"Castlevania: Bloodlines, the Genesis’ lone foray into the CV realm, suffered the misfortune of being released during the same era of gaming as effect-laden Super Castlevania IV and mythical Rondo of Blood. Reluctantly playing the hapless third sister of the two aforementioned legends, Bloodlines pulls off a marvelous Cinderella story, giving Genesis owners a CV saga that can proudly stand alongside its majestic siblings. "
Shrugging off the prospect of the series collapsing under its own weight with a sly, all-knowing smile, Konami has blessed virtually every successful game system with an episode of Castlevania. New pieces of hardware translate into new ingredients for Konami to mix and match as they dare us to question the quality of the recipes they concoct. It is a given that any particular chapter of Castlevania will be “good,” but achieving greatness seems dependent on how well said chapter matches up with its near-infallible brethren. Castlevania: Bloodlines, the Genesis’ lone foray into the CV realm, suffered the misfortune of being released during the same era of gaming as effect-laden Super Castlevania IV and mythical Rondo of Blood. Reluctantly playing the hapless third sister of the two aforementioned legends, Bloodlines pulls off a marvelous Cinderella story, giving Genesis owners a CV saga that can proudly stand alongside its majestic siblings.
Indeed, previous ventures into the Castlevania world will be tucked away in the back of your mind as you race up the stairways of a glowing blue shrine, shredding through spear-wielding minotaurs as water rises unabatedly, flooding the structure and threatening to overtake you. Victory in this frantic race will lead to a brief pause in the inundation, until a magician utilizes his mystic orb to bring rain down upon you, the chaos ending only when either you slay the wizard or the flood claims your life. But then again, the chaos has only just begun, as an enormous knight enters the fray and slings his mighty flail your way, slamming and shattering the ground should he miss his intended target. Obliterating this warrior brings another of equal size, this time wielding a colossal axe.
All of this occurs within a mere strip of Bloodlines’ second stage.
All of it is also symbolic of Bloodlines’ unique approach to the venerable Castlevania themes. Other 16-bit CV entries succeeded through the establishment of unforgettable atmospheres: Rondo of Blood with its unparalleled drama, SCIV with its sublime eeriness. But Bloodlines is a different beast. Shunning the theatrics sported by its sisters (for the most part), Bloodlines instead focuses on challenging the player with one ingeniously chaotic scene after another.
Even Dracula’s henchmen occasionally fall victim themselves to the rampant chaos. Skeletons leap from platforms high above, attempting to launch surprise attacks, only to be promptly annihilated by enormous swinging pendulums. Chandeliers plummet from the ceiling, smashing unsuspecting axemen. Indeed, discovering methods to make your raucous surroundings work for you rather than against you will give you the upper hand on your adversaries. Utilizing your weapon to behead a gigantic marble statue might seem like frivolous fun until the magnificent dome falls into place between two platforms, creating a bridge for you to travel across. Beware, though; your enemies will make use of the environment as well. Stalwart demons have no qualms with unearthing immense stone pillars and using them to smash in your skull.
Accepting the gauntlet thrown down by Count Dracula is whip-wielding muscleman John Morris. Deprive him of his weapon and one would never be able to tell that our man Morris has Belmont blood running through his veins. Simon’s eight-way whipping tactics have apparently been lost through the generations, and Morris is most certainly too burly to pull off Richter’s nifty jumping acrobatics. Still, while a little stiff, Morris ingeniously coated the tip of his whip with some brand of adhesive or another, as he can use it to latch on to the flattest of surfaces and soar from one place to the next.
We encounter our stout friend during Bloodlines’ opening cinema, as he proudly stands flexing his muscles and sporting a goofy countenance. But then, there is another warrior standing right beside him, flaunting long blonde hair, brandishing a magnificent and unquestionably deadly lance, staring right into your eyes with a look cold enough to freeze the most sinister of Dracula’s minions dead in its tracks. Meet Eric Lecarde.
In stark contrast to his goofy-yet-noble sidekick, Lecarde is a suave, compelling antihero. Sporting the look of a cold-hearted rogue himself, Eric’s aloofness detracts not the slightest from his spear-wielding talents. Choose to use him over flat-footed Morris and you will be able to spin your mighty lance from one side to the other and back again, ravaging enemies and protecting yourself from projectile attacks in the process. Lecarde can also utilize his grand weapon to propel himself upwards and soar to seemingly unreachable heights, a technique that in itself is yet another method of attack.
Regardless of which character you choose, an enjoyable journey that puts Konami’s ingeniousness on full display lies ahead of you. There is beauty to witness as you approach the Shrine of Atlantis, the battles you partake in versus bloodthirsty abominations reflected back at you by the gorgeous seas that lie below. There are intense challenges to overcome, as you are placed aboard an unsteady raft on a descending lake with Medusa heads soaring in for the kill. There are enemies to be slain, in the forms of howling hellhounds, gargantuan golems, and relentless cudgel-wielding demons.
And, of course, there are theatrics to indulge in. While not quite as ostentatious in presentation as Super Castlevania IV, Bloodlines contains its fair share of sequences that display the Genesis’ true technological mettle, most notably the third stage’s Leaning Tower of Pisa ascent. Make your way up the interior of the unstable tower, dodging the perennial nuisances that are the Medusa heads, and step outside on to floating platforms. Your trip will take you around the exterior of the tower, with the structure itself rotating in the background as you go. It’s a brief but beautiful scene; one never gets the impression that Konami was overly indulgent while designing this cart.
Playing a more prominent role in Bloodlines’ overall appeal is the game’s brilliant soundtrack. Listen to the alternating melodies of the enchanting riff and catchy bass line during the second stage’s Atlantis scene. The tracks that Konami designed for Bloodlines might not haunt you as the dirges in Super Castlevania IV had, but they will immerse you in the experience with irresistible hooks. Finally, eeriness has actually been shunned for melody. At no time is this more obvious than during the traditional trip up the moonlit stairway that leads to the final confrontation. The typical ballad of darkness is ditched for a low-key rendition of the inspirational ''Theme of Simon.'' Certainly this track lacks the upbeat punch of the rendition heard in SCIV, but then again, Konami was shooting for that very contrast. Bloodlines treads on new ground, and does so effectively.
Of course, it wisely remembers to pay homage to its roots throughout the journey. Familiar Castlevania foes such as Death, Frankenstein and Medusa will all pay their respects here. Items can still be obtained by swatting candles, and pork chops still revive a tired vampire hunter to a greater extent than any other delicacy. Various Castlevania clichés are adorned with brand new exteriors: the gauntlet of gears and conveyor belts that we’ve all grown to know as the Clock Tower appears in the guise of a munitions factory, while the hearts that typically power one’s auxiliary weapons have been replaced with jewels.
Even with all that Bloodlines has going for it -- all its refreshingly new concepts and all its nostalgic tributes to previous episodes -- it ultimately falls short of achieving the excellence exemplified by its 16-bit peers. A mere six-stage affair, Bloodlines is surprisingly short for a Castlevania title, and is quite easy to boot. With a little practice, it becomes possible to complete the game without losing a single life, a feat that would hardly seem feasible in epic SCIV or sprawling Rondo. Conquering the game’s default difficulty unlocks an “Expert” mode, which somewhat remedies the problem of challenge if not of length.
As beautiful an experience as Bloodlines can be at times, the limited Genesis color palette ultimately does its damage, with horrid purples and ludicrously bright oranges making one want to look away from otherwise well-designed scenarios. Morris and Lecarde are mere munchkins when compared with sturdy Simon from SCIV. Dracula’s minions suffer as well: the skele-serpent mini-boss here would undoubtedly cower in fear if confronted by the standard bone dragons from Rondo of Blood.
Other problems are somewhat baffling in that they could have been easily taken care of. One’s arsenal of auxiliary weapons is unusually small in Bloodlines, with only boomerangs, axes and vials of holy water available as alternatives to one’s primary weapon. And while it is always enjoyable to smash down brittle walls to reveal pork chops or other various goodies, Konami inexplicably made the “secret spots” quite obvious by marking them with cracks. Poking around for hidden niches and items adds another element to most Castlevania episodes, but Konami eliminated the possibility for such exploration here.
While Bloodlines does not quite achieve “masterpiece” status due to various flaws, it still stands as a superb accompaniment to Super Castlevania IV and Rondo of Blood. Konami strays from typical Castlevania concepts with dignity, offering enough new ground to appeal to veterans of the series while crafting some ingenious -- and, at times, beautiful -- action sequences to make the game a worthy purchase for all Genesis owners. Bloodlines does things its own way -- and it does them well.
Community review by darkfact (June 11, 2005)
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