It’s strange that Konami was one of the last major publishers to come to the Genesis. While most third parties did not hesitate to run screaming from Nintendo’s strong arm tactics of the 80s they held fast. Granted, their SNES output was more than enough to sustain them but why not chase the dollars of a whole new audience? When they did come they dove in head first with all of their major brands of the time, including Castlevania.
Castlevania: Bloodlines was released almost simultaneously worldwide in 1994. Perhaps to set it apart from the main games in the series in case the fans hated it (which I would find hard to believe was possible) the heroes are not the Belmont clan this time; instead you control Jonathan Morris, a descendant of the family or his friend Eric Lecarde. In stark contrast to previous games in the series this takes place in 1917 rather than the middle ages. You are on a worldwide hunt for Elizabeth Bartley, Dracula’s niece who is trying to resurrect her uncle. Each of our heroes has their own reasons for wanting her dead but in the end stopping the Count from coming back is paramount.
Unlike prior games you can choose your hero at the start. John Morris is the traditional whip wielder and if you’ve played any Castlevania before you know what to expect. Eric Lecarde uses a spear rather than the Vampire Killer making for some interesting contrasts in terms of gameplay. The choice isn’t purely cosmetic; each character has their own route through the levels that only they can access. Only 3 sub weapons make an appearance; the boomerang, axe and holy water. To supplement this the item crash from Rondo of Blood returns at the cost of extra hearts. Collecting green orbs will power up your spear or whip for extra damage that lasts until you’ve taken a hit.
Although there are only 6 levels each one is divided into as many as 8 or 9 sections, all providing a decent challenge. The move sets for the characters are very different, giving a reason to play through as each character to experience their different paths. John Morris can swing across gaps and is generally stronger while Eric is more agile, able to super jump and move a lot faster. As a whole playing as Eric is easier since you can attack enemies above or below and also take advantage of his temporary invincibility while super jumping to make most encounters trivial. It’s almost game breaking how overpowered it is. I completely cheesed my way through the final encounter with Dracula by super jumping through all of his attacks until I had an opening then repeated until the deed was done.
That’s not to say the game isn’t challenging; far from it. There are frequent gauntlets of two or three bosses back to back with little or no chance to replenish health. The end of the game features an 8 man boss rush which is insane. For those who want more of the traditional ball breaking difficulty the series is known for there is an expert mode; good luck with that.
This might sound strange but this plays very much like a Treasure game although they had long since left Konami at that point. Every level has a plethora of mid bosses, all multi-jointed monstrosities that animate like something out of Gunstar Heroes or Alien Soldier. The game is absolutely brimming with unique special effects for the hardware. The reflection effect that Konami was in love with in their Sega games makes an appearance but that is just a drop in the bucket compared to later levels. The leaning Tower of Pisa features impressive scaling effects reminiscent of Mode 7. The final level features a segment where the screen is chopped up into lines that scroll independently of one another, leaving you to navigate the beautiful mess. The game is very bloody compared to Castlevania 4’s squeaky clean veneer. Series composer Michiru Yamane made her debut here and despite having a very short amount of time to craft the music does an excellent job of upholding the series reputation for aural excellence.
Beautiful stuff. Konami never lost a step even after the members of Treasure left.
This is an excellent action game that does the series proud and plays to the system’s strengths. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of Castlevania IV but don’t let that stop you. Fantastic graphics, inventive levels design and a decent length all combine to provide you with many hours of entertainment.