Castlevania vs. Mega Man – Round SiXX (Rondo of Blood vs. Mega Man X)
Our final pair in the battle of the 16-bit systems pits the only TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine title with the first game of the Mega Man X series. I admit this is an odd pair since they’re not even on the same system, but there sadly isn’t a Mega Man game on the TurboGrafx, so I had to make-do with this duo instead.
Now, after belly aching and moaning about the lack of innovation from either series in the 16-bit generation, I’m sure most will be happy to hear that these two titles finally did bring something new to the plate. Akumajou Dracula X: Rondo of Blood pits Richter Belmont against Dracula in an alternating set of levels where the player has the opportunity to save his fiancée and take down the villains once and for all. Mega Man X is set in the distant future of the original Mega Man series and follows a robot called X fighting a war against robots who intend to destroy mankind.
Mega Man X outwardly follows the familiar pattern of the Mega Man series with a set of levels that can be played in any order, where the player gathers new weapons and abilities. However, the gameplay is much more intense and action-packed, with X zipping through levels with a dash ability and climbs walls to avoid obstacles and enemies. The gameplay is considerably more amped-up from the classic series. The player also gathers upgrades to X’s abilities, such as his energy meter, his armour and arm-cannon, giving X an ever-increasing arsenal of skills.
Rondo of Blood brings back the alternate paths which the player can take through the game as well as the alternate story-endings seen in Castlevania 2 and 3, which was a good move and adds a new level of replayability that was lacking from titles like Super Castlevania 4 and Bloodlines. You also have an alternate playable character, who again needs to be unlocked. The game’s gameplay improvements are considerably more mild but they do add a lot to the game-mechanic. Now, some might feel that Richter missing the eight-directional whipping is a hinderance, but what the game offers instead in my view more than makes up for it. Rondo of Blood introduced the Item Crash, where a player can burn through their hearts to use a more powerful version of their special items against enemies and bosses. This feature isn’t just a neat little gimmick, it’s absolutely vital to defeating certain bosses in the game.
Both games again suffer from brutal difficulty, although in Mega Man X’s case this rather takes the form of a nigh-impossible final boss-fight for which the player must collect nearly all of X’s weaponry and upgrades. Rondo of Blood is more traditionally merciless with enemies appearing from everywhere and boss fights being quite relentless (one level in the game is actually nothing but a gauntlet of bosses). However, I don’t really hold the difficulty against either of these games. In Mega Man X’s case, the difficulty spike does come rather suddenly towards the game’s end, but it gives the player the incentive to scour levels for secrets. Rondo of Blood is more consistent with its difficulty but helps out with a save game feature.
Now, I could praise Rondo of Blood’s presentation and higher production quality, but that would be incredibly unfair considering the game came out on the PC Engine’s CD-Rom drive. Even so, Mega Man X doesn’t fall behind with its presentation either. Its cutscenes aren’t as pretty but it has easily the best soundtrack of the entire franchise.
Yet again, I find it incredibly difficult to pick a winner. Rondo of Blood is maybe milder with its new features but they are so central to the gameplay that they can’t be ignored. Mega Man X blossomed into its own successful series so its new approach clearly was a winner. Rondo of Blood was forced into relative obscurity for many years, having never seen a Western release on its original platform, but I think that’s not a fair metric to evaluate these two games, considering Rondo of Blood constitutes the peak of the classic CV gameplay style. So, I’m once again forced to make this a tie…
Castlevania X – Rondo of Blood: Item crash and all the accompaniments of the classic series makes this a whole-heartedly excellent game.
Mega Man X: Breathed new life into the franchise by amping up the gameplay and became a succesful series in its own right.