Everything about Castlevania seemed so clear in the NES days. Sure, Simon’s Quest spun its design in a slightly cumbersome action-RPG direction, with progress gated not by mechanical challenge but rather obtuse misguidance; yet even when it was misdirecting players, that game still felt intrinsically like its siblings. From the intro to the original Castlevania through the final moments of Dracula’s Curse, the NES Castlevania trilogy maintained a consisitent aesthetic, style, and control scheme.
That all went out the window for the 16-bit era. Konami couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with the franchise once it made the leap from NES. Make no mistake, Super Castlevania IV was and is a masterpiece of atmospheric game design, but in hindsight it’s a curious island drifting on its own. Rondo of Blood for PC Engine was allegedly treated as a side game of no real relevance to the franchise, yet it feels far more like the classic NES games than any of its peers or successors. And then there’s the practically forgotten Castlevania: Bloodlines for Genesis.
“Forgotten?” you ask. Yes, forgotten. Konami has somehow managed to put every single 2D Castlevania on Wii Virtual Console except Bloodlines—and that includes Rondo, which was never released in America and showed up on the American Wii still in Japanese. The one acknowledgement the company has ever made to Castlevania’s Genesis entry came in the form of Portrait of Ruin, which served as a direct sequel… but only narratively. The two games played nothing alike beyond the gross mechanical connections of jumping and attacking. Portrait creator Koji Igarashi has been put to pasture while the series lay in the hands of guys who claim to love Castlevania IV yet seem primarily drawn to God of War (which, as you may be aware, isn’t actually a Castlevania game at all).
So Bloodlines must be a real stinker, huh? Well, actually… no. Granted, it’s not the finest entry in the franchise. In fact, I’d say it’s the least impressive of the series’ 16-bit entries. But when standing among giants, even a tall man can seem diminutive. Being the least of a series of greats still makes you great.
Bloodlines, like Rondo before it, pulls back from the distinct pacing and mechanics of Super Castlevania IV to play more like one of the NES games. Unlike Rondo, though, it doesn’t offer a bevy of alternate routes and hidden secrets. As befits the Genesis platform, it’s easily the most arcade-like of the series’ 16-bit entries. Its one mechanical concession to its era came in the form of its two playable characters, who played differently (John Morris in the classic Belmont style, Eric Lecarde as a more nuanced spear-wielder)… though neither were so different from one another as the cast of Dracula’s Curse or Rondo’s Maria.
Instead, Bloodlines pinned its personality on tech with crazy enemy and level graphic tricks to rival the Mode 7 demo stage of Castlevania IV—and all without the Super NES’s hardware perks. It also marked Michiru Yamane’s first work with Castlevania, and the soundtrack rocks accordingly. Konami may not give a crap about Bloodlines, but Castlevania fans should. It deserves to be remembered.
Article by Jeremy Parish
GameSpite Journal 12: Castlevania Bloodlines