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Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis) artwork

Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis) review


"Lecarde is by far the better character, and playing with him makes for a much more enjoyable journey due in part to his wider array of moves, and also in part to the easier, smoother gameplay that results from him knowing them. However, sometimes you might get the odd feeling that youíre not being true to Castlevania by using this character (in much the same way that the sword-wielding Alucard feels so singular in your employ in Symphony of the Night), so I reluctantly choose the steroid-abusing Morris, if only to hear his whip crack once more (ahem!)."



Irony. Please believe that it's on full display in any chatroom discussing this game, or Konami's other big-name franchise visit to Sega - Contra Hard Corps. Iím often privy to Nintendoites calling Segaheads, fanboys. Is it true? It's hard to say, but here comes the ironic bit: these same Nintendoites (comprised of greater numbers of the same sad, tunnel-visioned, 'my console is best' gamers) proclaim their beloved Super Castlevania IV as the runaway winner of 'best of series' without having played the intensely enjoyable Castlevania: Bloodlines for the Genesis. For shame.

This story part should be made as quick and as painless as possible to limit redundancy. Countess Bartley is trying to raise her cool uncle (arenít tricks involving blood always cool to young people?) Dracula, and you, the stout vampire killer, must stop her before she does. Of course you won't be able to, and Dracula will inevitably wake up for long enough for you to give him a good whipping (for a century of naughty thoughts) and send him back to restless slumber. One wonders why the good guys still bother - the withered man with the sickly pale complexion (no, not Michael Jackson) will just keep on coming back, don't you know; it's a losing battle! It would be more interesting if they let the blood sucker live, and perhaps wrest control of his forces using good business savvy - now that would be a hostile takeover for the ages.

Bloodlines has you traveling the world as one of two very different characters: the beefed up descendent of the Belmonts, John Morris - he sounds more like a farmer than an adventurer - and the staff-twirling Spaniard with the French name, Eric Lecarde. Lecarde is by far the better character, and playing with him makes for a much more enjoyable journey due in part to his wider array of moves, and also in part to the easier, smoother gameplay that results from him knowing them. However, sometimes you might get the odd feeling that youíre not being true to Castlevania by using this character (in much the same way that the sword-wielding Alucard feels so singular in your employ in Symphony of the Night), so I reluctantly choose the steroid-abusing Morris, if only to hear his whip crack once more (ahem!).

Of the three 16-bit cartridges - Super Castlevania IV and Dracula X for the SNES being the other two - Bloodlines certainly makes the strongest case for the epitome of Castlevania embraced with 16-bit enhancements. Dracula X is often cheap and frustrating, and as wondrous as SCIV is, it, and not Bloodlines, seems more the outcast/sidestory/gaiden (more irony!).

While this Genesis incarnation does do things a bit differently, it still manages to implement these creatively conceived new parts into a whole that is perhaps more worthy of the name ''Castlevania IV'' than the game that actually received that moniker. To that end; a Castlevania game is supposed to be hard. There are only six areas in Bloodlines, yet the game is far more difficult than SCIV, and edges out Dracula X in this department as well, without the frustration factor that plagued that game. You may actually need all the continues provided - even with the passwords afforded you - to see your way through the first time. And choosing the Easy mode over Normal doesnít change the outlook all that much (Expert mode will be unlocked when you get through Normal).

Historically, Castlevania reviews are all about how the game in question stacks up to its competition. So! Despite numerous, nebulous reports to the contrary, Bloodlines can do much more than hold SCIV's jock. It can wear its own. Let the games begin, starting with the music category, a favourite among fans of the series. Unsurprisingly, familiar tunes make their appearance: ''Bloody Tears'', ''Simon's Theme'' et al, are treated to rousing renditions of surprising quality. The soundtrack isn't as balanced as SCIV's, but it comes awfully close, and that in and of itself is a sonic victory.

The atmosphere, musically and visually, is dark and brooding, and probably comes closest to setting the mood the developers had in mind when developing the very first Castlevania game - only Castlevania III can touch it. And that is perhaps the highest compliment that this game can be paid. In fact, the only real knock against the game is the size of the characters. Theyíre a bit too small; only the 8-bit Belmonts are smaller.

Regardless, the gameplay is brilliant. SCIVís facile eight directional whipping and whip dangling have been removed, but Mr. Morris can whip almost any ceiling in reach (no need for special hooks) and swing with his whip, taking Simon's swinger lifestyle to new heights. Lecarde can super jump directly upward, damaging enemies during his meteoric rise. More impressive yet is how Lecarde can thrust his staff to one side - and sensing an entity behind him - twirl the weapon, bringing it to bear on the sneak 180 degrees from his initial position. In addition to collecting jewels to drive the three auxiliary weapons: the battle axe, holy water and the indispensable boomerang, the jewels can be used to provide lightning power to your whip or lance that lasts until you take damage.

Some of our favourite enemies are infused with a new vigour as well. The Pillars of Bones, for example, is larger, more menacing, and more lifelike. Medusa gets a promotion from perennial early stage boss to one of Dracula's lieutenants (a suspicious climb up the corporeal ladder if ever there was one - this should answer any questions about her performance).

The opening stage, Castle Dracula in Romania, is a typical warm up Castlevania first level. The third, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, with all its software-driven rotation and tilting effects is the standout in much the same way level four was for SCIV, but itís the second stageís Atlantis Shrine in Greece that really arrests your attention, and holds it captive for the rest of the adventure with itís wondrous sunset-splashed backdrops and beautiful original music. Moments like giant statue-breaking in Atlantis; climbing the Leaning Tower; fighting the Munitions Factoryís Gear Steamer boss (a boss entity actually made up of moving, shifting gears); and the upside down, mirror-warped final level in Castle Prosperina, England, give Bloodlines the presence to forcibly entrench itself on your favourites list. If only you give it a chance.

Donít let the bloodlines name fool you; this game isnít a side story or aberrance in any way. Itís straightforward Castlevania goodness. Donít let the Nintendo fanboys fool you either; many proclamations of Super Castlevania IV being the best 16-bit Castlevania cart by a landslide are made in vacuums, and thus, the proclaimers are missing out. Donít you.

Rating: 9/10

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Staff review by Marc Golding (December 19, 2003)

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