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Up from (Super) Obscurity

As some of you might have noticed, last week's discussion on Bram Stoker's Dracula just barely covered the basics:
  1. why the game's name is so weird,
  2. what the protagonist's head is supposed to represent,
  3. Rick Freakin' Steiner.
But now it's time to talk turkey about the meat of the game (to throw two metaphors in a meat-grinder and make a delicious turkey burger).
So, make like the game developer's logo and assume a Spherical Owl, because here there be...
*: Please note that this game is entirely populated by creatures that can be dispatched by being thwacked by a I'm not sure if there's actually any "vampyres" here, but anyway.
What is this Bram Stoker's Dracula game all about?
Movie platformer.
To be more precise, it's like a SNES movie platformer -- which means each level requires your rather-large character sprite to go on an extended vertical and horizontal quest of jumping, enemy-slashing and a little light exploration.
Fortunately every few levels come equipped with a handsome leather-bound introductory page,
Aaaaany CASTLE you want it, that's the CASTLE you need it!
But most pleasingly, you'll notice that EVERY level gives you a "GO THIS WAY" arrow at the top of the screen at all times:
Bram Stoker's Dracula's instructional arrow meets Van Helsing (sometimes):
What the "This Way" leads you to varies: it's either the end of the level (which we'll cover later on), or it leads you to a guy with a white beard wearing a brown duster and carrying a lantern (THEN the arrow recalibrates to point to the end of the level).
As far as the white-bearded guy, I imagine we're to assume he's Van Helsing (or possibly a pitchman from the "Old Yankee Lantern" commercial dressed up as Sam Elliot. Or this). Anyway, here he is:
When you approach him, he emits a fully-visible daydream from his shoulder. And what's on his Van Mindsing mind? Well, in the first level when you only have a dagger, he's thinking about a sword:
Or in the later levels, he daydreams about one of the game's limited-use (and mostly useless) projectile weapons.
Either way, now that he's imagined it, the weapon materializes somewhere else in the level. It's entirely possible that the weapon has appeared somewhere you've been before -- but the weapon wasn't there there until now, because Van Lathe-of-Heaven-sing just created it using the power of his shoulder mind!
Aside from Level 1's "Dagger to Sword" upgrade, all the weapons he imagines are not worth the trip. But a that Dagger-to-Sword upgrade is awesome:
The dagger's attack range.
The sword (hidden approximately 1.4 screen-lengths from Van Helsing)
The sword's attack range.
Yes, it's a very impressive upgrade...but you've only had to suffer through the dagger for about 3 enemies before you get the sword, and you almost have to go out of your way to NOT find the sword.
As far as initial-weapon-pointlessness, this is only below Dennis the Menace's squirt gun-to-slingshot upgrade, which happens on the game's first screen.
Anyway -- when Harker tracks down a weapon, kneel on it and it is yours: the Sword replaces the Dagger, and Projectile Weapons replace any other Projectile Weapon you might be carrying.
This may seem like an unnecessary step (given how useless most of the optional projectile weapons are), but it's nice to see a game that makes it MUCH harder to accidentally replace a good weapon with a bad one.
As I mentioned above, only some levels require you to play "Where's Van Helsing?"; but after you've found him, your "Go There!" arrow will now point you to the end of the level (and oddly, not to the weapon -- which you're in no way obligated to collected).
Anyway, the level may end EXIT
The arrow will guide you to one of two things, depending on the level:
You'll either find (and have to kneel in front of) a very bouncy "EXIT" sign:
Take a moment to locate your nearest EXIT, keeping in mind it may be behind you.
...or a Boss Fight
You'll know you're in a level that ends with a Boss Fight when the screen briefly freezes and your Super Nintendo crashes THIS message appears:
After that, you'll be able to FURTHER detect that it's a boss fight because:
  1. a big red "boss energy meter" flask appears at the top of the screen,
  2. Then, even more menacingly: the screen scrolls to reveal the boss.
The bosses are usually human characters who are (presumably) related to the movie's plot. However, in an UN-plot-related twist, they're all about 2.5 times your height (making them well over 15 feet tall):
For example.
I can only assume this is Dracula's coachman, who was meant to drive you to his castle...but since I'd imagine a human-scale coach would act more like a soap-box derby cart for him, he's left the coach behind and instead has decided to beat Harker to death with...whatever his weapon is supposed to be. (A whip? A morning-star made entirely out of spiked balls? A chain of gray daises?)
In any event, once you've bested the Boss, you'll get to move on to the next level.
Variety is the Stoker of Life.
Well, that's a brief (but confusing) run-down on WHAT you do as you go on your quest to...uh, run down Dracula. Observant readers may have noticed that there's 2-3 different types of levels, and infer (correctly) that it makes things a little confusing and structureless.
However, that's just the tip of the iceberg: next week we'll get into all the game's weird/confusing/unfortunate design decisions! And in the week(s) after that -- the reasons why I enjoy this game despite because of all its dopey-ness!
Until then, I'll leave you with this menacing pre-title-screen image!
Wait a minute, that silhouette looks kind of familiar. You don't suppose...
— carlmarksguy, 2014-03-14
Great review! Oh, this game... I got stuck in level 2, never knew how to get through the floor, where the GPS-like arrow was indicating "down-down, you have to go down"! (Very NES's Top Gun-like approach.) Also, the shadow of the title screen, seems to me somewhat batmanesque-ue-ue. ;) Anyway, your commitment is honorable and I enjoyed many of your posts. Keep it going! Cheers
Thanks! There's more to come. About that specific "DOWN" instruction (which you're right, is just as crummy as trying to land on the Top Gun aircraft carrier), it turns out you can jump down THROUGH the "thin" floors (the ones that look like wood and are only as thick as your character's head), but its not easy to do. I think you have to press Down and Jump at the SAME time (you can't HOLD down then press jump like most games). I often end up jumping first, then continuing to hammer the buttons until I actually sink through the floor.
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