Over the past few years the dual-stick shooter has had an impressive renaissance, what with the release of must-own games like Geometry Wars and Everyday Shooter. But while the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 had more than enough dual-stick shooters to satisfy even the most hardcore gamer, the PSP sat off to the side with barely any worth talking about. Thankfully Chillingo has solved the PSP's long dual-stick shooter dry spell. Dracula: Undead Awakening definitively proves that Sony's handheld can play a mean dual-stick shooter if given the chance ... even if the system doesn't technically have dual sticks.
In Dracula: Undead Awakening you don't play the world's most famous vampire, instead you play a vampire hunter looking to kill as many monstrous bad guys as he can. There's absolutely no story to be found here, just a series of arenas overflowing with almost unlimited bad guys for you to shoot. Think of this game as Geometry Wars re-skinned to resemble the classic Universal horror movies we all watched growing up. You fight waves of monsters of all shapes and sizes, from lizard people to werewolves to ghouls to ghosts. If it goes bump in the night then chances are you're going to be shooting it full of holes in this PSP Minis game.
For $4.99 you get three different arenas and four game modes. Right from the get-go you have access to all of the levels, which includes the Grave Park (an abandoned graveyard), Frozen Earth (a snow-covered forest) and Castle Hall (the interior of a creepy temple). These levels aren't huge; it won't take you long to walk from one side to the other. They are large enough to fit an overwhelming amount of bad guys, so it won't take long for these levels to start to feel claustrophobic. The only way you'll survive is if you blast your way through the hordes of ghoulish fiends.
Although you don't have a large variety of levels, you are given a nice selection of different gameplay modes. The game's most basic mode is Survivor, which has you fighting against an endless supply of bad guys until you eventually die. For those looking for something a little more extreme, you get Super Survivor, a mode that changes the rules and adds extreme power-ups to the mix. Wave Attack pits you against, you guessed it, waves of bad guys. The big difference is that you can buy weapons, power-ups and health between these waves (assuming you have amassed enough money). The final mode is Rush, which lets you choose a high powered weapon with unlimited ammo and take on an aggressive gang of bloody thirsty monsters.
No matter what mode you choose, the game always gives you a good arsenal of weapons, including the standard guns, rifles, shotguns, crossbows, flame throwers, etc. Better yet, you can upgrade your character throughout the course of battle. If you kill enough bad guys you will earn special upgrades, which you can choose from at any time. Just by pushing the select button you can choose from four different upgrades, including a longer life bar, better reload speeds, extra points, more powerful weapons and so on. However, not every bonus is worth taking. Some upgrades come with downsides, including loss of health, downgraded weapons and even the loss of your only life. Be careful what you wish for in the middle of combat.
Of course, none of this stuff matters if the gameplay doesn't work. I was initially worried that a dual-stick shooter would feel out of place on a system with only one stick, but the developers have done an excellent job crafting the game for Sony's handheld. In a lot of ways the game feels like the Smash TV and Total Carnage ports on the Super NES; you move around with the left analog nub and fire using the four face buttons. As luck would have it, the four PSP face buttons are in a perfect shape for this type of game, giving you the ability to shoot in eight different directions.While this control scheme definitely gets the job done, it pales in comparison to the proper two-stick solution seen on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. To compensate for the lack of true 360 degree aim, Dracula: Undead Awakening offers an option to switch the controls around, so that you're using the face buttons to walk and the analog nub to shoot all around you. If you can get passed the learning curve of having the controls switched, you may find that this mode gives you more accurate aim. Unfortunately I couldn't get used to the optional flipped controls, so I spent all of my time using the workable eight-way face buttons.
Like all PSP Minis titles, you can play the game on your PlayStation 3. In a perfect world the PS3 version would be the way to play, since you could use the system's dual stick and experience the game how it was intended to be played. Unfortunately this is not a perfect world. Instead this is a world where the PlayStation 3's dual sticks are mapped into the game, so even console gamers will have to use the face buttons to aim. I doubt the developers can patch this in, but in my opinion they made a huge mistake by not offering a way to use the PS3's two analog sticks.
The game's graphics are surprisingly strong for a PSP Minis title. There's no question that this is the best looking Minis title I've seen yet, full of detail, creepy arenas and a nice variety of enemies to shoot. Best of all, the weapons look cool and do an appropriate amount of damage. Granted, the game is nothing more than a top-down dual-stick shooter, but this game looks a lot better than your usual $5 PSP game.
Dracula: Undead Awakening doesn't pretend to break new ground, instead it offers a compelling mix of fun action with creepy monsters. Chillingo proves that there's room for a mindless dual-stick shooter with a cool theme, especially when you add in all of the cool weapons, great gameplay and solid graphics. If you're a fan of this style of game and don't mind taking down a few vampires, then you'll definitely want to sink your teeth into this budget priced action game.