GAME REVIEW | "Bloodstained" Returns Metroidvania to Its Roots
Note to the triple-A gaming industry: when someone says the community is craving a certain kind of game, you best listen to them instead of plugging your ears. That’s what happened with Koji Igarashi, who breathed new life to Castlevania in the 90s with the iconic Symphony of the Night. But when Konami wasn’t giving him the chance to make another game like it years later, he left the company and started his own with Artplay. With Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a successor to the Castlevania franchise funded on Kickstarter, he has proven why it’s best for the higher-ups to pay attention.
Taking place in 18th century England, Bloodstained focuses on Miriam, a human who was forcibly fused with crystals via alchemy. Dubbed a Shardbinder, Miriam finds herself as one of her people’s remaining survivors, as most of them were sacrificed. The other surviving Shardbinder Gebel has summoned demons to destroy all of England, with Miriam swearing to put a stop to his madness. With the aid of alchemist Johannes and exorcist Dominique, the Shardbinder sets off to rid the country of any sort of demonic trouble.
Anyone who has played a Metroidvania title in the past knows what to expect. The side-scrolling mechanisms haven’t changed much since the 90s, with a few things here and there added to make the gameplay a bit more diverse. Thankfully, the stuff that made Symphony of the Night such an iconic part of the Castlevania lore are fully intact within Bloodstained. A massive quest? Check! Deep storytelling? Double-check! A kickass soundtrack by Michiru Yamane? Triple-check!
And it’s this mixing of the classics that makes Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night such a thrill to play! Although the Metroidvania genre has never gone away in the slightest, Artplay’s take on the genre feels like a fresh restart. Roaming the castle and the world as Miriam never tires, as the amount of danger thrown at you at every turn will keep you at bay. Yes, it can be a bit of a pain to have to re-kill almost every enemy when you reenter the room, but at least you get some sort of power boost the more you defeat your enemies!
For weapons, Miriam has a good mixture on her hands to choose from. Whether it’s with a sword, axe, gun, whip, or even her bare hands, the demons she’ll come across won’t stand much of a chance! Accessories such as hats, masks, rings, and corsets can also give you an advantage on the battlefield, with a nice mixture of aesthetics that can make your Miriam stand out from the rest of the pack. Of course, you quickly learn that having the mightiest of weapons won’t exactly guarantee victory, especially when it comes to the best part of the game: the Boss Battles!
What is usually the most grueling and pain-in-the-ass part of any side-scrolling adventure game is instead some of the most fun and inventive challenges you can find in a Metroidvania. Villains with super strength, amazing speed, ginormous girth, and even a Goddamn possessed train will throw everything at you and make sure you die the first few times. However, there is a strategy to defeat each one, which will require many a trial-and-error process to earn that victory. (Fortunately, a save spot is almost always near a boss battle, so you don’t have to worry about too much progress being lost.)
With every boss battle and demon defeated, you will earn a shard that gives you a special ability. From launching fire and water at your enemies to being able to zig-zag at lightning speed through tight crevices, these techniques will give you the opportunity to find new areas and discover hidden secrets throughout the massive castle. In some cases, you might also nab yourself an un-killable familiar that will aid you in battle, something that comes in handy when fighting, say, a massive two-headed dragon! (One demon you’ll come across and earn the powers of will be very familiar to those in the indie gaming realm, so keep your eyes peeled for that little goodie.)
Just as beautiful as the gameplay of Bloodstained is its visuals. With assistance from Shantae developers WayForward, Artplay has crafted a truly gorgeous world that feels both new and familiar to gamers everywhere. There were moments in my play-through that had me watching how the background and foreground reacted to one another, with an amazing attention to detail placed in every corner turned. Granted, the character models aren’t perfect when seen up-close during the FMV moments, but in their normal place Miriam and the rest of the gang look pretty darn good.
Sadly, as much as I want to praise Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, there are some flaws in the game that keep it from being 100% stellar. One thing that was a bit of a nuisance was the minimal amount of save points in the game. Many times I was clutching at my pearls as I rushed from one side of an area to the next in order to revitalize Miriam and keep my stats the way they were, with my success rate of such a chore being less than half of the time. Of course, I did make a bad decision or two on the way back, which led to my failure from time-to-time.
However, what can’t be blamed on gamer slip-ups are the multiple times the game crashed on me. I had lost a plethora of powers, levels, and upgrades because Bloodstained decided to crap out on me twenty or thirty minutes since my last save point! A regular crashing occurrence I encountered was whenever an enemy was about to attack me, and I had either activated a chest or bookcase just as I was about to take the blow. The frequency that this occurred on me forced me to step away from playing Bloodstained for a few days, as it got on my nerves too much.
As for a moment that was making me nervous, watching the framerate drop during the Towers of Twin Dragons level had me on edge! While the game didn’t slow down to a crawl, seeing Miriam slowly fighting her way through demons and poisonous bugs made me worry that the game would crash again! Oddly enough, there were no crashes of any kind during this particular level. Nevertheless, it made me worry that something bad was going to happen to my unsaved progress.
Thankfully, there will be fixes for these bugs. While I did need to take a break from playing due to the problem being frustrating, what I experienced overall was far more positive than negative. Despite its setbacks, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is still loads of fun, and a welcoming return to what made Metroidvania games a staple of the gaming genres.
- Extremely fun, lengthy campaign
- Loads of weapons & costumes
- Challenging boss battles
- Crashing issues
- Not enough checkpoints
- Minor framerate issues
Even with some of its hiccups, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a tour de force for the Metroidvania genre. With its nice arsenal of weapons and a plethora of challenges, Koji Igarashi’s return to the realm he made famous is a beautiful victory lap for indie gaming. Konami may have thought that you can’t keep these sorts of games fresh anymore, but Bloodstained sinks its fangs in and quenches a new life for the 2D action-adventure realm.
Promotional consideration provided by Adam Simon of Wonacott Communications. Reviewed on the PS4.