Don’t get me started on Castlevania. The original title stands as one of my favourite NES titles, perhaps even topping the list if I was forced to decide, and I don’t make that statement lightly or without due consideration. A few years ago, I did a deep dive into the more Metroid inspired titles — a corner of the series I had yet to explore — and became hopelessly addicted.
Castlevania: Bloodlines, the sole entry on the Sega Genesis, holds a special place in my heart, and I think that’s because I found it so surprising. I had sort of felt like I had seen all the classic series had to offer, and along comes Bloodlines and proves that there’s always more to discover.
THE GREAT WAR
Castlevania has long stuck to its roots by depicting various peeps trekking across the Romanian countryside to kick down Dracula’s door. Bloodlines breaks from this standard somewhat by having you trek across all of Europe. Not only that, the year is 1916, making it the most forward dated game in the series at the time of release.
It seems that Franz Ferdinand was, in fact, assassinated by Countess Elizabeth Bartley (based on the historical figure, Elizabeth Bathory, who is considered one of the inspirations for vampires, along with Vlad Tepes), who is trying to resurrect Dracula by plunging the world into a horrific war. John Morris, a descendant of the Belmont clan and Quincy Morris from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel, and Eric Lecard, a guy who’s totally wearing a pink skirt, both set out to put a stop to that plot. Or one of them does, since you can only play one at a time.
Do you think they succeed in preventing the return of Dracula? Go on, guess! Guess!
While Super Castlevania IV advanced the series by giving less restrictive movement in contrast to the otherwise stiff NES trilogy, Bloodlines (and just about every other game of the classic formula) ignores it and returns the series to its stricter movement. You move at a steady pace, can’t alter the course of your jumps in midair, and get knocked back at the slightest touch.
I have a strong affection for the Vampire Killer whip, this time wielded by John Morris, but I found myself playing more as trident thrusting Eric Lecarde. The trident can attack in multiple directions, unlike the Vampire Killer, and with Eric’s special high jump, he feels a little more spry. It’s a nice distinction, really, giving you both the classic Castlevania whip while offering something new, but not entirely different. Regardless of which one you pick, however, you’re in for some terrible fashion sense. Not only does John Morris wear suspenders with denim jeans, he wears them over his sweater vest. Was this the first time you had to dress yourself, guy?
There’s a strong reverence for the original title within Bloodlines. The opening level starts out as an almost carbon copy of the first stage of its NES progenitor, before switching things up and carrying you around Europe. Music from the classic titles, though not entirely prevalent, make small appearances, sometimes hidden behind secrets.
It doesn’t fully subscribe to the old formula, however. There’s now a third power-up level for your main weapon that enshrouds it in blue flame, but it’s lost upon taking damage. There’s also the item crash that was featured in Rondo of Blood, which allows you to spend some extra gems to perform a more powerful secondary weapon attack. Oh, yeah, it’s gems in this version that powers your weapons. It makes so much more sense than the hearts you use as ammunition in every other entry; it almost makes you wonder why the gems weren’t kept as the standard.
PUTTING THE BLOOD IN BLOODLINES
In the 16-bit console wars, the Genesis was positioned by Sega marketing as the cool and more mature system, and a lot of the games reflected this. Bloodlines falls into that mindset by containing much darker imagery than its kin. There’s a lot more blood, and a lot of the enemies are pretty creepy. On the other hand, it also has a much more 90’s comic book vibe, missing out on the horror atmosphere that was much more pervasive in Super Castlevania IV and even Castlevania III.
What it does share in common with Super Castlevania IV is that it continues the Konami tradition of making use of every graphical trick they can cram in. There’s realtime reflections, lots of sprite rotations, and this weird gimmick where the screen splits in three parts. It’s pretty rad, and well used. The stages feature a massive amount of diversity, never straying far from the jump and whip gameplay, but providing a distinct challenge with every stage.
The bosses run a similar style, with each one being pretty unique. They’re also some of the best in the series, since there’s more to them than just smacking their weak point until they keel over, with the hope that their health drops faster than your own. Here, there’s usually more strategy involved, and you may need to tweak your methods depending on who you’re playing as.
FROM CASTLES TO PALACES
If there’s one major area that Castlevania: Bloodlines is deficient in relation to its kin, it’s the inclusion of limited continues. Seriously, why? It’s the only Castlevania g
Maybe it’s because it’s pretty short for a Castlevania title; including only 6 stages, and no alternate paths. Getting through it all would make for a pretty short affair, so forcing the player back to the start after three game overs is a pretty cheap way of extending that. Yet it still has a password system, so all you really need to do is complete a single level with as many lives as possible, then take down the password, and — zowie — you’re making forward progress.
WHAT DOES SEGA DO?
Bloodlines seems to be a title that gets less recognition than some of its peers. It gets lost amongst names like Rondo of Blood, Super Castlevania IV, and genre mutating, Symphony of the Night. That’s a shame, because I enjoyed Bloodlines more than any of the above. Scandalous, I know, but between its fun, comic book-esque presentation, diversity in gameplay, strong boss battles, and tight Castlevania platforming, it feels like a sweetspot for me.
Do I love it more than vanilla Castlevania? No, but I’ll gladly put it next to it in the classic formula. It pays its due respects, while also providing something fresh and interesting. For that, I’d say it deserves a prominent position at the Castlevania ta
This review was conducted on a Sega Genesis Model 2 (Rev VA3) using an original cartridge copy of the game. The reviewer has also experienced it on a previous revision, and ran into some interesting sound glitches. Know your motherboards. It was paid for by the author.