Saturday, August 18, 2012

Castlevania: Bloodlines For Sega Genesis

Castlevania: Bloodlines is the only Castlevania game released for the Sega Genesis, and canonically, it’s a bit of an oddball. Set in 1917, it attempts to incorporate the events of Bram Stoker’s novel into the Castlevania storyline. It’s an odd direction to take the series, and not particularly effective given how different the love-struck horndog Bram Stoker Dracula is from the all-powerful-master-of-darkness Castlevania Dracula. The game stars John Morris, the son of Quincey Morris from the novel and heir to the Belmont lineage. As a young boy, he witnessed his father commit the ultimate sacrifice to stop Dracula. Now, 10 years later, he and his hetero life-partner, Eric Lecarde, seek to stop the Countess Elizabeth Bartley (herself a reference to real-life crazy person Elizabeth Báthory) from resurrecting Dracula yet again. 

The game begins in Dracula’s castle, in a nifty redux of level 1 from the original Castlevania. From there, the game heads to exotic locales, like a sinking temple in Greece, The Leaning Tower of Pisa and a munitions plant in Germany. Both John & Eric are playable characters, though not at the same time; deferring my dreams of a two-player co-op Castlevania game yet again. John uses the classic Belmont Whip, which he can aim in several directions, and use like a grappling hook to swing over gaps. Eric packs a lance that be spun around him, stabbed in several directions or used as an uber-pogo stick to vault himself high into the air. John and Eric can occasionally use these unique abilities to reach hidden areas or take alternate paths that the other can’t reach, but for the most part, they don’t affect the course of the game. Eric is a much more versatile character and more fun to play. Unlike John, he doesn’t have to be jumping to attack up, down or diagonally. His lance, though slower to attack, has a greater range than John’s whip. Eric’s pogo ability is both a potent attack and an effective way to escape danger, while John’s swing move leaves him vulnerable until he lands.

As with previous Castlevania games, whipping candles releases power-ups, like the three (yep, only three) special weapons, red & blue gems that take the place of hearts and power those weapons, upgrades to your lance/whip, and extra lives. Hidden in certain breakable walls are delicious chops of walled-up, fossilized pork that restore your health and spell books that either grant you a whole mess of gems or imbue your weapon with holy flames and turn you into a vamp-slaughtering powerhouse… until you take a hit, and the effect disappears. The levels are pretty long, each one sporting a mini-boss and a main boss, but there are only six of them. On Easy, the entire game can be played through in maybe a couple of hours, but if you don’t feel like it, Castlevania: Bloodlines lets you save your game… using the worst password system since Guardian Legend! Man, I hate passwords.

Castlevania: Bloodlines really dishes out the 16-bit spectacle. Konami used every graphical trick in the Genesis’ book to give the player such eye candy as towering, multi-jointed bosses, reflective water, and a Tower of Pisa that sways back & forth as you scale it. It’s easily one of the best-looking Genesis games, though at the cost of some pretty bad slow-down from time to time. The in-game music is equally superb. It was written by Michiru Yamane, who would go on to create the legendary musical score for Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night. It harkens back to previous Castlevania games, but without turning into a 16-bit needle drop. Unfortunately, the sound effects aren’t nearly as impressive. With few exceptions, they are some of the flattest, least-convincing and most uninspired FM-synthesized crap ever bleated out of the Genesis. The Sonic games, Lightening Force and even Konami’s own Contra: Hard Corps have terrific sound effects, so why Castlevania: Bloodlines comes up so short in this regard is beyond me.

Then again, that’s pretty trivial compared Castlevania: Bloodlines’ stiff controls. Anyone who’s played the NES games knows too well that Simon Belmont moved and jumped like he kept a crucifix up his ass. Well, that same fate has befallen John and Eric because like their forbearer, they both chug slowly across the screen, and neither character can change direction mid-jump—a serious flaw for a game so reliant on tricky jumps and quick movements. The fact that Konami had already perfected Castlevania’s control scheme with Super Castlevania three years prior to Bloodlines makes this backslide both inexcusable and totally baffling. 

If you’re a fan of the series and you prefer the simple, linear style of older Castlevania games to the Metroid-like RPGs they would become, Castlevania: Bloodlines is worth playing for both the nostalgia and the spectacle. Staying true to its oddball nature, Castlevania: Bloodlines has not seen any direct sequels or re-releases, so your best bet is to snag a copy off eBay and dust off the ol’ Genesis. 

Thanks for reading my review. Next week, Bub & Bob buffalo baddies with bevies of bubbles in Bubble Bobble and Bust-A-Move!

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