It’s been years since Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was first revealed on Kickstarter, but I can confirm after another trip to E3 that it’s still in development and looking better than ever. The team had an expanded demo at the show, and I got to go hands-on with it to check out some of the progress over the demo I played at last year’s E3. I can tell you that if you first got interested about this game thanks to its ties to Koji Igarashi and his work on the Castlevania series, then you’ll be pleased with where it’s at, because it has definitely captured the feel of the classic side-scrolling Vanias, and is quite enjoyable to play.
In this version of the demo I got to start out with a boss fight, which is the second boss I’ve come across in the various demos I’ve played. This one in particular was massive and took up at least half of the screen. It was some sort of big ass sea monster, so I had to contend with its tendrils and mouth goo in between calculated attacks. This wasn’t a boss I could just mash on either, it required strategy through figuring out the attack patterns, but also for the best melee weapon to use. Since I was in a demo it had multiple weapons already in Miriam’s possession, so at first I was just using her kung-fu shoes to attack, but the reach was so short that I had to essentially get right next to the monster to cause any damage. After dying and reloading I tried her longer broadsword, which definitely helped land attacks without also getting my own ass kicked, so Bloodstained’s bosses will all require their own special strategies to defeat, so you’ll have to experiment with Miriam’s powers and weapons to win the day.
Speaking of powers, Miriam absorbs shards from beating enemies, which in turn with offer her some sort of mystical power. For example, after beating this boss it dropped a shard, so Miriam shoved it into her chest to gain the bosses power. This power in turn replicated it’s tendril attack, so now when I used it the tendrils would take out every enemy on screen in a click of a button. Throughout the game you’ll gain all sorts of different powers from enemy shards, so you’ll have plenty of experimenting with her supernatural powers, as well as her physical abilities.
After beating the boss I was taken to a town to explore, which housed a store for upgrading gear and other items, but it was also just part of the level, so as I left it I had to contend with some platforming and minor enemies. Bloodstained definitely excels at platforming and melee combat like the franchise it’s based on, so Castlevania fans will feel right at home with most of the controls.
They’ll feel even more at home with exploration, which is as Metroid-vania as it gets. You have a map that is fully exposed, so you have routes to follow, but not all of those routes may be open the first time you come across them. Like other games in this genre you will have to come back and explore areas after gaining new powers and items to find out what secrets you may have missed, so I was a fan of the whole exploration aspect of the gameplay even though it’s nothing really that unique in gaming these days.
What stood out to me the most about this particular build of the game, which is still Pre-Alpha code by the way, were it’s visuals. The art stye borders on a cel-shaded aesthetic, so the characters are very vibrant and feel like they pop off of the screen. Everything just looks very pristine and polished, and must more detailed than I can previously remembered. It may not feature today’s cutting edge, near lifelike visuals, but it doesn’t have to to look amazing and modern. This game looks like a current generation game even though it is styled after old school side-scrollers.
After two extended play sessions with Bloodstained my appreciation for it still remains high. It definitely has a classic side-scroller feel with some modern visual polish, and the gameplay already feels very tight and refined. The world is interesting and full of secrets to explore, and the story is just Anime-ish enough to be bonkers but intriguing. One can only hope that it hits retail sooner than later, because IGA definitely has another winner on his hands.
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