Castlevania: Bloodlines
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Genesis
  • Developer:
    • Konami
  • Publisher:
    • Konami
  • Released:
    • US 03/17/1994
    • JP 03/18/1994
    • UK 03/20/1994
Score: 85%

This review was published on 07/03/2015.

Castlevania: Bloodlines is a side-scrolling platform video game published and developed by Konami for the Sega Genesis and Mega Drive. It was released in North America on March 17, 1994, Japan on March 18, 1994, and Europe on March 20, 1994. The game was called Vampire Killer in Japan and Castlevania: The New Generation in Europe and Australia. This is the only Castlevania game released for the Genesis and Mega Drive. In Japan and North America, the game had a surprisingly large amount of violence, so much so that it was censored for the European and Australian markets. Despite all the blood and gore, this game still managed to get a rating of GA in North America, which stands for General Audiences. The Genesis was just really hardcore, I suppose. There are a lot of standout things about this game and it's also a standout game. While it doesn't get nearly as much recognition as Super Castlevania IV on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Castlevania: Bloodlines is a brilliant game that deserves to be put on the same pedestal.

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The Belmont family has been fighting against the ever reviving Count Dracula for many generations. Eventually, in the year of 1897, Dracula was finally felled by a distant descendant of the Belmont family named Quincey Morris. Peace reigned throughout Europe until June 1914, when the Crown Prince of Austria was assassinated in Sarajevo. This was the catalyst for the First World War, also known as World War I, and sometimes referred to as the Great War. In 1917, an amateur witch named Drolta Tzuentes resurrected Elizabeth Bartley, a vampire countess and the niece of Dracula. The Countess has one goal and one goal only: to resurrect her dead uncle. Following in his father's footsteps, John Morris and his childhood friend, Eric Lecarde, now travel across Europe in an attempt to stop the Countess from completing her macabre mission. Unbeknownst to John, Eric's motivation is one of vengeance, as the Countess turned his girlfriend, Gwendolyn, into a vampire. The story of Castlevania: Bloodlines blurs the lines between reality and fiction in its rampant historical revisionism, which is pretty cool if you're into that sort of thing.

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This is a gorgeous looking and beautiful sounding game, especially for the Genesis. The colors are vibrant, the backgrounds are highly detailed, and the character and enemy sprites look fantastic and are well animated. There are also many special effects used, like reflections, sprite rotations, parallax scrolling, and more. The bosses are huge and constructed out of multi-jointed sprites that make them look truly alive, sometimes to an unsettling degree. If you're a fan of 16-bit visual tricks, then you're in for a real treat. The only visual weakness the game has is that the foreground is, at times, a bit too basic looking. Musically, this game also kills it, with tunes composed by Michiru Yamane, who later worked on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the Sony PlayStation. The sound effects can occasionally be on the grating side, though. Even so, this game is simply off the charts from a visual and audio perspective. It's abundantly clear that the development team behind Castlevania: Bloodlines had truly mastered all facets of the Genesis hardware.

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Unlike most Castlevania games of the time, there are two possible protagonists. You're prompted to choose between John and Eric at the start of the game, and once the choice is made, there is no turning back. Each character controls slightly differently and has moves unique to them. Both characters have the same basic movement capabilities of walking, jumping fixed lengths, and ducking, but their different weapons make them distinct. Morris is equipped with the Vampire Killer, a whip imbued with mystic power that has been passed down the Belmont family for generations, and Eric has the Alcarde, a radical spear. The reach and power of each weapon can be temporarily upgraded by grabbing power-ups. The special ability at John's disposal is utilizing his whip to swing across gaps, not unlike Indiana Jones. On the other hand, Eric is able to thrust his spear forwards, upwards, diagonally upwards, do a midair downwards stab, wave it in a circular pattern to block projectiles, and perform a high jump by launching off the ground with his spear. Honestly, the characters are a little imbalanced, because Eric is all around better than John, except in rare cases. The controls are pretty tight and responsive, though, and controlling either character is a delight.

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What would a Castlevania game be without sub-weapons? A miserable pile of secrets, that's what! Every stage is adorned with many decorative candles that you're able to rudely demolish. In previous games, candles frequently dropped hearts which acted as ammunition for your sub-weapons, but Bloodlines changes them into jewels. Occasionally, candles will drop items besides jewels, most notable of which are the sub-weapons themselves. A nice touch is how the candles that drop sub-weapons usually look different from regular ones now, letting you know whether they're worth going for or not. There are only three sub-weapons in this game and both characters can use them: axes that can be thrown in an overhead arc, bottles of holy water that burst into flame on the ground, and boomerangs that return when thrown. Both the axe and holy water are staples of the series, but the boomerang isn't. The boomerang is basically the same thing as the cross from other Castlevania titles, though. Similar to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine CD, each sub-weapon has a super special attack that wastes more ammunition than normal. There are far less sub-weapons in this game when compared to most other classic Castlevania titles, but they're all useful. The benefit to there being fewer sub-weapons is that you're unlikely to ever end up with something that's useless, like the throwing daggers from previous games. As a result of trimming the fat, the sub-weapon balance is improved.

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There are six stages and they each follow the linear structure of traditional Castlevania. Six may not sound like a lot, but each stage is quite long and divided into multiple segments. First of all, Bloodlines is notable for being one of the first Castlevania games to feature locations outside of Dracula's castle, with most of the stages taking place in different countries around Europe. Countries you'll visit on your journey include Greece, Italy, Germany, France, and even England. You do still start in Dracula's abode, but it's far from the only place to see. It's not all old architecture, either, as one of the stages is a munitions factory. There are plenty of outdoor areas, too. That makes for far more varied environments and results in far more fun. Every stage brings something new and interesting to the table, like the rising water in stage two, the leaning tower in stage three, the conveyer belts and pistons in stage four, etc. Sometimes you can interact with the environment in cool ways, like decapitating a giant statue to create a path forward. The stages are mostly the same regardless of which character you go with, but the paths will sometimes diverge depending on the selected protagonist, giving the game some replay value. The stage design in Bloodlines is piping hot.

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Bosses are back and they've got a bone to pick with you, sometimes literally, as a few are skeletons. All stages have one main boss at the end and one or more sub-bosses anywhere before that. The boss fights themselves are fairly imaginative and feature different ideas without delving into annoying gimmick territory. One interesting boss is a sorcerer that won't attack you at all, instead opting to teleport around the arena while causing the water to rise, and you've got to kill him before you drown. This fight creates a tense James Bond-like scenario that's super rad. Another boss, a gigantic stone golem, has you breaking pieces of its torso until the monster is short enough for you to reach its eye. Then there's a bloody wolf boss that shatters windows in the background by howling, causing the glass shards to fall and injure you. It's also not uncommon to fight a string of bosses in a row, constantly putting you on edge, as you never know what to expect. The boss fights are the hardest parts of the game, but they never feel unfair. Death is the only boss that kind of sucks, because he makes you repeat a few of the old bosses. They may be hard, but the bosses of Bloodlines are enjoyable to fight, due to their refreshing creativity.

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Castlevania: Bloodlines is a marvelous game that will make you marvel at its many marvels. The graphics are astounding, the music is righteous, the controls are consistently concise, the stages are designed competently, and the bosses are imaginatively imaginative. It's also incredibly challenging, but incredibly fair. It hardly matters that this is the only Castlevania game on the Genesis, because it's the only one the console needs. Castlevania: Bloodlines proudly stands alongside Super Castlevania IV as one of the finest Castlevania games ever made. If you have yet to try it, then I recommend you rectify that situation immediately.

Word Count: 1,538

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