Konami were one of the last major publishers to come to the Genesis but did so in grand fashion. Aside from new IP like Rocket Knight Adventures they also produced great new entries in existing series like Contra Hard Corps and Tiny Toons. Castlevania: Bloodlines upholds the series tradition of excellence
Story wise Bloodlines is weird because of what it attempts to do. The game tries to tie in Castlevania lore with Bram Stoker’s Dracula which, while it sounds cool, is pretty meaningless. In the 19th Century Dracula is laid to rest by Quincey Morris of the Morris clan, distant relatives of the Belmont family. Peace reigns until World War I, when Elizabeth Bartley, Dracula’s niece, uses the conflict to revive her uncle. As John Morris or Eric Lecarde it is up to the duo to stop Elizabeth before her ceremony is complete.
Bloodlines sort of takes a back to basics approach to its gameplay, scaling back a lot of the whip wielding tricks employed in Castlevania IV while still borrowing a few elements from Rondo of Blood. It’s an odd mix but one that works; despite being setup as a spinoff it is very much in line with everything that made the series great while still feeling unique to the system. This is one of the better action platformers for the system and one of the best in a legendary series.
John Morris stands in for the Belmont clan but is just as capable. Like his relatives before him he wields the Vampire Killer with skill. While you can’t whip in all eight directions you can attack downward and diagonally. You can also swing from nearly any ceiling although that element isn’t played up as much within the game. For those that want to stick with tradition he’s your guy.
Playing as Eric Lecarde is a different experience altogether. His spear has great range and is incredibly powerful. When fully upgraded it flares out at the tip when attacking for extra damage. As an added bonus you can even twirl it around to attack enemies in front and back. Probably his greatest move however is his pole vault. While he can’t swing like Johnny the super jump is even better in my opinion for a number of reasons. It enables you to skip large sections of levels but more importantly you are completely invincible during its animation. This is completely broken and allows you to cheese your way through some of the most difficult boss battles. Needless to say playing as Eric is like easy mode although the game has varying difficulty settings.
The number of secondary items has been scaled back although you probably won’t notice as much. The boomerang, axe, and holy water are the only ones to make the cut. While not quite the same as the item crush from Rondo of Blood you can use more hearts to perform a stronger attack. One new item on the list is a third upgrade to the standard attack that imbues it with fire. This is probably the strongest weapon in the game and also comes equipped with a heat seeking secondary item to boot. To offset its strength it is lost after one hit.
The journey this time does not take place in Transylvania but rather all around Europe. Since it is the 20th Century everything is more modern mixed with a touch of the demonic. You’ll also notice the game is quite gory although this isn’t Mortal Kombat. Even with the setting in mind it’s still surprising to see knights with gatling guns and a lot more mechanical enemies. You’ll visit many European settings such as the leaning Tower of Pisa, the Atlantis Shrine in Greece as well as other areas in Germany and Italy. At six levels it initially sounds as though the game is short however each is comprised of eight or nine smaller sections each. There are separate paths in most levels for each character making it worth it to play through a second time. But you would have anyway since the game is so awesome.
Overall I would say the difficulty is moderate. Although it bears the look of a Treasure game with its many special effects Bloodlines isn’t paced like one. Life restoring meat is not common but jewels are plentiful, allowing frequent use of special weapons. It isn’t until the second half that you’ll run into more than two or three bosses per level. The boss rush at the end is particularly nasty with one chance to heal in between fights. And that is only if you are lucky. If you play as Eric abusing the pole vault makes the game trivial but you’ll have no such luck with John Morris.
Like nearly all of their Sega work Bloodlines is practically a showcase for Konami’s mastery of the hardware. The reflection effect they so proud of makes another appearance here but that is nothing. The leaning tower of Pisa makes use of scaling effects rarely seen on the system and its final boss battle takes place on a rotating tower that is hard to describe but amazing to see in action. The final level fractures the screen three ways, all moving at different speeds and forcing you to be creative in how you navigate. It might seem gratuitous however the creative way they employ these effects makes the game better.
The only mark against the visuals is the ugly color choices on many of the levels and the frequent slowdown. Although it should be no surprise that Konami is pushing the system hard. 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 with such classics such as Calling from Heaven, Bloodlines, and Reincarnated Soul.
Bloodlines is often forgotten when fans wax nostalgic about the series however that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. This is an excellent action game, one that goes back to basics while still feeling modern at the same time and one the Genesis’s best action games. Do not pass this up.