Review by dtm666
Reviewed: 02/03/10 | Updated: 11/27/12
An excellent Genesis title and a worthy addition to the Castlevania legacy
Although Castlevania: Bloodlines isn't necessarily the first game in the Castlevania series to appear on a non-Nintendo home video game system (that honor goes to Vampire Killer for the MSX computer... and no, the various computer ports of Castlevania don't count), it IS the first such game to appear on our shores (all the rest were Japan-exclusive with some getting localized ports in later years) and a chance for longtime Genesis owners to sample the top-notch gameplay that Castlevania was known for.
Bloodlines is a rather peculiar beast, as it was released some time after the release of Super Castlevania IV (the last localized console release) and the release of Dracula X: Rondo of Blood. As such, people will often look down on this title because it isn't as good - either the visuals aren't up to snuff or the sound isn't as good. While it's true that the limitations of the Genesis prevents Bloodlines from being as impressive as the two aforementioned titles, it's also an unfair comparison since most people don't even bother to judge the game on its own merits. In that respect, they'll find a Castlevania entry that plays as well as any other game in the series while bringing its own unique flair to the proceedings, resulting one of the finest games in the Genesis library.
STORY: In a rather strange twist that would soon become standard as the series progressed, your heroes in this game are not members of the Belmont family (as per the case in prior releases), but rather two unrelated characters conviniently armed with a whip and a spear respectively. Even more strangely is that one of the characters is named John Morris, who is the son of Quincy Morris. Quincy Morris is a character from the Bram Stoker novel, Dracula... so apparently this entry has some connection to the original novel. It sort of legitimizes the whole thing, in a sense.
So the story goes that a new evil person named Countess Bartley (inspired by the real-life evil person named Elizabeth Bathory) is attempting to revive Dracula and it's up to John Morris and his friend Eric Lecarde to stop her. Unfortunately, Dracula's famous castle isn't the only place you have to venture to, as you'll have to follow the trail that goes all over Europe... yeah, it's basically Castlevania: European Tour. But that's a good thing. Although the premise isn't entirely original, it's still a bit different, it feels fresh, and this type of story is rarely touched upon in the more recent iterations. Nice. 9/10
GRAPHICS: Let's get one thing out of the way; Bloodlines looks nowhere near as good as Super Castlevania IV. Not likely to happen anytime soon since the Genesis is technically inferior to the Super Nintendo.
With that said, Bloodlines looks absolutely incredible, managing to pull off effects that would seem to be more than what the ol' Genny was capable of. Of course, you have portions of the game where you have to cross a breakaway bridge (comprised of skeletal remains) and selected use of shadows to darken areas, but then there's the mirror reflection on the sea water of the first stage, the constantly-shifting Tower of Pisa, the rolling statue heads that slide off when you decapitate them, the level that splits into four layers distorting your sense of vision, and the one stage where everything is inverted including the characters and foes. There are other moments too, and they're all wonderfully done.
But let's not discount the non-special graphics that doesn't require trickery to pull off. The various heroes, enemies, and bosses in this game are all wonderfully-drawn, smoothly-animated, and just a joy to see in action. The varied set pieces and level backdrops are also well done, as each new stage brings something new to the table, even the few stages that seem similar in design. I'll even forgive the color limitations and the few bits of distortion that might occur on occasion because Konami did such a wonderful job with the graphics in this game.
Oh, did I mention this game was bloody? Yeah, that sweetens the deal right there. 10/10
SOUND: Okay, so the sound effects aren't exactly the game's strong point, but they're not quite terrible. They're tolerable at best, but not much more than that. On the other hand, the music is fantastic. I've got to admit that this is quite possibly one of my favorite video game soundtracks, as each and every track is mesmorising, quirky, and does an excellent job of fitting the mood of the game. Although mostly comprising of new tunes, there are a couple remixes of classic 'Vania tunes here and there. All sound great. No complaints. 9/10
GAMEPLAY: So, as previously stated, Bloodlines offers you two playable characters to choose from; the whip-wielding John Morris and the spear-wielding Eric Lecarde. Choose wisely because you're stuck with the chosen for the next six levels of pain. Both control similarly enough; they can use subweapons (much like in CV4, assigned to a button - pressing Up with that button will execute a Super Attack that consumes more gems), they can jump on an off stairs, and possess zero control over their jump in mid air. Though they have the basics down, each character plays differently.
John Morris plays like an old-school whip-totting Belmont, but with a few tweaks. While he can't whip in eight directions or twirl it around like Simon could in Castlevania IV, he can still whip upwards at an angle while jumping and latching on to a ceiling will allow him to swing across chasms. He can also whip downwards if desired. On the other hand, Eric Lecarde is equipped with a spear, which can be used to attack in all eight directions. Hold Down on the D-Pad and Eric will charge. Follow up with a button and he'll vault high into the air - a useful technique to access areas that would otherwise be out of reach.
Bloodlines contains six stages spanning various locations across Europe, including a munitions factory in Germany (your clock tower level for the game), the Leaning Tower of Pisa (and its really unstable foundation), and a couple other places. While six levels doesn't seem like much, they're rather long levels - especially in comparison to previous 'Vanias up to that point (Rondo of Blood possibly being the only exception). Also scattered throughout the levels are battles with mini-bosses, some of them being almost difficult as the end level bosses themselves. But looking past all the new toys presented here, Bloodlines is tried-and-true Castlevania gameplay at its finest. Although a stepdown from CV4, it's still a step up from the NES games and that counts for something in my book. 10/10
CHALLENGE: Here's a nifty concept they haven't done in previous Castlevanias; Bloodlines includes a difficulty select that allows you to choose from two skill levels: EASY and NORMAL. Beating the game once (or inputting a code) will unlock the game's EXPERT difficulty. The only real difference between the settings are damage and enemy placement, although the EASY mode drops a couple mid-boss fights here and there. Suffice to say, you won't get the full ending in EASY.
Regardless of which mode you play, the levels in Bloodlines are fairly challenging in true Castlevania fashion. Whether it's navigating airborne platforms & inverted halls, dealing with giant armored knights, or outrunning rising water levels, the game will pose a significant amount of challenge to those who dare tackle it. Making matters more precarious is the little fact that, unlike previous 'Vanias, you only have two continues to progress. And this information gets saved into the passwords you earn in between levels, so there's no way to circumvent this outside of altering the lives count in the options menu. Although the limited continues bit is taking it a little too far, it actually works somewhat and it does force you a somewhat smarter game. Still, it's a cheap little tactic that isn't really needed... at all. 10/10
REPLAY VALUE: Two playable characters, three difficulty settings, ability to alter number of lives... yeah, there's quite a bit of replay value in Bloodlines. And it also helps that this is a genuinely fun game to play. 10/10
OVERALL: Castlevania: Bloodlines is a genuinely engrossing experience, serving as one of the best all-around video games on the Sega Genesis and also one of the Castlevania series' finest moments. Despite the technical limitations of the console at work, Bloodlines manages to surprise players with some of its visual effects, creative level design, deep atmosphere, and overall excellent gameplay that stays true to what made this series great while adding its own bit of flair. To overlook this gem of a game based purely on the fact that it's nowhere near as good as Super Castlevania IV or Rondo of Blood is a huge, almost sinful disservice, as it can most certainly hold its own among the best games in the series. The only real flaw Bloodlines possess is that it's the only Castlevania offering on a Sega console (that isn't a port or cancelled project), but that's not something to hold against it. Simply put, if you're a fan of old-school Castlevania and haven't had the chance to play Bloodlines, what the heck is wrong with you? Go hunt down a copy. Highly recommended. This one gets the fully monty. 10/10
Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Product Release: Castlevania: Bloodlines (US, 03/17/94)
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