The latest game I’ve finished has left somewhat of a bitter taste in my mouth. I don’t know your familiarity MetroidVania games (a term derived from giant game world where you explore and find items to help provide further progress, champion by the Metroid and Castlevania series respectively) but Bloodstained had been a game that was developed very much in the public eye being initially funded through crowd sourcing platform Kickstarter before being scooped by by published Deep Silver for increasing development time and costs.
I’m not going to spend time on the history of the game, as this blog isn’t about that but I bring it up here because similar projects funded in the same vein (in this case a developer known for making a series of games, leaves their respective company to independently develop a spiritual successor to said game series, in this case well known developer) Koji Igarashi wanted to make a spiritual successor to fan favorite Castlevania game Symphony of the Night. Similar productions have not fared well in the public eye in terms of openness of the production or end result and for me at least Bloodstained, while not a failure isn’t a well honed production, in fact at times it feels downright amateur.
Starting with the most simple information your here for, Bloodstained is a passable game, not amazing in any real way, it’s not superior to Symphony of the Night and due to its content, frustrating gameplay and overall quality I’d certainly suggest getting the game it’s mostly based on (Castlevania Symphony of the Night, which while rated for Teenage players is fairly subdued by today’s standards of blood, monsters and language) Bloodstained attempts to be more daring than any Castlevania game in plot and lore; with a heroin who’s a survivor of childhood occult experimentation, complex character interaction at times surrounding this and monsters that move away from the mythical based creatures adding in horrific (not in depiction all the time, but nevertheless mentally frightening some times) monsters the heads of giant decapitated dogs that bounce around after you.. breed determining the cute factor of it all.
The game however isn’t just trying to mimic the gameplay beats of its spiritual predecessor, it also borrows heavily from the more futuristic Castlevania Sorrow sub series (eg, Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow) You have the ability to recover ‘shards’ from enemies you destroy on your adventures. Absorbing them gives you a power of skill based on said enemy and along with just obtaining items to help expand your move set to explore further you’ll also have to track down and make use of the correct skills to progress (though mostly those skills are obtained from bosses, it’s’ not always the case) I’ll praise how this is worked into the narrative as a skill along that’s plot relevant and leads to an actually fairly smart twist that is reinforced by game gameplay. However it does lead to a lot of extra middle management a lot of the time. Your given the ability to have a collection of different set ups of skills and equipment but these shortcut slots are also physical items that have to be found in game which means some players may not get this option and it does lead to falling back on your favorite until forced to change by an enemy or environmental hazard.
But let’s get into what I really want to discuss about this game; it’s bugs and general lack of polish. The least of the issues is the art style, which over the years has changed twice from the original development shots shared back in the day and the most recent in the lead up to release after further negative feedback. i personally don’t like the final result which has a lot of bright lighting which seems out of place to the point of everything enemy wise feeling self illuminated where light shins of them. The environments however still retain the look of their earliest textures which sometimes look very much in contrast to the characters in the world, perhaps the warp rom which is used to traverse big sections of the map being the biggest tonal shift from the rest of the game in art style.
Outside of general performance issues, which on some concoels have been extremely poor and at the time of writing haven’t been address (Switch port) I played this on the PS4 and still had many issues of slow down and general poor performance. So what is a simple game a lot of the time there’s not enough happening on screen to validate such issues.. and when their in in the case of a late game casino themed boss the slowdown is horrific. This speaks of a very unpolished and unrefined game which needed either more time and/or more expertise to make the game perform better.
This is where I feel the need to go into context here, in case you’re new to the blog or are equally well versed in games (but not actual development possibly). I aim an experienced game developed and in the same engine and using many of the same tools that were used to create the game. Poor optimisation is something that can usually be fixed given enough time and while it’s perfectly fair to call be out for saying a lack of skill might be responsible for this poor performance when a need to just finish the game and release it the most pressing things (all arguments aside that a game should be release when finished and not before) the next issues are on the devs
Performance aside the game has a lot of issues when it comes to the combat, however the restricted combat options aren’t one of them. This keeps the same style of combat and combat options present in the other Castlevania games, and your expected to switch up your skills constantly to match your needs on the fly… while not fun to do it’s the intended way of play. The collision detection of the enemies is something that needs a lot of work still. Throughout the beginning and mid sections of the game up until what essentially is the bad ending (about 65% through the game) you’ll be able to shrug off these issues as even if you are being overwhelmed by enemies and bosses you can always grind, craft more equipment or explore elsewhere first. The latter end of the game often gives you a linear set of places you have to visit in a certain order, with enemies that can kill you very quickly and bosses have both insane health, damage output and hit detection that can have them hit you from behind in attacks the are no where near you.. also grinding takes much longer to increase you in levels coupled with a blind player likely having found the best armour they are every doing to without prior knowledge of the games secrets or super powered crafting weapons that you’ll need to know exactly where to farm items from to create.
It makes everything that much more frustrating to finish, and this is alongside some of the sillier bugs in the game, which a death blow on your character doesn’t register and you can continue to fight when the game still fades into the game over screen or pausing during attacks where some effects keep going (including enemy projectile effects, but not the physics objects that will hit you.. this is why i maintain it feels amatuer at times in its production)
This may be striving too far into the nit picking side as well but when it comes to the animation in the game everything feels stiff, especially the main character. It’s probably something the vast majority will overlook but as an animator myself I like seeing a character move with a sense of weight or at least consistency in a more cartoonist or fantasy setting. Bloodstained does neither and to make it worse with a walk cycle that doesn’t actually match the speed the character moves at.
You can of course argue again that I’m being unfairly harsh as the contents of the game adds up to something that’s far bigger and more expansive then any Castlevania that’s ever come before, but to counter that bigger isn’t always better and perhaps the ambition for this game was too high… however I’d hope a sequel could certainly expand further and fix many of the issues. Perhaps the bigger question that has stemmed from this game for me is why did production go in a 2.5D direction. While some areas make use of the 2.5D perspective it’s questionable in execution, takes you out of the game and spiral areas make for confusing placement on the map. Considering Castlevania was the series known for keeping 2D when everything else was going 3D back in the late 90s I wonder if they should have kept that mindset along with all the art and animation possibilities that come with it as opposed to the new ground being covered here. Smaller scope games like Time Spinner and the Shantee series have proved it’s merit (as had most of the quality indie games over the last few years)
To address this again in case you were wondering this blog just isn’t for games I want to share with my kids, but also the ones I play. I hope to be able to share games like this with my little ones when they are much older.. but the world is big and our time on it small and I think it’ll come down to introducing the very best of the classic games I grew up with and not the imitators or lesser cousins. Bloodstained is likely to be forgotten over time, regardless of how good a sequel is, I like Symphony of the Night and it’s probably the one I’ll return to years from now. Maybe that’s the best and/or worst thing I can say for Bloodstained… it’s been done before and done better