Review by xanxus
"The Devil's Night"
For once, Lord Dracula, sent to the blazes of Hell by another pawn bestowed by the Belmont blood, hasn't come back through means beyond human comprehension. Rather, he is preparing to make a baneful reappearance through the aid of Countess Elizabeth Bartley, who is willing to sacrifice humanity for her startling uncle. On the verge of being resurrected, Dracula represents a menace to humanity, a plague that will in time reduce it to mere puppets. The setting is appropriate; Dracula, 'blessed' with Bartley's support, would be finally able to roam about at will, slowly eradicating those who'd ever dream of disagreeing with his views. He'd also kill those who'd agree with him too, I reckon.
Rather, it now seems there are no such Belmont's to oppose Dracula's (or Bartley's -which is which, really?) malicious plans. The Belmont legacy has been wiped out. Their moral duties have been cleansed with time; with no daunting bud to undertake an equally daunting task, it all comes down to a no-win situation.
But two men, very different in aspect, nature, and willingness, have the courage to oppose Dracula. Armed with slightly distinct motives but the same urge to see Dracula die yet another time (presumably to be revived later), both toddle forward through Dracula's castle, impervious to the legions of foes around them.
The first, also the weakest and liable to be a buffoon in a circus, goes about by the not-so-subtle name of John Morris. John is directly related to the Belmont's. He has their whip, and he has most of their abilities. He doesn't have the name though. But really, what's in a name? Dracula doesn't go about keeping logbooks of who defied him. If that was the case, he'd have a damn long biography to publish, should anyone be willing to sit down with the Lord in a room. John saw Dracula's demise years ago. Today, it is up to him to ensure humanity can go on doing whatever it does best.
He is helped in his daring quest by Eric LeCarde, French by name and Spanish by origin. Eric, who was there with John when Dracula literally saw the light, manages to totally crush John in both style and effectiveness. Eric yields a spear, a damn long spear that seemingly never ends. As opposed to John's a standard one-directional whip, he can also thrust it upwards and diagonally. Blessed with unorthodox training, he is capable of jumping and aiming down to kill foes that try to take him by surprise.
On the other hand, John is able to swing from platforms or to dangle there until he figures out what to do next. As long as it's up, it's flat and it's protruding, fear not; it will aid John to avoid enemies. In a weird way, John is also surprisingly capable of multi-directional whipping. When he's airborne, he mysteriously acquires enough skill to start whipping as per his wishes. Unfortunately, even this doesn't quite manage to rival Eric's exuberant vaults as the latter takes a position only familiar to circus artists. At least, this circus-related aspect is one thing that John and Eric share.
John and Eric are so different in style that Bloodlines actually becomes two different games, one for each of our two protagonists. While Eric is obviously well above John in terms of capabilities, Morris, as a descendant of the Belmont, is quite capable of taking care of himself. His whipping skills enable him to take on any foes and while he does move about in a bizarre fashion, his singular attitude is impressive. Eric, on the other hand, tries to stay cool in any situation, his cape swaying peculiarly behind him.
As I already mentioned, this divergence in play style grants Bloodlines two journeys. Indeed, while they are most of the time asked to trudge through the same six levels and to settle their scores with the same evil entities, some parts are specially designed such that each character automatically goes through a definite path. At times, John and Eric will find they are 'doomed' to making the most of their abilities by grudgingly acknowledging the favors thrown upon them. Granted, it's not like they have the choice either. I doubt Eric can use his spear to dangle from a tiny, almost invisible ledge.
Logically, this exciting state of affairs contributes to give Bloodlines a greater lifespan. Given how Konami's brilliant title boasts only six stages, which, I'll admit, are quite exhaustive, it definitely needs those. Playing as prosy John, as opposed to Eric's natural prowess, does enable you to see everything from a different perspective.
Regardless of their differences, John and Eric do enjoy the same game physics. Candles, which are found almost everywhere, will vanish to leave weapons such as boomerangs or other items. More importantly, these will more often than not yield gems, which you need to be able to use the limited weapons. In this sense, the game is more than helpful; it coincidentally grants you the definite weapons you may need soon afterwards. And you will need those; Bloodlines professes to be a tough game. In spite of its mere six stages, the legions of foes around you undoubtedly superbly accomplish their role.
Long-time enemies (Long time, no see!) such as Medusa Heads and the ever-crumbling skeletons barge in as if their lives depended on their entrance. Bloodlines flashes out as being frantic and its atmosphere is wicked. Sadly, the same cannot be said about most of the bosses. While indelicate and challenging at first, they nevertheless become easily predictable after some time such that defeating them becomes a piece of cake. Thankfully, the last bosses, Dracula in particular, fail to have so easily discernible patterns. They will require you to be really dedicated if you wish to defeat them.
The true ingenuity of Bloodlines lies however in its designs. The settings, for once, allow you to really explore a whole new world, as you are no longer confined to the mazes of Dracula's castle. Bloodlines allows you to visit a munitions factory in Germany, complete with more skeletons and a goofy boss guarding it. Within it, you will also meet an old acquaintance in the Clock Tower. Of course, one could wonder what it's doing there, but this is no time to think anyway.
The game begins at a leisurely pace with yet another trip to Dracula's castle, which, by now, is in dire need of renovation. As you take this familiar path, it dawns on you how Dracula never bothered to clean up the mess the Belmont's left so many years ago. Everything is crumbling; the later parts actually see you slowly ascending the steep edges until you literally touch the moon. Once you are done here, how about a trip to Greece, which will involve a hell lot of jumping?
To talk about Bloodlines without mentioning the third stage would be like sleeping with Pamela Anderson without touching her breasts at least once. The Leaning Tower of Pisa remains one of the most vivid, exciting stages I have ever seen in a game. With the tower malevolently leaning in both directions at will, Eric (or John, to a lesser extent) needs to show his jumping skills as judiciously-placed ledges allow him to avoid falling to his demise. At the same time, Medusa Heads swarm in below you and require more than one thrust of that spear (or whip, to an equally lesser extent) to disappear.
The French Versailles Palace, with its distorted chandeliers, impresses with the way the dimmed light flashes onto you. Here, a genuine spiral staircase requires different approaches from John or Eric. John will find he needs to ascend it, which is easier said that done. Eric gets away with high risks, as he is only asked to descend it. Of course, he must at the same time deal with all those Skull Statues that spit fireballs as if they never digested their last meal. This staircase is truly awe-inspiring as it rotates, thus requiring you to keep moving at all times.
Unfortunately, the charm of this level is momentarily shattered by the lame-ass mini-boss, which consists of a pair of faces and only requires you to hack away in glee.
Swallow your short deception and get ready for the grandiose final level. To say that English Proserpina Castle is sublime would be an understatement. Other than its beautiful use of colors to really convey this impression of a decrepit building, Proserpina Castle impresses with its extraordinary settings. After struggling against your own imagination during the mirror section where your footing needs to be damn sure, you reach the upside-down room. The name being self-explanatory, I guess there's no need to really explain how it requires, but the frenzy when you are merely moving here (let alone taking care of enemies) remains thrilling.
Bloodlines is that ingenious in its levels. From beginning to end, it overwhelms you with exciting premises that require you to remain alert if you dream of ever coming across Dracula. While I find the predictable patterns of the vast majority of bosses very disappointing, Dracula is thankfully his same old self. Actually, he's become worse now. It takes a lot to defeat him; a lot of time and a lot of lives. It's surprising how someone who's barely back from a long somnolence is capable of opposing your plans so heartily.
The animation found within Bloodlines frankly stands among one of the best on the Genesis, possibly the best. John and Eric enjoy a silky animation; some of the moves have an eerie hypnotic feel, such as Eric's vaults. The most breathtaking part concerns Dracula's hordes of fiends though. It would be very accurate to say that the monsters found in this game do manage to give Bloodlines a slight edge over Super Castlevania IV (which has always been Bloodlines' direct competitor). Enemies die within sprays of purple blood, with some of the bosses forcibly exploding as you precariously hit them a last time.
Other than its enticing designs and vibrant levels, another factor that places Bloodlines well above competition is its soundtrack. Castlevania games have been revered since their creation for their ambient music. Bloodlines is no exception. As a matter of fact, the suitably orchestrated tracks make Bloodlines even more action-packed. In the typical Castlevania tradition, older themes, such as fans favorite Bloody Tears, return, subtly benefiting from Sega's console's capabilities. Ironically, the first stage's theme, Reincarnated Soul, is the best track from Bloodlines, eerily setting the dark mood of the entire game.
While the impact of the opening theme isn't quite maintained in the later stages, the ensuing themes nevertheless convey that unique, gripping Castlevania feel. Also returning is the popular Theme of Simon to give Bloodlines a moving ending. Sound effects amount to the mystifying counterparts of your own attacks, with monsters disappearing amidst clunky effects. As you march deeper into Dracula's crippled, terrifying lands, this hellish atmosphere will no doubt fully prepare you for what lies ahead.
Bloodlines can be explained as a different Castlevania game. It doesn't approach the legendary battle of Good vs. Evil in the same way previous Castlevania games have gotten us accustomed to. For once, and as the best example of the legacy's evolution, the whole exploration of different countries surprises and pleases. The leap from Germany to Greece allows Bloodlines to boast the most improbable, yet memorable, stages you'll find in the entire legacy of Konami's titles. To maintain another unfaltering tradition, the soundtrack, comprising of old and new themes, grants the game an almost choking atmosphere.
The only gripe I have with Bloodlines is the ludicrous lack of challenge from the bosses after a few times, even on the hardest setting. This is certainly a big flaw as, given their action-packed nature, Castlevania games should behold an inquisitive boss that would culminate with the frenzied action of the whole level. The game's small count of stages doesn't help either. However, in spite of these, Bloodlines remains a rewarding game, which stands atop a mountain with its ingenious levels and truly memorable game play.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/19/05
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