like one of those £1 DVD films you'd come across in bargain bins or discount stores. Which, I suppose, is quite fitting.

It's not the most attractive cover for a Dreamcast game, is it?

However, this game didn't cost £1. The 44 backers of the Dreamcast version of this game paid - at least - 35. For what is basically a home printed game of a lower quality than an Etsy 'reproduction'. It probably makes it the 'rarest' DC indie title, but that certainly doesn't forgive the production values employed here.

Yes, the publisher stamp on the disc is indeed smudged....

And of course, there is some doubt as to how 'official' the game is. Erbe Software are not, it seems, the same company that published Spanish adventure titles in the 80s and 90s, but instead a subsidiary of 'PhotoCredit' which, by its own 'about us' page, is a company offering customers 'tax, administrative and legal services'. It does seem they own the rights, as they have released numerous titles on Steam, so presumably they bought said rights in the past few years. Which does, I suppose, make this an 'official' release, but we're really getting into somewhat blurred visions of what constitutes an official indie game and what doesn't at this point.

At least they changed the Sega splash screen I suppose?

Whilst the game itself is perfectly enjoyable in its original form (and I can only presume the Steam version runs better than the Dreamcast version), it's very, very hard to have any sort of excitement about this release. With companies like Retro Sumus, Bitmap Bureau and JoshProd delivering titles that look like professional, 'official' releases, it's hard to fathom why any company can charge the same amount as those companies for such a low quality release, both in terms of packaging, and the low quality running of the game itself. 

Maybe they ran into issues with funding, or maybe their original goals were somewhat loftier, and maybe, just maybe, they're planning a more professional looking release with their latest announced release, but for Drascula, I'm left with a feeling of sourness in my mouth and a sense that this was a rather quick cash grab of an attempt at taking money from dedicated Dreamcast collectors. We'd welcome a proper release of the game; a campy, gothic cover, blood-stained disc artwork...a game which actually runs. But what we don't like at the Junkyard is companies charging full price for a release well below the standards of other Indie releases. For potential backers of Erbe Software's current Kickstarter...buyer beware.

2 comments:

JPG said...

I backed this and got my copy a couple of weeks ago. Very disappointing to say the least. Hard to overstate how badly this runs - skipping and stuttering and repeating audio. Shame as this could have been a llvelt addition to the library. I was going to make a Youtube video of it but it runs so badly it makes it unwatchable let alone unplayable.

Unknown said...

This was released freeware back in the day people were warned on dctalk about this
Drascula: The Vampire Strikes Back (English)
--------------------------------------------
Copyright (C) 1996-2008 Alcachofa Soft S.L.

August 30th, 2008
*****************
These are files for the game Drascula: The Vampire Strikes Back which was kindly
freewared by Alcachofa Soft S.L. and particularly thanks to support of
Emilio de Paz.

In order to run this game you need ScummVM version 0.12.0 or greater. Also you
will need drascula.dat file which is provided with ScummVM package by default.

They both could be downloaded from

http://www.scummvm.org

To use, unpack this archive to a folder, then run ScummVM, press Add Game, and
point ScummVM to that folder -- it will autodetect it and the game will appear
in game list. Then select the game entry and press Start to play.

Also there are provided separately music pack and international pack for this
game which adds Spanish, German, French and Italian subtitles. Spanish version
also has full voice overs in that language.


Enjoy this game,
ScummVM Team

********************************************************************************
The Legal Stuff:

DRASCULA adaptation for SCUMMVM.

Preamble:
Basically, give this game away, share it with your friends. Don't remove this
Readme, or pretend that you wrote it. You can include it in a software
collection, like a Linux distribution or coverdisk (which may be sold), but
using it in things like commercial adventure game collections without asking is
just playing dirty. You can modify the gamedata for such purposes as compressing
audio. This preamble is not legally binding, but is to clarify the intent of
the following licence.

Licence:
1) You may distribute "DRASCULA" for free on any medium, provided this Readme
and all associated copyright notices and disclaimers are left intact.

2) You may charge a reasonable copying fee for this archive, and may
distribute it in aggregate as part of a larger and possibly commercial software
distribution (such as a Linux distribution or magazine coverdisk). You must
provide proper attribution and ensure that this Readme and all associated
copyright notices and disclaimers are left intact.

3) You may not charge a fee for the game itself. This includes reselling the
game as an individual item.

4) You may modify the game as you wish. You may also distribute modified
versions under the terms set forth in this licence, but with the additional
requirement that the work is marked with a prominent notice which states that
it is a modified version.

5) All game content is Copyright (C) Alcachofa Soft S.L.
The ScummVM engine is Copyright (C) The ScummVM Team (www.scummvm.org).

6) THE GAME DATA IN THIS ARCHIVE IS PROVIDED "AS IS" AND WITHOUT ANY EXPRESS OR
IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING AND NOT LIMITED TO ANY IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF
MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.