Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has some serious expectations to live up to. Not just because it’s the brainchild of Koji Igarashi (known to his fans as “IGA”), the brain behind many of Konami’s later Castlevania titles, but because it was one of the most high-profile gaming Kickstarter of recent memory. With other big gaming Kickstarters like Mighty No. 9 and Yooka-Laylee leaving fans cold, there’s understandably a bit of trepidation about how Bloodstained will turn out. Well, good news: it’s coming along, it plays great, and it feels like an IGA Castlevania game through and through.
Young Miriam is an average girl living in 18th century England. Well, average except for the alchemist’s curse she’s been stuck with that’s trapped a bunch of magical crystals inside her body. After being asleep for a decade, she wakes up to find that the alchemists who did this to her also had a little demon-summoning experiment that went horribly awry, and now there’s a castle filled with unholy horrors. Time to kill some demons, collect a bunch of ability-granting items, and explore every nook and cranny of the castle to fill out that map!
When you first pick up Bloodstained, you’ll notice just how fluidly Miriam controls. Though the game is rendered in 2.5D rather than 2D sprites, Miriam’s movements and animations are speedy, without any of the “lag” that can affect the feel of polygon-rendered characters in a 2D side-scrolling world. As Miriam jumps, runs, and kicks through the castle, she’ll pick up various equipment along the way, allowing her to equip and use a vast array of weapons: swords, knives, axes, and yes – whips.
The abilities Miriam collects, however, affect her play in considerably dramatic ways. Occasionally after defeating foes, they’ll drop some manner of crystallised ability, which Miriam will then absorb by dramatically impaling herself with it. (It’s quite a shock the first time, but you get used to it, weird as that sounds.) Abilities granted include magic attacks (several of which can be aimed using the right analog stick), summoning familiars like demonic monkeys and skeletal hounds, and movement skills to help you access previously-inaccessible areas. Many of these skills consume Miriam’s MP when used, so keeping tabs on when and how to use them best is crucial, especially during boss fights.
Speaking of boss fights, we got to play a boss encounter during our demo, and it’s here that the game really earned its name. A sultry, demonic-looking woman, clad in a red dress, emerged from a bathtub full of dark liquid and began attacking us with a series of parasols that sprayed toxic blood with each swipe. As her HP depleted, she began covering the walls of the room with the liquid, leaving us to scramble under her aerial projectiles to shield ourselves from a rain of acid blood. It was a pretty intense fight, to say the least.
Bloodstained is still a ways off – the release date is slated for a nebulous “sometime in 2018.” But if that’s how long it takes to make a worthy successor to games like Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow, it’ll be worth it.