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Castlevania: Bloodlines Review

Castlevania: Bloodlines came out for the Sega Genesis in 1994, and takes place during World War I, which is only really relevant in level 4 where you fight soldier skeletons. Like Castlevania III and Rondo of Blood, you have access to an alternate playable character, which is only really relevant in level 3 where they’re forced down different paths, since they play very similarly to each other, compared to the highly diverse styles of the previous games. The goal is, like always, to kill Dracula, who is this time being resurrected by his niece, who is using the souls of dead soldiers from the war that she started. The plot sort of reminds me of those superhero propaganda comics, or the Looney Tunes cartoons where Bugs Bunny tricks Hitler. Also, it’s contained entirely in the manual for the game and demo mode, which makes it kind of confusing as to why you’re fighting some random chick who turns into a snake in between the Death and Dracula battles, but hey, whatever. As always, the plot isn’t really the point: what’s important here, is showing Dracula who’s the fucking boss.

Your options for hero are John Morris, descendant of Quincey Morris from the Dracula novel (who is, in this continuity, a descendant of the Belmonts) and Eric Lecarde, a spear-wielding Spaniard out for revenge. John can, for some odd reason, whip in five directions, but only while jumping. When he’s standing you just have the normal side to side, but while aerial he can whip up at an angle as well as down, which is, as far as I can tell, never useful. Whipping up at an angle seems to only have been included because he can swing from any roof, much in the way that Simon could swing from hooks in Castlevania IV. The problem is that while those hooks were mostly placed thoughtfully, there’s never really a reason to actually swing from the ceiling in this game, except for when it’s required. All it does is make you move forward really fast, which is usually a bad idea in Castlevania since you can’t see what’s coming up, and prevent you from attacking, which is usually a bad idea in Castlevania since it’s a game where almost all your interaction with the world is through attacking. So the real use here is that a lot of the bosses like to hover around the top of the screen. Being able to whip straight up would make them trivial, but only being able to whip at an angle makes them a bit more engaging than the usually breezy bosses of Super Castlevania IV. The bosses, for their part, mostly feel fantastic, but I’ll get to that. Eric, on the other hand, can spear up and down while standing, but can’t hit at angles. They share the same set of subweapons, taken down to just the holy water, axe, and an ordinary, completely-not-cross-shaped boomerang. This is really fine, since the knife was redundant and weak compared to the cross anyway, but the boomerang has basically the same range as your whip, so we lost the screen-wide offensive capabilities completely.

Well, not really, since the subweapons also have alternate versions, something I wasn’t aware of until accidentally firing it off. It’s a great addition, since it increases your number of available options at every point, but it also burns through hearts quickly and doesn’t really do much additional damage. It’s nice, but the odd balance really prevents it from ever being used except in the most dire of circumstances. Since the alternate powers of subweapons usually hit different areas of the screen then the basic attack, they’re useful for areas of levels when you have the wrong weapon. The problem is, like in Super Castlevania IV, the levels are pretty easy to just tear through without much fear, unlike the original game. It’s not even really necessary to be clever with the subweapons since you can just destroy everything. It’s a bit better here, since your whip range and hittable screen space never gets as crazy as IV’s, but it still manages to make a lot of the game a bit more trivial than it ought to be.

The problems start to arise when, despite your immense power in relation to the enemies, a lot of the time you’re just going to be dying to the traditional platformer death of a missed jump. Enemies also have quite a penchant for knocking you backwards into pits, which really highlights how oddly weak they are. You can take a ton of hits, just as long as you don’t take them with your back to a bottomless hole. It’s like your health bar doesn’t even matter when you’re playing a normal level, since the only thing that really kills you is instant deaths anyway. Also, the game’s multiple difficulty levels don’t matter in the same vein. You might have more health, but a single pit can kill you regardless of the difficulty. It only really comes into play during bosses. The game feels really good when there’s no pits around, though. It’s got all the accessibility of Rondo, though it is, understandably, not quite as good. The biggest real problem, aside from the pits thing, is that it has some conveyance issues. There’s a part with spinning guillotine gears, but nothing really indicates that they’ll do damage to you. My first interaction with them was walking face-first into one like a moron, since I didn’t know it would hurt me. Some enemies are also invincible during parts of their animation with no indication or reason as to why, and a lot of boss attacks, despite being telegraphed, all look the same. Dracula’s first form has three separate attacks, but he raises his arm the same way for all three of them, and after that they come out too fast for you to react. I also took two headlong jumps that I couldn’t possibly have made because I didn’t know John’s jump physics, because I wasn’t really presented with a lot of opportunities to take long jumps. Also, what I was really supposed to do there was use the whip to swing across the ceiling, but nothing in the actual game tells you you can even do that. It’s a lot of little things like that which hold Bloodlines back from being a fantastic game, since it really does feel so good when it’s in form. Dying probably also hurts a lot more than it did in the original game, considering that unlike there, this game has limited continues. In Castlevania I, game over just meant doing the level again, but in Bloodlines it can mean doing the whole game again. There’s a password system, but the passwords actually encode not only your remaining continues, but your remaining lives as well—which kind of makes sense, since having limited continues but passwords that refresh them is a bit silly. Why not just have infinite continues, in that case? Of course, I’m left wondering why this game even deviated from the series standard of infinite continues at all.

There’s now a midboss in every level, too, which can really do a lot of damage and don’t offer a full heal. There were midbosses back in Castlevania III, but they seemed a lot more manageable than here. The bosses are, like Rondo, pretty much all about good dodging, and they mostly feel great, but they go by really fast compared to Rondo. It must be all that blast processing. Bosses are quick, attack fast, and tend to fly all over the screen instead of mostly staying on the ground. Good dodges are possible, but the balance tends towards battles of attrition. Aside from a few situations, you mostly don’t worry about getting hit. The game’s a lot easier compared to the original games or even Rondo, if all you’re looking at is an individual encounter. The lower damage is good on a long, multi-part boss like Dracula, since it lowers the amount of punishment for a minor mistake, but trivializes a fight like the Machine Golem who is easy to dodge anyway. I really enjoy the battles against Ridley in the Metroid series, since they’re usually just straight up punching missiles into his ugly dragon face, but that’s just one battle out of the entire game. In Bloodlines, the reverse is true: only one battle is really about tight dodging, despite that they’re all designed to be like that. Still, fighting them does feel great. Your whip makes intense sounds, sends bosses reeling, and usually does an obscene amount of damage for some reason. It’s just that the game’s pretty much a cakewalk until it gets to the final stages, when things really start to bring the pain. Which, understandably, is when things really start to get a lot more interesting. The decreased overall difficulty is probably part of the reason the continues are limited, but all that really means is that after you get good at a level, you just have to replay it a few times without falling into any pits to make a good password.

Overall, Bloodlines isn’t really a memorable experience. It’s a good game, sure, and it’s fun, but it’s got its little problems. Nothing in the game is as striking as fighting the room-sized third form of Dracula in Castlevania III, or even as epic as jumping across the chandeliers in Castlevania IV. The bosses are fun and take some learning, but hell, there’s a million fun games that came out on the SNES and Genesis that aren’t remembered as classics. The quality of the “feeling” I’m talking about that makes, say, the Rondo of Blood crow’s nest battle with Death such a memorable experience is oddly missing here. I’m not really sure what it even is? Maybe it’s just that those other games had better conveyance and presentation. But it’s not like this game really has a lack of quality in the presentation, it’s just a bit different. Dracula’s later forms basically just fly around the screen, same as Death. It definitely lacks a lot of the wow factor in Super Castlevania IV, Rondo, or the later games in the series. The 3D look of the Clockwork Golem or the spinning tail of the Gargoyle are cool from a technical standpoint, but they’re far less intimidating to me than Rondo’s minotaur or Super Castlevania IV’s Slogra. They’re just a bit silly, maybe. There’s certainly striking elements, like the upside-down room, but the bulk of the game is largely forgettable. Fun, sure, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’d come to expect a bit more of Castlevania by the time I got here. I’ll give it a 7 out of 10, though at this point I feel like I can’t really even rate these games in a numerical style. I recommend this game to people who’re looking for some fun and not really too concerned about playing the most brilliant game ever. I mean, ultimately a game’s good if it’s fun, and most all of the Castlevania games are that. This one feels good in general, but there’s something missing. I’m not sure what to call it beyond punch or pizazz, but it’s a surprisingly important factor in taking a merely enjoyable game to the next level. The game is, as far as I can tell, only available for the Genesis itself.

Oh, and this is the first soundtrack in the series to feature the talents of the amazing Michiru Yamane, who is most well-known for being the composer for Symphony of the Night’s utterly jaw-dropping score. The music is, quite understandably, fantastic, though it’s mostly remixes of previous games’ songs. The sound effects leave something to be desired, but man, the music’s great.

1 Comment

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  1. Mark says
    October 23, 2012, 11:04 AM

    I can’t agree more with the comment about the sound effects VS the music. The music is displayed about as beautifully as the YM2612 chip would allow for a system like that. The Yamaha chip was used in a lot of different gaming devices around that time for it’s speed, accuracy, and inexpensive nature. However, on this game, and a lot of Genesis games, the sound effects are output through a wave generated by the TI SN76489 chip. It was actually integrated on one side to the video processor, and it’s capability in terms of clock was actually determined by the input from the video processor-side. clock speed and quality aren’t directly proportionate, but needless to say, this was a shortcut that was taken into account for the Genesis’ design.

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