AKUJI THE DEMON / E. Hashimoto / PC
There's an obscure game by Konami called Kid Dracula; it's sort of a parody version of Castlevania, much like Parodius is to their Gradius series. Akuji the Demon is what I imagine Kid Dracula would be like had Konami given it a Symphony Of The Night-style treatment.
Too many italicized game references for you? OK, picture this - Akuji is a non-linear, side-scrolling adventure developed as freeware by Japanese designer E. Hashimoto. D-Boy has made a translation patch of it, so that all us round-eyed gaijins can fully enjoy it. You play as a cute little demon that has been imprisoned by some typical sword-wielding hero. Your goal is to recover your nine special powers, take the Hero down and escape the cavern he's trapped you in.
Instead of being divided into levels, Akuji lets you go back and forth through the entirety of the game world as you please. However, certain areas are blocked off to you until you find a certain power (such as wall jumping or double jumping) which you need to overcome an obstacle preventing you from going down that path. If you'll forgive a few more game references, it's similar in structure to the Metroid games, and also in gameplay. As well as dashing and jumping, you shoot fireballs at the enemy, and will unlock some more weapons and abilities as you play further into the game.
The game is a bit short ... well, it's very short, having only about three hours of gameplay time at most. It's fun while it lasts, though, and the play control is very solid.
Only real issue I had was with the music. The game uses MIDI files for its music, and for some reason plays them at an incredibly blaring volume. The in-game sound adjustment did not seem to adjust the sound effects and the music at the same rate, and I ended up having to turn it all the way down plus turn my Windows master volume down to just a sliver above being off to get the music to a level that didn't rupture my eardrums and wake up my neighbors (with headphones on!). The music quality was OK, kind of a bouncy jazzy style that fits with the game's cutesy theme, but the end result was that I had to basically play the game without being able to hear the sound effects at all.
That wasn't that big of an annoyance though, and certainly not something to stop me from recommending this otherwise excellent piece of freeware - Castlevania fans in particular should really get a kick out of it.
* Gameplay Video