Platform: Xbox One
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Preview - E3 2017
We go hands-on with the spiritual successor to classic Castlevania
It was weird sight. I’m standing in a line with five other writers, each of us eager to get our hands on Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and standing before us is the legendary Koji Igarashi. He’s wearing a cowboy hat and carrying around a whip, like he’s about to rush out of the E3 booth and get to an Indiana Jones shoot immediately after the demo. If a picture had been taken and presented out of context, it would have been bizarre to say the least. Igarashi thanks us for coming and quickly turns the floor over to his English-speaking companion who updates us on the latest developments on the game.
Bloodstained is a spiritual successor to Castlevania, not the 3-D God of War-like, Lord of Shadows. No, Bloodstained is trying to capture the golden age of Castlevania, the 2-D, side-scrolling metroidvanias like the classic Symphony of the Night. I must admit, I’ve been cautiously optimistic about Bloodstained, since its 2015 Kickstarter reminded me of Mighty No. 9. And if you need a refresher in how that latter effort turned out, check out our review.
But I wasn’t about to let one failed promise leave me a jaded cynic so I sat down to play, hoping for the best. In many ways, Bloodstained feels connected to its 2D Castlevania predecessors, but in other ways, it feels like something completely new. I begin my time with the game by busting up some candlesticks and collecting the coins and mana that appear amidst the destroyed remains. It’s hard to not get let my nostalgia run wild as I kick open chests to reveal weapons and slash menacing hulks. The platforming feels precise, but tightly calibrated. It’s clear that Bloodstained is trying to be a game about inches, timing, and strategy.
After some exploring I find a giant shard that stabs through the protagonist, Miriam, a grisly sight that bestows new powers upon the heroine. This one in particular allows me to double jump, allowing me to continue traversing the strange gothic castle in which that game is set. While exploring in the beginning, one of the developers drops a hint that there might be a secret hidden in the early stages. I try slashing against the wall and find a hidden chest that gives me a powerful mace that I use to replace my sword. Each weapon has its own stats, though those stats don’t inherently mean one weapon is better than the other. The mace easily has the best attack power, but its speed is much slower compared to the daggers, though the daggers have a much smaller range when compared to the whip - which was my favorite weapon.
It doesn’t take long to get into combat, and Bloodstained is not an easy affair. I have to make use of all my abilities, jumping, dodging, and an interesting backward-jump move. This jump-back move is a little difficult to master as it causes Miriam to leap backwards, so she actually moves in the opposite direction of whichever way you have the analogue stick pointed. Again, timing is key as getting picked out of the air by enemies can be a pain. Not only that, but some enemies have attacks that you have to dodge, and wait for them to end before you can leap in and strike. These lumbering armored monsters look intimidating, but it you time you attacks right, you can deal a lot of damage.
The monsters aren’t overwhelming, but it doesn’t seem like you can ever completely clear the room of them. Even if you defeat the bigger enemies, one or two of the smaller monsters will still trickle in. In one instance, this is actually to help with platforming, as players have to double jump, land a downward attack on a monster - which resets their jumps - then double jump again to find the secret passage.
I told you there was some precision required.
After a couple of failed attempts, I’ve taken some damage and needed to chug a health potion to get back to full strength. After doing this, I reach another bridge and get two more upgrades. One upgrade gives me a familiar ability, which circles me, hitting enemies who get too close. The other attack I get is the ability to summon leaping monkeys - yes, you heard right, monkeys who leap across the screen, damaging everything they hit.
They come none too soon, either. In the next room I find a handful of potions, which leads to a boss fight. The boss in question lounges in a bathtub filled with blood. As she gets to her feet, her nude feminine figure is quickly clothed in the blood in which she was bathing in. .
The boss fight is old school, but well-animated. It’s impressive how smooth everything looks as the boss shoots parasols of blood into the air. These parasols turn into projectiles that are fired at me. I dodge out of the way, and charge in close to the enemy. I swing my whip and start doing damage, hopping away as she tries to strike me. As I start to whittle down her health, slowly her blood-dress fades away into tatters. But while she’s losing health, her attacks becomes more painful. She shoots streams of blood into the air and it rains blood down on me from above. I chug health potions and shoot waves of attack monkeys in return.
I almost have her beaten when she finally defeats me. I sigh in a blissful frustration that only certain games can make you feel like this, and hand the controller to someone who has been eagerly awaiting their turn. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night certainly has the feel of the old Castlevania games, and one can’t help but be excited at what Igarashi and his team might have on their hands. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is slated for release in 2018. It will be available on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Xbox One.