While not without its charms, its a very shallow experience
A young vampire prince is the hero in The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang, an action RPG sequel to the Japan-only PC-Engine platformer Makai Prince Dorabocchan (1990). In this game, the young vampire prince Spike McFang is joined by his friend Camelia to rescue their parents from Rudy's father, the evil Von Hessler, who threatens to take over the land of Vladamasco.
Like most action RPGs of the 16-bit era, the game takes place from an overhead perspective. Spike can move in eight directions and has two primary attacks: a short-range spin attack that damages foes nearby; and a long-range attack where he throws his hat like a boomerang. Simple though it may be, this system is quite enjoyable as the spin attack hits enemies all around you, and the hat acts pretty much like the magic boomerang from the Zelda series. Spike can also jump, but this doesn’t play too much of a role aside from one or two instances.
As you clobber enemies you’ll gain experience and level up, which increases your attack strength, defense, and health (depicted as tomatoes – I guess Spike prefers tomato juice over blood). You’ll also pick up coins which can be spent on new hats which boost its power (such as a homing ability at the highest level) and cards that act as single-use items. The most useful cards refill your health, with the rest acting as offensive or defensive magic spells.
Spike is accompanied by one of his two companions for most of the game, but they can’t be controlled by a second player. Instead, their actions are controlled entirely by the computer, and they aren’t very effective fighters. A cooperative mode similar to Secret of Mana or Pocky & Rocky would have been appreciated.
Aside from the fun combat, the art direction is definitely the game’s high point. The characters and enemies are drawn in a cute and comical style that really sets it apart from most other games in the genre. For example some of the first enemies you’ll encounter are cloves of garlic that walk around and spew garlic breath in your direction, and the rest of the enemies have fun personalities too.
The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang suffers from its lop-sided difficulty. On the one hand, the game is super linear and is virtually devoid of any puzzles to solve. You’ll never be at a loss for where to go next, and dead-ends prevent you from exploring off the beaten path. The feeling of being hemmed in is further reinforced by the extremely simple areas in the latter half of the game.
On the other hand, the bosses can be surprisingly tough if you haven’t taken the time to level up a bit. As a result you’ll probably end up dying if you go directly to each boss, and while you can learn their patterns it’s helpful to do some old-fashioned level grinding along the way. It’s a tedious process that will slow you down and hamper your enjoyment of the game, but it doesn’t take too long in the grand scheme of things since this is a very short game.
Sadly what could have been a great game is sabotaged by what I imagine was a budget shortfall. The game starts off on a high note with great graphics and a relatively complex first level, but begins to feel more and more rushed and ultimately incomplete by the end of the game. The last dungeon literally consists of a couple of rooms where you fight three bosses in a row, which is disappointing to say the least.
As it stands, The Twisted Tales of Spike McFang lasts at most 5~6 hours, and you’ll probably spend at least an hour of that level grinding. The bosses are pretty well designed with interesting attack patterns, and the graphics are indeed charming, but it otherwise falls far short of its contemporaries. This is a real shame as the core components could easily have shouldered a much larger quest.