Ah, Castlevania, a series close to my heart for being an excellent series of challenging open-world Gothic platformers and for providing an easy rhyme for WrestleMania when I'm in a rap battle, and no Castlevania is remembered more fondly than Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. "Why are you bringing that up, Yahtz? The video title clearly states that this is a review of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which is an entirely separate thing with a whole two different words in the title." Oh, don't be coy; you know damn well this is the Mighty No. 9 thing again, where the original IP is being held prisoner by a parent company who are doing nothing but sitting on it letting off the occasional fart, having tried and failed to stick the series of a big hairy "like God of War, but...", so the original creator behind the series's success - in this case, Koji Igarashi - broke off and went to Kickstarter saying, "Hey, come and fund my new game (wink)! It's a totally new IP (wink)!" And then, of course, it's the Castlevania: Symphony of the Night remake with a finger under its nose, going, "I can't be Castlevania; Castlevania doesn't have a mustache!"
So Bloodstained briefly ties itself in knots coming up with all-new lore to explain why a magical demon hunter - or "Shardbinder", in this case - needs to come fuck up a magically-conjured castle full of monsters that isn't Dracula's castle - even though Dracula is public domain, so surely, it could've been - and after that, things will quickly seem familiar. "Yahtzee, don't you go giving this game no free ride just 'cos you like Symphony of the Night, you fork-tongued sidewinder!" Don't worry, passing cowboy; if Bloodstained were just Symphony with the serial numbers filed off, which it certainly looks like at times, I'd have had to dock points for it being less "innovative new work" than "masturbation exercise".
But actually, Bloodstained is a supercut of all the good ideas in Igarashi's later Castlevanias as well. So from Aria of Sorrow, it takes the soul-collecting mechanic where every single monster grants a unique power or buff. In Aria, this was the kind of genius idea that was obvious in retrospect; most Castlevania games have monster rosters you'd struggle to fit on an average CVS receipt in very small writing, and this game has a gameplay reason to catalog them. Later games tried and failed to improve on it; the glyph-absorbing in Order of Ecclesia was just the same fucking thing with its arms and legs cut off, so fuck it, here it is again.
And from Ecclesia, Bloodstained takes the "helping out villagers" side-quests and several of the plot elements, such as a female main character who somehow manages to be simultaneously under- and overdressed. I remember the first time I saw Miriam, Bloodstained's protagonist, my first thought was, "Are you fucking serious?" Why is she wearing one-third of a breastplate? The devil horns, the rose tattoos, the puffball miniskirt that's, like, one millimeter short of putting camel toe on full display like a frog's head peering over a log? The way she constantly poses like Betty Boop trying to stay upright at a strong wind? She looks like someone opened one of those incredibly pathetic anime girlfriend dress-up simulators and then sat on the keyboard.
And it doesn't stop there. In Symphony of the Night, your equipment list could say that Alucard is wearing a coal miner's helmet and a handlebar mustache, but looking at him in-game, he'd still be his normal, devastatingly handsome anime self 'cos it was all baked-in sprites; well, with the wonderful march of technology, Miriam can now be visibly wearing all those ridiculous accessories, and there are officially no brakes on the "Looking Completely Stupid" train. Kind of kills the dramatic cutscene when you rock up with bunny ears and a piece of bog roll sellotaped to your nose. I think it's perfectly reasonable to not be 100% literal with the niceties of a game like this; I mean, when I pause the game and eat five curries in the middle of a tricky boss fight, this is on the assumption that when I un-pause, Miriam won't have a tummy ache and basmati rice all down her front.
On the whole, though, I don't know how many times I can rephrase, "If you liked Koji Igarashi's Castlevania games, you'll like the shit out of this, 'cos it's all of them smashed together with a very poorly-dressed lady on the front." You go back and forth across not-Dracula's castle in the usual way, growing in power as you kill endless streams of classic Castlevania monsters all holding their fingers under their noses. Sometimes, the critical path is a bit obscure; I'm ashamed to admit I had to look up the way forward more than once, but rest assured, I always made sure to compensate by punching myself in the testicles. Oh, I see; I was supposed to get a water traversal soul from this one random monster that only appears in one room and doesn't even drop it all the time. OOF! "Couldn't you even figure that out, you stupid swollen-testicled fuck?!" But it was fairly smooth sailing on the whole.
The rest of my niggles are little niggles, the least little niggle being that I find the full 3D look to be kind of ugly in ways that crafted 2D pixel art can never be; I've never seen a pixel-art stone wall with slightly misaligned and overstretched textures, or one that mysteriously turns into a barcode when a crack or blood splatter decal is applied to it. Also, I had recurring annoyances with the interface. Why does this game always find it so hard to believe that I want to skip a fucking cutscene? Why do I have to press the "Skip" button, like, five times? This is my third attempt at this boss fight; I have established to my satisfaction that "this ends now". I don't want to just skip the first bit of dialogue and get to the little animation that precedes the second and third bit of dialogue; I want to skip the whole thing and get to the part where I start hitting them with sharp objects and the occasional magically-conjured pig!
Also, whenever I use the shortcut ability to switch to a normally-unused-but-suddenly-necessary traversal power, the game would un-equip my weapon. But I hesitate to mention that because it's a bug, and games being what they are these days, it'll probably get patched out soon in order to make me look like a twat, and for no other reason.
So that's some niggles; them aside, Bloodstained is the exceedingly rare overfunded Kickstarter project that delivers on its promises. It's exactly what you wanted: it's Symphony of the Night again, but bigger and brought up-to-date without changing the fundamental things that you liked about it, albeit with some portraits of very greasy people who ponied up extra cash dotted around the map, the occasional monster modeled after their pet dog, and a "Special Thanks" section in the credits that goes on for three fucking hours.
So I hope Bloodstained realizes what it has done; all we needed was a few more disappointing fuck-ups, a few more Mighty No. 9s, Yooka-Laylees, Broken Ages, and maybe we could've all been completely soured to the Kickstarted retro callback. "Oh, maybe it isn't healthy to never want to leave our youthful comfort zones," we could've all said. "Maybe we should be open to new thoughts and ideas, for just as the gene pool requires variance, so too does art need a diversity of new concepts to avoid stagnation and producing nothing but the cultural equivalent of harelips and webbed toes." And you fucked that up, Bloodstained, by proving the system can actually work, and now it's going to be Kickstarted remakes of Custer's Revenge as far as the eye can see. If you want a picture of the future, imagine General Custer's lovingly-rendered shiny bell-end slapping a human face - forever.
- Absorbed the soul of a saltwater crab: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- If my dog was a Castlevania monster he'd be a water elemental driven to walk the earth forever ensuring that everyone's hands are sufficiently moist
- Still waiting on that Kickstarted remake of Redneck Rampage