It seems we have a horror theme running through our children's reviews this issue as Dracula's Secret is certainly a game designed to squeeze a squeal or two out of younger players. It succeeds very well in this endeavour without being overly threatening. It's all good fun, with wonderfully evocative graphics and a suitably manic atmosphere tinged with humour and lots of crazy animations. Although the box cover says it is a game for all the family, it really is aimed more at children, but, of course, this doesn't prohibit parents from joining in.
Dracula has a secret, and at the beginning of the game he invites you to explore his castle and its environs in order to discover it for yourself. The game is divided into two parts and the first and smaller part revolves around one main problem -- gaining access to the castle. To achieve this, however, you must first escape from the cemetery and then find the necessary items to repair the bridge. Here there are around eight locations to explore and an assortment of monsters and other quirky characters to meet. Some will ask a favour of you in return for free passage, whilst others will have an important item to complete this part of the quest.
Fix the bridge and it's on to the castle which is much larger and has more colourful creatures with lots of surprises in store. Here the objective is to find the items that comprise Dracula's Coat of Arms and the puzzles or obstacles change somewhat to include a range of logic-type problems and a few simple games. There are fourteen or fifteen of these in all including a couple of mazes, a picture puzzle, a sliding tile puzzle and the like. Although there is nothing much new here, the problems are nevertheless fun to complete and are enhanced by the crazy atmosphere and the ultimate quest.
As with the first section, solving a problem will sometimes reward you with an item, or a new pathway may open up. However, there are more ways to explore this creepy castle than simply by puzzle solving. There are plenty of hotspots to click on to initiate hair-raising animations and, sometimes, secret passages are revealed in this way. Hence, this is a game that encourages experimentation and exploration.
The player is never alone in this wacky world, as the fiendish Count Dracula is ever lurking somewhere nearby and he can never resist a cutting taunt or a sharp warning to beware! He also challenges the player each time a puzzle crops up and obligingly gives some good tips on how to solve the problem.
The game is populated with every conceivable creature. A hungry sea monster, a headless-horseman who, of course, is in dire need of a head; as well as numerous skeletons and gargoyles, a Frankenstein's monster and all sorts of other twisted critters. Of course, they are all crazy characters, but there is some shock value in their antics so it may not be suitable for sensitive children. For the rest, however, it is a quest they will have lots of fun completing.
Dracula's Secret comprises one CD and it plays directly from the disc. It is mouse controlled with a pointing hand icon for movement and a grasping hand for actions. The playing area is almost full-screen except for a row of icons at the bottom which allow easy access to the inventory, the map, game hints, the game 'help' screen, as well as the save/restore menu. Disappointingly, there is no text for the hints or for the game dialogue. There are, however, three difficulty levels making it playable for a range of age groups.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1997.
All rights reserved.
System requirements (minimum):
486/33, 8MB RAM, 640 x 480, 256 colours, 2x CD ROM, Win 3.1x, MS DOS 5.0 (runs under Win 95), 8 bit Soundblaster or compatible sound card, Mouse, speakers. Runs from CD ROM
Also available for the Mac.