Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis) review
"As the world's people have consistently turned to the Belmonts for protection from the manifested Evil that is Dracula, so too have the Belmonts reciprocally thrived of their sacrifice to the destruction of the dark lord. It's in their blood; their blood is special. The human veins it flows through are imbued with the strength to overcome the heinous Satanic minion. Men and women cower and die in the wake of destruction laid by Dracula's powers. The Belmonts, bound by the strength of their blood..."
As the world's people have consistently turned to the Belmonts for protection from the manifested Evil that is Dracula, so too have the Belmonts reciprocally thrived of their sacrifice to the destruction of the dark lord. It's in their blood; their blood is special. The human veins it flows through are imbued with the strength to overcome the heinous Satanic minion. Men and women cower and die in the wake of destruction laid by Dracula's powers. The Belmonts, bound by the strength of their bloodline, were all that separated our world from hell every 100 years.
Until 1897, when Quincey Morris drove a wooden stake through the heart of a defeated Dracula, and slayed his vile and infamous niece, Elizabeth Bartley. His heroic act, witnessed by his child and his child's friend, saved the world. In tragic balance, the temporary security of Earth came at the cost of his life, and at the cost of his bloodline.
John Morris, the trembling youth that witnessed the death of Dracula, now bears the burden of protection. It is his blood that drives him to fight and it is his blood that self-destructingly binds him to Dracula. Belmont blood is dead, and the true curse is carried now by Morris.
And, as a petty witch stumblingly resurrects Elizabeth Bartley years after her exsanguination, John Morris is soon weighed with responsibility. His blood curdles and grows impatient as his destiny beckons. He embarks on his march of death with his blood-brother, Eric LaCarde, as they destine themselves for Europe to meet their feared fate.
The result of this violent changing of the guard is Konami's magnificent Genesis powerhouse, Castlevania: Bloodlines. Somewhere between the mutated Super Castlevania IV and the original game, Bloodlines tunes, revisits, and creates elements of Castlevania to define itself as the series' best game. Immediately, this concerns the character selection.
John Morris and Eric LaCarde, our warriors, as different in play as Bloodlines is from the rest of its brethren. Morris brandishes the vampire-humbling whip, a weapon practically promised to him by his cursed life. Gone is the multidirectional whipping skill of Simon from CV4; instead, a standing Morris possesses only the ability to whip forward. In the air, though, the heroic John can swing upwards or down, and can attach his whip to the ceilings or underneaths of just about any object, a much improved version of CV4's one-dimensional swinging ability. In a fame-diminishing twist of fate, however, it is Morris' friend who proves the most fun to play.
Eric LaCarde wields a spear, which can be upgraded in the same manner as John's whip. It can be lunged forward and in two upward directions, as well as twirled like a murderous baton. Morris' linear advancement, at the hands of his swinging whip, is matched and trumped by Eric's ability to vault; ducking down and pressing jump allows LaCarde to spring almost the entire vertical distance of the visible screen. This ability is invaluable, and makes the otherwise impressive Morris a little lacking in comparison. Either choice is worthy. Either choice is a challenge in this evil journey.
Bloodlines carries you along a tour of Europe cast across six enormous levels. Six is a truly small count for levels, but not so disappointing considering their size and scope. The first level takes you through a revision of the first level of the first game. After years of slumber and failure, Dracula's castle has fallen to decay. His once hauntingly beautiful home is now a palace of broken windows and ripped tapestry; contrasted to the impressive redraw of this level as it was hundreds of years ago (found in Castlevania: Chronicles (or in 8-bit form in Castlevania)), it's evident that the many deaths and sufferings of Dracula and his brood have been hard on them. This first level then takes you beyond the remake of the original, to an expansion far above Medusa's old lair, easily engulfing and perhaps doubling the size of the original's first two levels.
As the game progresses, you are taken across the continent to different haunted landmarks; each is intimidating in its own way and each speaks of the ingenuity the developers used to code their game for the Genesis. As you reach the third level, an overtaken Leaning Tower of Pisa, you encounter what I believe is the greatest level ever in a Castlevania game.
Once inside this tower, it sways left and right, all the while forcing you upwards. You've no choice but to ascend, dodging the ever-threatening Medusa heads as you avoid a plunge to the unseen certainty of death below. You climb higher in the tilting tower, until you reach its exit, where a swirling series of perilous platforms beckon you to climb higher still. As the monstrous stepping stones appear and retreat, you must jump onto them and kill the swirling airborne guards, a feat that is at once hypnotically rhythmic and tense. To reach the tower's peak is to reach a battle on a precarious, rotating ledge, inconsistent in size but impressive in design.
Traversing the entirety of Bloodlines is challenging and rewarding. The Castlevania staple, the Clock Tower, appears here as a munitions factory, replete with impressive rotation faking in the gears. The final level, leading to the inevitable confrontations with Death, Bartley, and the Prince of Darkness, is a pleasantly disorienting trip through a castle that puts you upside down and makes you see yourself across shattered viewing slits, much like trying to see what you're doing in a broken mirror. Levels are all infested with seemingly impossible odds and imposing mini-bosses. Ingenious and undeniably fun.
While the levels themselves are vile platforming wonders, the bosses are a bit of give 'n take. While it steers far clear of the mindless, patternless assaults of the original's impassable bosses, it does so almost to the extreme degree of difference; the bosses in Bloodlines are so steeped in their patterns that after a few encounters, they are all but impotent. That means that while Elizabeth Bartley might first scare you into a wet pair of pants, after a few lives you'll know her so well that she's mundane. Ditto for the entire roster of master baddies until the last, final formation of Dracula. Challenging is this, after running a gauntlet of bosses prior to his resurrection (3 bosses, the first of which summons three of the game's earlier bosses).
Such a case of extremes prevails in the game's visuals, as well, where it sometimes stands as a shining graphical warhorse, and other times seems replicable on a Game Gear. The beautiful palatial designs of the second Dracula Castle, where Eric ascends with his powerful jumps, is a gorgeous rendering of architectural beauty. Pair this with the ass-fugly appearances of the 5-color subterranean area of the first Dracula Castle, and it's easy to see the duality seeping throughout Bloodlines. The swaying tower is as pleasingly surreal in appearance as in play; it leans to and fro, challenging the Genesis to portray the rom's intentions. The same can be said for the reflective waters of the second level; a visually impressive spectacle, diminished only by the truth that later must come a poor example of color in the form of the watery descent after the miniboss encounters.
John Morris and Eric LaCarde are the most impressively animated vampire killers of their day; their motion and idle appearance are leagues above previous (and some succeeding) incarnations. They look thirsty for the blood of their enemies and they move fluidly. The same care was given to the game's bosses, who dance about the screen with flying abilities or move awkwardly and clumsily due to their mechanical nature. Bloodlines earns a lot of comparisons to Super Castlevania IV, and visually, it both bests and submits to the Nintendo apparition.
Castlevania games are noted for their musical supremacy; in part for quality, and in part for the countless remixes that compose the soundscapes for their many games. Bloodlines eschews that tradition; it is comprised mostly of excellent, original songs. I'd go so far as to say it has the best original score of any Castlevania. An excellent and appropriate song called Reincarnated Soul seamlessly takes the place of former game opener, Vampire Killer. From there, the quality continues, as the new songs meld perfectly to the heritage of aural dominance possessed by other Castlevania games. The songs maintain superiority in composition over SCIV in particular, but they do not quite reach the symphonic mastery of the SCIV's SNES chip-powered delivery. It culminates, though, with a beautiful semi-farewell theme, in the form of the game's gorgeous rendition of Theme of Simon. An ominous and climactic title matched perfectly to the anticipation of Bloodlines' final challenge.
Bloodlines is a game of transitions; it was a created in a period when Konami was branching out to non-Nintendo systems with their once powerful franchises. It was a time when Castlevania was a vastly different game with every release; each had a different taste and each brought a new sense of expectation with it. Bloodlines, although far from the final Castlevania, marks the gruesome end to the place in history for the Belmonts, as their blood has been shed enough. Bloodlines is the end of a legacy, with the hint of a birth, and is also the most enjoyable time I've ever spent with a Castlevania game.
Community review by ethereal (March 14, 2004)
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