Review by Arkrex
Traditionally, it was by the hands of a Belmont that the spiteful vampire lord Dracula would be put to rest. However, when Richter Belmont tainted the holy vampire-killing whip by succumbing to evil intent, there was a downtime which allowed the forces of evil to have somewhat free reign. There were self-proclaimed vampire killers still out there, though, and Quincy Morris (of literary work Dracula fame) managed to put the almighty Count to rest in 1897; he was a descendant of the Belmont bloodline, after all.
But then the World War broke out. It was a massacre. With the casualties numbering somewhere in the thousands, it was a ripe opportunity to draw upon the deadened atmosphere and resurrect Count Dracula, even if it was eighty years too early. This is what his niece, Elizabeth Bartley, did (and according to legend, she was the catalyst to the whole 'misunderstanding'). Quincy Morris had since passed, but in his stead arose two noble activists: his own son, John Morris, and the still-mourning Spaniard, Eric Lecarde. This is the story of a new generation of vampire hunters, still entwined by the cursed bloodline.
Although the era is a more recent one, Castlevania: Bloodlines (The New Generation outside of Japan/America) shares much of the series' staple designs. John and Eric may be scouring Athens and Pisa as they follow the trail of destruction left by Bartley, but the pitfalls, staircases and legions of nightmarish monsters remain the same.
John - carrying on the Belmont legacy in all but name - wields the legendary whip: the Vampire Killer. He plays like your usual swaggering Belmont with zero air control once committing to a jump, but a heart of fire which manifests itself in his relentless lashings. Eric carries the Alcarde Spear which is a tad slower to use, but it offers him to attack in multiple directions, not just to the left or right. He can also use his spear to vault himself high into the air to access out of reach paths that elude John, but our main boy can swing from ceilings to compensate. It's nice to see that there are two unique characters to choose from, but their differences aren't very remarkable. By and large, John makes for the harder game (lack of multi-directional whipping), but since they both otherwise control similarly, even going as far as sharing the same set of sub-weapons, their quests aren't all that unique.
But Castlevania games were never really about longevity. Bloodlines numbers in at just six stages, but they are more drawn out than before with each one condensing in a single war-torn location. The change of scenery is most welcome. In Athens, youll have to contend with a sorcerer who floods the area, forcing you to make a hasty ascent whilst watching out for agitated Minotaurs. Then there's the obligatory platforming with some knifing-happy bugbears and fireball shooting Bone Pillars, but to get across you'll also have to hit up sections of weakened structures, even a statue head, to form a makeshift bridge which may begin to sink as you're gaping in awe. Bloodlines really makes a point of destructible objects and this is also evident in a few of the boss encounters.
There are several bosses and mini-bosses that go hand-in-hand with their locations. Atop the not-so Leaning Tower of Pisa you'll find a winged blood-red demon waiting to take you for a spin, and at the end of the cog-filled clock tower lies an abomination constructed entirely of working gear parts; it is able to transform into multiple forms at will and as you whip/stab it up good, gears will be flung in all directions and the entity will begin to shrink. Things like this not only look fantastic, but they are integral to your offensive strategy. It's still traditional Castlevania, though, and you'll still see many old favourites such as a armoured knights and Death himself, but a whip-wielding Frankenstein!? Now you don't see that every day!
Bloodlines differs from its lineage with its sub-weapons too. Instead of a cross that is normally thrown out horizontally and that returns to you in a couple of seconds, there's a knife-edged boomerang that follows a quicker, more curved trajectory. Instead of holy water causing a piddling puddle, it now blemishes the floor across several metres. And is that a huge-ass axe in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? There are also souped-up attacks that deplete a larger stock of gems (the new-fangled sub-weapon ammo, as opposed to traditional hearts), such as throwing three axes out at the same time or - if you're able to reach the zenith of your main weapon's strength (through power-ups) - unleashing an omnipotent torrent of holy flares. Bloodlines arguably makes the best use of sub-weapons among the classic-style Castlevanias. The game itself is quite challenging, but a master of sub-weaponry should be able to deal with most situations rather easily. It's no wonder that John's son (aided in part by Eric...) went sub-weapon mad in the modern sequel, Portrait of Ruin.
Of course, you can't compare the look of this game to recent entries. During its time, though, Bloodlines still paled in comparison to the highly-detailed Super Castlevania IV that came before it. The Genesis/Mega Drive simply wasn't as proficient with 2D construction as the SNES was. However, it still managed to put out a more than adequate result. The viewpoint is more zoomed out to allow for more simplistic sprites that still look functional, but there is many complex processes demonstrated in spots. The destructible environment/enemies are one of them, and the Mode 7-ish graphics are another; you could have fooled me that the Genesis was capable of Mode 7 as I ascended the tower of Pisa via smoothly rotating platforms. One area within Dracula's Castle even shatters the screen horizontally into four quivering sections making what would otherwise be some typical platforming an unreal experience. Collapsing bridges and crumbling bosses round off an already explosive package.
If you are at all familiar with recent Castlevania music which has never been better, you'll know that Michiru Yamane is the head mistress in charge. But did you know that she began her claim to fame with Bloodlines? This was the first Castlevania soundtrack that was mostly comprised of her works. It's not entirely exemplary of her latest works, but some tracks such as Reincarnated Soul and Iron Blue Intention have since been inscribed into the Castlevania musical hall of fame for good reason.
Bloodlines is entirely worthy of being admitted into its legendary series' hall of fame too. The more modern setting provides a canvas for some fresh material; where else can you find military skeletons or armoured knights brandishing semi-automatic rifles? There are times when the lack of graphical detail results in several bland hallways full of the same enemy types, but this is offset by moments of awe when the scenery around you breaks apart to form a usable platform or else a potentially injurious shard of stone. The sub-weapon system is the most developed out of all the classic Castlevania games and in itself, makes the action component of this action-platformer a superlative experience.
The First World War is an indelible stain in mankind's history and many would rather avoid talking about it. Bloodlines' setting may stir up some harsh memories, but it also makes for an incredible experience that will soak up the wounds in a radiance like no other.
VERDICT 8.5/10 Worthy of its blood-soaked heritage.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Castlevania: The New Generation (EU, 03/20/94)
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