Retro Journal #7: Castlevania Bloodlines
Original Release Date: March 17th, 1994
What Is It? Castlevania Bloodlines is the only Castlevania game released for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive system, released opposite of Super Castlevania IV for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This was a major deal for the franchise and for series fans in general. Castlevania games, up to this point, were largely considered a Nintendo franchise. While Super Castlevania IV is regarded as superior, Bloodlines has a strong following. It featured two playable characters, each with a unique style of play (and for the first time, not a Belmont). The game was considerably violent and gory for the time as well.
Like the other games in the series, Bloodlines is a 2D action side-scroller with an emphasis on platforming and fighting enemies. You must defeat bosses and jump over traps to reach new areas. Bloodlines had a number of changes to the Castlevania formula, however. For one, the narrative is set across 1917 Europe and is not restricted to Dracula’s castle. Some levels are set in Greece and Italy. Players control either John Morris, who uses the Vampire Killer whip, or Eric Lecarde, who uses a spear to fight enemies.
Why Is It Worth Playing? Bloodlines is unique mixture of familiarity and uniqueness. Longtime Castlevania fans like myself might have missed this one because it was exclusive to the Sega Genesis, unlike the core games in the series. I had not played this game until a few years ago, when I had tracked down a used copy.
Bloodlines is an expertly designed 2D action game. John Morris is definitely the “default” character of the two, because his play style so closely mirrors that of the Belmont clan in the other games. Playing him should be second nature to anyone who has enjoyed a Castlevania game. This includes the somewhat stiff jumping mechanics and hazardous platforming, which may divide some players. Eric Lecarde is a more unique option. Unlike John, he uses a spear, which gives him a different range of attacks. He can also use the spear to perform a kind of super jump. Playing as Eric makes Bloodlines feel like an entirely different game, but I mean that in the best possible way.
Has It Been Re-Released? Unfortunately, no. You’ll have to track down a copy at a local shop or online. A used copy will most likely cost about $25 or more. If you want a copy with the original box, you should expect to spend closer to $50.
My Take: Level design is a great mix of beautiful and diabolical. The Genesis obviously didn’t have the same technological horsepower the Super Nintendo could muster, so the designers had to approach the game with a strong art design in mind. Super Castlevania IV is admittedly a more detailed game, but Bloodlines is still fun to look at, because of its excellent use of color and varied backgrounds. One stage is littered with bloody traps and skeletons, while another has broken columns and cool water effects. One of my favorite levels has a weird mirror design, making it difficult to see. The screen is divided into three sections that move separately, giving a unique and challenging perspective.
The music is just as great. While the Genesis sound card was considerably worse than the Super Nintendo’s, you can’t ignore catchy tunes. Konami did very well with the Genesis’ scrappy chipset. Fans might recognize the theme “Reincarnated Soul,” which was also used in the WiiWare revival Castlevania ReBirth. Playing through the game was a joy for me, thanks to a great soundtrack, thoughtful level design, and some unique hooks. Eric especially made the game fun for me, because he provided a twist on a game series that I had grown accustomed to. If you have played other pre-Symphony of the Night Castlevania games, you probably have an idea of how difficult the series can get. Thankfully, Bloodlines never feels quite as brutal. It certainly is challenging and there are some parts of the game where I was cursing the stiff jump mechanics, but I was able to clear stages much easier compared to the NES games. The stage design isn’t just difficult, it prepares you for challenges ahead, getting you in the right mindset so that you don’t have to simply memorize and retro levels. Instead, you’ll be able to predict and interpret situations, thus rewarding you for learning the game’s nuances.
The game also has quite a few other fun touches. You can not only use items, but also a special “item crash” ability. Weapons can also be upgraded to become more powerful. Stages also boast a neat level of interaction. While SCIV allowed you to use your whip to scale new heights, in this game you can knock statues off their pedestals, use disheveled columns to form bridges, and watch as minibosses shatter windows in the background. On the downside, Bloodlines doesn’t seem to offer as much substance as its companions. Levels are considerably shorter and platforming sections aren’t quite as thoughtful. Level design is great from an art design perspective, but the hazards and traps aren’t as challenging or interesting, making it pale in comparison to SCIV. Levels are mostly straightforward, to boot. Still, even with the flaws mentioned, Bloodlines is an excellent and often-overlooked entry that is definitely worth playing.
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