Staying true to its Kickstarter pitch, the further we get to play through Bloodstained, the more entrenched in the series’ past it feels.
I always hate comparing games in development or just about to release to established titles, especially great games that stand the test of time. It’s a little bit different for Koji Igarashi’s Bloodstained, as his work on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night very much bleeds into his latest title. It’s what the crowd of fans funded him to do all those years ago, and it’s hard to argue that you’re not getting what you paid for.
The latest E3 2018 demo (which has been made available for select Kickstarter backers today) takes place just after the boat demo available last year, exploring more of the castle adventures that Miriam and friends will explore. Bloodstained is completely 3D modeled (including characters and enemies), but shot in the 2.5D style for parallax sidescrolling adventure.
This game blends RPG and beat-em-up mechanics in a very familiar way. Enemies you destroy often drop gold pieces or items such as pieces of equipment, potions or even weapons. They are scattered throughout the castle grounds on a variety of platforms, including places that are hard to reach or impossible at first glance. You can even unlock secret rooms by attacking weak walls, often finding treasure.
Miriam has been infused with crystals as part of her backstory, allowing her to infuse the life force of random enemies that drop them by stabbing herself in the heart. It provides her with special attacks such as ranged projectiles, special maneuvers or support features, effectively enhancing her combat options against demonic creatures on the ground and in the air.
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Though you’re outfitted with an epee-like sword, Bloodstained offers a variety of weapon types, including a gun, broadsword and even a whip. Finding them is either randomly found on enemies or in chests, and it takes a simple stop to the menu system to outfit yourself and upgrade stats such as attack, defense and others.
Everything about Bloodstained screams side-scrolling Castlevania RPGs to the point where you have to wonder if someone is stenciling the entire RPG experience over. Combat has that familiar pace to it, where enemy hits are simple and repetitive within the confines of the weapon. Just like skeletons and medusa heads of the past, there are basic enemies that impede your progress and flying trolls that aim to knock you out mid-jump.
There’s a narrative hook focused around another demon with like powers, and the game’s environment looks that of a medieval European village. Characters have classic, decadent outfits and are accompanied by mood-appropriate, gothic-style music.
The point I’m trying to make is that nothing in Bloodstained feels wholly original or unique and that it seems to be the work of an allusion to the games of the past. You may find that enjoyable; I’m certainly agreeable to the style of gameplay that harkens back to one of the greatest games of all time.
Still, it’s been more than two decades since that game released, and the advancements in the genre do not seem to be leaps and bounds better since then. Though most of the game uses 3D models, the textures and environmental design of the backgrounds and objects look simple and familiar. Visual fidelity continues to be a weak spot.
Bloodstained targets a particular style of gameplay and hopes you can look past the sum of its parts. People paid to get a Symphony of the Night game but with Miriam, and we experienced exactly what backers came to expect.