Review by Tarrun
"The Only Genesis Castlevania Is A Little Disappointing."
During the age of 16-bit systems, Sega Genesis fans cried out for some of their favorite Nintendo games to be made into Genesis games. This happened to several series, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Contra, and of course, Castlevania. Konami was either trying to introduce its series to a variety of gamers, or perhaps experiment with what different systems could do. Either way, it became frustrating for loyal fans to chose between which systems to buy. I was finally able to dig up enough money ten years later to buy a Genesis and Bloodlines, and although it's definitely a Castlevania game, it left me somewhat disappointed.
Castlevania: Bloodlines takes place in the early 1900s. After Dracula's niece Elizabeth Bartley is raised from the dead, she does what any good niece would do and resurrects her uncle. Now, John Morris, son of Quincy Morris (the man who, along with Jonathan Harker, defeated Dracula in Bram Stoker's Dracula) and his friend Eric Lecarde set off to defeat Dracula once more. The game tries to tie the Castlevania series with Bram Stoker's novel, which makes it interesting to reread the book thinking about one of the main characters being a Belmont.
The game is also different in the sense that most of it doesn't take place in Castle Dracula. While the first level is similar to the original Castlevania's Level 1, the other levels include exotic locations such as The Leaning Tower of Pisa, a German munitions warehouse, The Palace of Versailles, and the Atlantis Shrine in Athens Greece. The final level is an English castle similar to Castle Dracula where, borrowing the Mega Man theme, your character has to face off with several of the bosses from the previous levels.
While there are two characters, you can only pick one to play through the entire game with. John Morris is your classic whipping Belmont, and his whip can be powered up by collecting the classic morning star symbols. The whip begins as a short whip, and goes from a chain whip, and morning star whip, and a flame whip (similar to Simon's Quest). On the other hand, Eric chooses to wield a long spear (known as the Alcarde Spear) that can be upgraded to a trident and eventually a flame trident. Unfortunately, John and Eric attack pretty slowly (eurgh, bad memories of Castlevania: The Adventure), which means that you'll end up attacking a good half of a second before you normally would. The sub-weapons have been downgraded, with only an axe, holy water, and a boomerang (which takes the place of the cross.). There is a crash move, but it isn't as awe inspiring as they were in Rondo, and also not as useful. Similar to Castlevania: The Adventure, jewels take the place of the classic hearts that power your sub-weapons, and besides that; the only other items that can be collected are the massively destructive crystals, the invincibility potion, and the always rare 1-Up. One positive about the game is that item candles are different than regular ones, meaning that you won't collect holy water when you're looking to keep an axe.
Trying to stay on par with Super Castlevania IV, John can whip any ceiling and swing across like Simon Belmont or Indiana Jones could. On top of that, John also kicks in mid-swing. While being able to swing any time and the addition to the kick may seem like a step up, the only problem is that once you start swinging, you can't stop. This becomes a bit of an annoyance, so it balances out the extra abilities. Since some of the jumping puzzles use this ability, Eric also needs to be able to long jump; and he does this by using his spear as a pole vault. These different abilities mean that the two character's paths will diverge slightly, but nothing as in-depth as Castlevania 3's.
The graphics are interesting; while not on par to Castlevania IV's looks, they are some of the best on the Genesis. Also, since this game doesn't have to follow Nintendo's content rules, Bloodlines is surprisingly gory. The first level has torn corpses hanging from chains, bodies lay on the ground with birds pecking at their intestines in one of the next levels, and harpies spew blood when they are killed in Athens. On top of all that, when Eric is killed he drops to the ground and his spear comes crashing down on him, impaling him. Believe me, the first time I saw this, it was quite a shock. Besides that, some of the backgrounds are quite detailed and a joy to look at while others are just awkward. The character's are the same way; some of them: Dracula, Death, and some of the lesser enemies look pretty cool; others look pretty stupid. (A machine gun axe knight? I don't think so )
The music is a mixed batch; on one hand, the songs themselves are superb. They were done by the composer Michiru Yamane, whose works include the soundtracks to Symphony of The Night and Harmony of Dissonance. Many of them are memorable and The Sinking Old Sanctuary has been used in a countless number of games since then. Also, The Theme of Simon Belmont, one of my favorite Castlevania songs of all time appears at the end right before Dracula. The downside, however, is that the Genesis' sound chip is nowhere near as good as the Super Nintendo's was, and qualitywise the songs sound terrible. Even worse are the sound effects. After breaking a statue in Athens, the sound of it crashing seems to be straight from a cartoon. Gone are the screeching over dramatic deaths of enemies, and character's attacks sound awful compared to Bloodlines' Super Nintendo counterpart.
Bloodlines is also one of the harder Castlevania games I've played. (And I've played them all except for Chronicles and Legends.) You're character is pretty stiff which means that it's hard to defend yourself from attacks. True, you're never swarmed with enemies, but more than two and things start to get irritating. A major negative is that John is limited while whipping. On the ground he can only whip straight forward, and in the air can whip diagonally up on straight down. One of the most memorable parts of Super Castlevania IV was Simon's ability to whip in all eight directions at any time (Minus whipping straight down, which you needed to be in the air to perform.) and could have played a big role in making the game smoother and in turn, more fun. Eric is limited like John is, except that he can thrust his spear straight up, which comes in handy in a few places. Thankfully, the jumping puzzles that made Castlevania: The Adventure a living hell are made easy because the sprite detection works for you, meaning you'll make close jumps even though it looked like you missed.
Another thing I found to be a little over-the-top was the last level, the stage right before Dracula. Once you climb the now-classic stairway to the throne room, Death appears and you're forced to fight three of the five bosses in the previous levels. After you've completed that, you face off with Death one-on-one. Whew, time for a break now, right? Wrong! Now you fight the Count's niece, Elizabeth Bartley, and then a battle with three forms of Dracula himself.
That doesn't sound so bad though, does it? I mean, just like Mega Man, you need to beat all of the bosses first and then Wily. Oh wait, I forgot one thing: It seems that the game was a little too easy, so the developers decided to add a little twist. You start out with three lives and three continues. Loose those three continues and the game is up. That's right, just like Haunted Castle, you'll be sent to the very beginning of the game. And don't think you can cheat by using the password system; the game remembers how many lives and continues you had. Sure there are only six levels, but they're fairly long and there are still those little spots where you're bound to lose dozens of lives because of some stupid mistake. Also, there are two or three mid-bosses in each level that need to be beaten before you're character is allowed to continue. True, there is a difficulty option and the ability to change the amount of lives you start with is available, but that's being a little cheap isn't it. (Plus, you need to beat it on Expert to get the full ending.)
Overall, Castlevania: Bloodlines is the reason I bought a Sega Genesis; but don't let that statement fool you. The game does try to honor Castlevania, but it just never seems to live up. When I first played it, I was expecting something like Super Castlevania IV, but instead got something that wasn't even close. Bloodlines does try to redefine the series in a number of ways; but even the addition to Eric Lecarde doesn't keep Bloodlines from being a bit of a disappointment. True, there were some things about the game I enjoyed; the first level was fun to play, and the extra bit of gore was surprising, but I still felt that the game was lacking.
To prove my point, try and compare Bloodlines to Super Castlevania IV or Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, both of which were released before Bloodlines. You can't; both games are far superior to the Genesis version. Now, let's take another step back: let's compare it to Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, a game released four years before on a system with less power. Besides the graphical and sound enhancements, Castlevania III is still a better game than Bloodlines. Now you can see how I find Bloodlines a disappointment. The more you play it, though, the more you accept Bloodlines' flaws, and it does become more enjoyable, but I still think they could have done much better
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 07/02/04
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