I was very excited to play Castlevania Bloodlines for the Sega
Genesis. Fans of Super Castlevania IV for the SNES almost universally
blasted it...technologically it was almost a backwards step. But if you look at this game as its own
entity, Castlevania Bloodlines is actually quite excellent.
The story is told in a format similar to old horror movies (with film
spokes on the edge of the screen during the intro.) Count Dracula's
undead niece, Elizabeth Bartley, is trying to bring back her uncle to
wreak havoc on the world once again. John Morris, descendant of
the Belmont clan, and his friend Eric Lecarde set off to destroy
the evil countess. While John wields the traditional whip, Eric
wields an extremely cool long spear. Each character has their own skill: John can
swing on all ceilings, while Eric can twirl around his spear, and use
it to pole vault to high places.
Anyone familar with the Castlevania
games will feel at home...walk forward, destroy candles to yield jewels
(instead of hearts...I've no idea why they decided to change it now) and
kill evil denizens of hell. You'll find the same old sub-weapons here (minus the dagger) with a special
twist from the Dracula X games...you can use an "item crash" which will
execute a powerful attack with whatever special weapon you have. Of course,
it eats up more hearts. There's also a neat convenience:
candles with items look like the normal dual-candles you're used to seeing, but
weapon candles are thick. Thus there's an ability to distinguish between the two,
in case you don't want a new weapon.
The game starts in Dracula's old castle
in Translyvania (the first part's a recreation of the first level from
Castlevania 1), then travels across the rest of Europe. You'll
travel to an Atlantis Shrine, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a
munitions factory in Germany, the Palace of Versailles in France, and finally Castle
Prosperina in England. Yes, there's only six levels, but they tend to be on
the long side, and, unlike other Castlevania games, you only get two continues
to get through all of them! I find the password feature rather unnecessary,
since the game isn't very long, but it's there if you need it. The game has selectable difficulty levels that
are fairly well balanced. The Easy mode is good for most players, while
the Normal and Expert modes (the latter becoming available after beating
the game on Normal) will provide a decent challenge for veterans.
There's the usual variety of cool bosses to fight too...the one of the first
ones is a huge hellhound whose shreaks break the window glass. Later on
is a humoungous animated knight whose limbs fall off a la Monty Python
and the Holy Grail. There's also a huge rock Golem that's bigger
than the height of the screen, demonic moths, and a possessed monster
that's made of nothing but cogs and gears.
Castlevania Bloodlines is actually
the most recent game on the Castlevania timeline...it's set in 1917.
This is one of the reasons that some people don't like this installment;
much of the series' gothic atmosphere is lost. To tell the truth though,
it really never bothered me. Fighting through an ammunition factory with
conveyor belts may seem corny, but this is circa World War I.
One things I did particularly like about the storyline was how it
tries to tie in with Bram Stoker's Dracula novel. Supposedly John is
the son of Quincey Morris, the American who sacrificed himself to
kill Dracula. The instruction booklet says that John had watched
the final battle from a distance...anyone who's read the book knows that this
doesn't logically make sense, but it's a nice attempt. Also, Elizabeth
Bartley is based on another Transylvania figure by the named of
Countess Bathory. Known as the Blood Countess, she often bathed in
the blood of her slain servants to hope to make her younger. These details
don't have much to do with the actual gameplay, but I've always loved
historical or literary allusions in video games.
This installment goes back to the
more traditional control methods of the first Castlevania games. You can't control
your jump in midair and you can't fling your whip around like Indiana Jones.
John can only whip left and right, but can whip diaganol left
and right while jumping. Eric can use his spear in any direction, except when
jumping. Each character also has their own special attack when their weapon is
upgraded all of the way. The overall look has changed too...all of the sprites are much smaller.
The graphics are fairly good, certainly not as good as SCV4 but fine for a
Genesis. Since Konami was free of Nintendo's silly censhorship rules,
the artists were free to put in a little bit of blood, and nice background
effects like hanging corpses. Many of the bosses are huge and are composed
of many sprites that act together as one entity. There are a whole bunch of neat programming effects to make the Genesis
do things it wasn't designed to do (the swaying tower, for instance, or the rolling
statue head.) One particularly cool use of the graphics is at the top of
the Leaning Tower...you fight a huge gargoyle, and the camera sorts of
rotates around the action. Although these effects look corny compared to what the SNES can do, it's
excellent for the system. The music is excellent, capturing
the Castlevania feel quite well. The sound effects are kinda lame though. They must've picked the
absolute worst whip sound on the face of the earth.
Even though it is kinda step down from Super Castlevania 4, there's enough
in the way of action to make Castlevania Bloodlines an excellent addition
to the series and a fine Genesis action title.