Review by hangedman

"Breaking news: turns out Count Dracula can't die."

Dracula rises from the dead more than Billy Lee's girlfriend gets kidnapped.

A new Castlevania game heralds Dracula’s rising from the grave, once again coming back to life with the same three-fireball / teleport attack pattern and a castle that refuses to die no matter how decimated it’s shown in the last Castlevania ending—when World War Three begins, I’m heading straight for Drac’s indestructible clock tower. However, it seems the unhappenable has finally happened: they’ve run out of Belmonts.

The matter is not entirely pressing to Dracula. The Belmont lineage is something to fear for him; he’s been sent back into limbo by Trevor, Richter, and Simon—twice. When Dracula’s corporate spies tell him that the new generation of Vampire Killers is a Texan named John Morris and a Nancy-boy by the name of Eric Lecarde, I’d hit the ghostly snooze alarm for a few more years, too. His niece, one Elizabeth Bartley, is a surly Brit that likes to see people die, so she’s a shoe-in for the choice of who to leave in charge while Dracula’s in the process of resurrecting. She also wants to be the one to resurrect her uncle, prompting our two non-Belmonts to go after Bartley and attempt to stop her nefarious plans.

It’s whipping time. John strolls—no, lumbers—into battle with his suspenders and staunchly non-ambiguous whip: Vampire Killer. We know what this Texan’s here for. Aside from destroying women in a 50-foot radius with a giant shockwave of burly, John’s refined Simon Belmont’s ability to swing; he doesn’t even need any goofy flashing rings to tell him what he can latch onto, because if it’s above you and flat, you can swing from it. John can turn a ceiling into a tool by which he can hurl himself at his opponent like a giant wrecking ball—certainly he’s got the stature for that job.

Enter the sissy.

But it might not be whipping time at all! Our long, tall Texan is joined by a slightly effeminate Spaniard, Eric: the girly yin to John’s testosterone-soaked yang. He’s not as tough as Alucard, who could easily play the fragile-looking introvert while still looking like a badass in a black cape, but Eric has some spear trickery under his belt. His reach with his glorified fireplace poker is slightly better than John, and he has the ability to pole-vault straight up into higher territory. Eric can also twirl around his spear, but the act is more ornamental than it is offensive.

The choice is yours to make whether to whip and swing or to poke and jump. The game favors Eric: for the majority of the journey his greater reach and strong jumping force (one that would put Violence Fight’s Ben Smith to shame) are called upon more than John’s manly aptitudes. Either warrior is trustworthy; if anything it’s a matter of personal preference over anything else.

This fact is concreted by the fact that John and Eric are more or less the same in the basics: they both are light on their feet for more responsive jumping, they both attack straight ahead (though John can attack diagonally in the air and Eric on the ground), and they both are privy to the Castlevania special weapons. Gone are the knife and pocketwatch—good riddance. What we do get is a wicked looking blade-boomerang, an axe to rival the size of John’s torso, and the holy water Molotovs we all know and love. Hold up and throw a special weapon, and you’ll get a more potent attack at the expense of four gems, which replace the candelabra-found hearts this time around.

Stylish.

Things have really changed. Even Dracula’s castle hasn’t come all the way back from the dead to challenge your non-Belmont of preference. Then again, if Dracula isn’t fully alive, all bets are off on the state of his personal property. The first level is Drac’s old Romanian stomping grounds, and by the looks of things, the walking dead have finally turned the place into one giant frat house—broken windows and ripped curtains galore. Fortunately, the levels are beautiful whether it’s an “ugly” sort of beautiful (in level one’s case) or a truly genuine one, such as level 2’s amazing sunset and reflective water, which could be one of the most gorgeous stages from beginning to end in any 2d game to this point. As John and Eric journey across all of Europe (no longer limited to only Dracula’s castle), the sights are many, even if there are only a scant six levels. One couldn’t leave out the leaning tower of Pisa, which becomes even more structurally insecure when danger is afoot.

And certainly, there’s seemingly no shortage of danger anywhere in the game. Your enemies are formidable when scattered about the awe-inspiring landscapes, but the real stars are the bosses and mini-bosses, challenging you to figure out their patterns and secrets as they mop the floor with you several times over. Though their patterns are clever and puzzling at first, soon the difficulty is gone; after a few passes through the game you can read these once intimidating beasts like the back of your hand. Do realize that this means that you have to beat them more than a few times, and for the novice player this is easier said than done. To take your mind off of getting slaughtered, the bosses are incredible: level one’s mini-boss is a fire-breathing zombie dog that shatters the background windows with a shriek, showering broken glass onto your would-be vampire killer. Drac returns with several new attack patterns, as do fan favorites Medusa and Death.

Not so stylish.

The problem is that several of the new roads Bloodlines has taken lack this polish. The fourth level is a romp through a German munitions factory. If you can overlook the goofy-looking skeletons in helmets and the lack of any munitions… anywhere, and even make peace with the unrealistic conclusion that one would be fighting vampires during World War Two with a whip—it’s going to be hard to accept that this same German munitions factory would see fit to include the mandatory giant clock tower. Even worse is the boss: an assortment of gears and other metallic pieces that would seem to have no business attacking you. Well, you take the bad with the good, I suppose.

Bloodlines is a very different sort of Castlevania. Those that love the series for the atmosphere will instantly compare Super Castlevania IV’s morose scenery and music to Bloodlines’ upbeat assortment, almost asking to be disappointed. Bloodlines is fast and exciting, in feel, sound, and look, but it feels much less like a Castlevania game—especially when you’re fighting a chaingun-wielding knight with a guy that can jump 40 feet in the air with his spear. This isn’t to say that Bloodlines is a freak of the lineage either, as level 2 ranks right up there with the greatest Castlevania stages ever conceived with its minotaurs and water hazards.

The fact of the matter is that this game can be a mixed bag for those of you that are easily hung up on style—a word that’s deservedly tossed around describing Castlevania games. While it may not equal the form of either SCIV or Dracula X, Bloodlines either meets or exceeds the functionality of both. It’s a different Castlevania game, in the sense that much of the gloom has been lifted from the atmosphere and music, but different never means that something is bad. Bloodlines seems to lack the style of past Castlevania games, and that’s mostly because it has a style of its own; what’s more is that its inimitable design can be overwhelmingly successful.

9 / 10
A different sort of Castlevania, but an excellent one all the same.


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*And to think that I hated the NES Castlevanias.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/19/02, Updated 11/19/02


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