GameSpite Journal 12: Castlevania Bloodlines

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

21 thoughts on “GameSpite Journal 12: Castlevania Bloodlines

  1. This ended up being more a general treatise o 16-bit Castlevania due to the space limitations of this book, but I have more to say about Bloodlines someday. Maybe in an Anatomy of a Game piece?

  2. Most underated Castlevania game. I love every aspect of it. Portrait of Ruin tickled me pink with the fact that it was a sequel to Bloodlines. .

  3. I think Bloodlines might be my favorite of the “traditional” Castlevanias. Maybe it was due to the console’s technical limitations, but the murky graphics seemed perfect for the Castlevania style, and gave the game a great atmosphere. And despite its traditional mechanics, it also did some new things. The protagonist wasn’t a Belmont, and it took place all over Europe instead of just one castle.

    By association, Portrait of Ruin is my favorite of the “metroidvanias.” It has a lot of little nods to its predecessor, like two playable characters, and traveling to other locations outside the castle. Jonathan even whips with his back hand, just like his father (which no other CV characters do). Too bad it didn’t have an unlockable “John and Eric” mode.

    Anyway, I would *love* to see an Anatomy of a Game on Bloodlines. I hope you consider it.

  4. While it did get Bowdlerized in Europe, it’s worth noting that Castlevania: Bloodlines was also one of the gorier 2D entries in the series, at least in the first stage. Zombies get torn apart with quite detailed gore for 16-bit sprites, blood drips in a few places, the upper half of Cerberus’s body breaks down and melts from the next to last hit needed to kill it…The Genesis Castlevania is like one big Take That aimed at Nintendo right from the start.

    It’s by no means the best Castlevania game, but it’s pretty cool in its own right. It’s a pity the Mega Drive side of Konami doesn’t have any representation on Virtual Console, because those games did some pretty cool things.

  5. Indeed, I’m still waiting for Contra: Hard Corp to come to VC, as well as Castlevania: Bloodlines, so I can play them. I was a Super NES kid, so I didn’t get to play them then, and ironically, I still can’t now… unless I want to search eBay or simply look at emulation, only the former of which being remotely desirable. I wonder what prices they fetch now… something to look up later.

    On a related note: No Contra on VC, either. Seriously, what gives?

  6. One thing I find interesting about Bloodlines is that its story ties Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel into the whole Castlevania mythos, making it simply one of the many times Dracula’s been taken down during the years (and the guy taking him down in the novel is apparently a distant Belmont relative or something).

  7. I want to play Bloodlines like nobodies business. I don’t know why Konami doesn’t put it on at least one of the digital services, but they haven’t been making their fans happy for a while now with the direction of several of their main series.

  8. Bring back Iga. Were the games not selling or something? I stopped everything I was doing to sit down and plow through each portable entry he put out, and they were all of the highest quality.

    I don’t like the direction they are taking Castlevania. The new one has about as much in common with Castlevania as Dark Souls does. And yes, I realize the irony of comparing Metroidvania to Castlevania, but you know what I mean. The series had two proven formulas, and neither of them were God of War.

    Whatever. I’m going to hunt Bloodlines down and play it now.

  9. Vampire Killer/Bloodlines is sort of like the chipmusic of the Dracula series: doing impressive things with limited technology. I think the climb up the haunted Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the more exciting set pieces this series has ever had, and it did it on the weakling Mega Drive, no less! The bosses feel a little too “Contra” for me and aren’t actually scary, but Pisa alone does it for me every time, and I too like the way it ties into the original novel.

  10. I just replayed this in October and was thrilled with how much I liked it. In fact, I did a B-List blog for it on 1up. It still baffles me that it isn’t on VC; Konami can’t be doing so well that they feel they can pass up the chance for essentially free money, can they?

  11. I hate the Mercury Steam Castlevania with a passion. Not just because it is a shit “Castlevania” game but it is a mediocre game to begin with. Sad thing is because of the ridiculous advertising budget Lords of Shadows was one of the best selling Castlevania games of all time only second to SOTN (Check VGchartz) The fact that the handheld iteration of Castlevania on the 3DS is a LOS game has crushed all hope for our beloved series to ever return to the greatness it once was.

  12. I also dig Bloodlines for bringing Castlevania into a more modern era. Sure, Aria takes place in the future, but once you get past the cut scenes and into the castle there’s nothing that makes the castle different from any others. Bloodlines has skeletons in hard hats in a munitions factory!

  13. Since I was a megadrive kid this was the only vania game I played alot of for a long time. I really liked it but didn’t think it was up to Castlevania 4. Some of the effects the developers pulled off were amazing, particularly late in the game when the scren fractures and you have to make your way through a level like that. I’ve never seen a game do anything like that on any console.

  14. >when the scren fractures and you have to make your way through a level like that. I’ve never seen a game do anything like that on any console.

    Wait, that was neat, but that was actually standard-issue Mega Drive trickery that people used as a fun show-off the way Super Famicom folk used Mode 7. Having to jump over pits was new, and it was a big ol’ challenge that the fragments were out of alignment so you had to take well-judged leaps of faith, but I recall similar mirrored screens in Rocket Knight and probably somewhere in Alien Soldier, too.

  15. Right from the Theremin-esque intro-jingle (that plays while our hero is shown facing the castle) the music in this game is setting the B-horror-movie-mood perfectly. This is a prime example of how to use the Mega Drive audio-hardware effectively & creatively. I can’t recall any other Castlevania sounding as distinct as this one.

  16. I like both Castlevania formulas, but I don’t seem to have the hate for Lords of Shadow that some do here. I enjoyed it. That being said, I want another 2D Castlevania in the mold of either the classics _or_ the Metroidvanias. Really, I’m not picky. I don’t see the 3DS entry being very good, as what works in a DMC/GoW-styled game probably won’t translate well to two dimensions.

  17. This is one game that should of received the Rebirth treatment.

    Secondly it is a shame what has happened to the franchise.

  18. An Anatomy of a Game piece on this? Go for it.

    The Bloodlines team definitely pushed the Genesis more than the SNES was pushed for SCV4, which was an early gen title. Imagine if they really tried with the SNES.

    I also dug the water reflection effect on the second stage.

    One other thing: is it me, or did the playable characters walk faster than in onther classic vanias?

  19. >Wait, that was neat, but that was actually standard-issue Mega Drive trickery that people used as a fun show-off the way Super Famicom folk used Mode 7. Having to jump over pits was new, and it was a big ol’ challenge that the fragments were out of alignment so you had to take well-judged leaps of faith, but I recall similar mirrored screens in Rocket Knight and probably somewhere in Alien Soldier, too.<

    Rocket Knight had the mirror effect as did bloodlines on the second stage, possibly both games were by the same team. However I've not seen that fractured screen effect in any other game. As for Alien Soldier, I never got far enough in it to see any mirror effects, that game is tough!

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