Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Castlevania: Bloodlines (Genesis)

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Console: Sega Genesis
Released: 1994
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Mega Drive? Yes (as Banpaia Kira  Translation: Vampire Killer, Castlevania: The New Generation in Europe)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary – Link
Difficulty: Hard
Played it as a child? No
Value: $23.07 (used) $59.99 (new) (pricecharting.com)
Price: $25-$50 (used) $60-$350 (new) on eBay
Digital Release? No

Just like today there was fierce competition between the two main 16-bit consoles, SNES and Sega Genesis, that necessitated exclusive games.  Aside from the first party developed titles, third-party developers could opt to either create the same game for both consoles or create completely new ones.  In the case of many Disney games, like Aladdin or The Lion King, different companies developed the game on each console but the basic concepts and level design would remain consistent regardless of which version you purchased.  Konami, on the other hand, would usually make completely different exclusive titles that played to the strength of the specific console it was designed on.  There was no way this developer, who was free to release games on any (and every) console not to create games for both.  Castlevania: Bloodlines is a side story game, much like Rondo of Blood, that played to the audiences that came running to Sega’s edgy console.

At face value, Bloodlines just seems to be another Castlevania game that steals the opening level and music (Vampire Killer) from the original and goes on to create a hodgepodge of levels.  In truth, the game has a surprising similarity to Vampire Killer (on the MSX in Japan) and Akumajo Dorakyura or Castlevania X68000 (a Japanese Sharp 68000 game that was later re-released worldwide on PS1 as Castlevania Chronicles), making its gameplay style different from most iterations in the US.  Like Vampire Killer the levels are divided into rooms, each one getting their own section (ie: Stage 1 is broken into 8 sections), but unlike that game there’s no need to find a key or puzzle elements.  Connections to Castlevania X68000 are a bit more direct since the game was basically a redesigned PC port of the original, so you’ll mostly see similar levels (like the water rising/falling level) and difficulty (as in extremely difficult) curve.  It all just comes together as a wise choice to demonstrate to those with a Genesis that this is not your typical Castlevania and it also distinguishes it from the other titles on Nintendo’s consoles.  The gameplay video below shows off many of these tricks.

In Bloodlines you control either John Morris (from USA) or Eric Lecarde (from Spain) as they roam parts of Europe in search of Dracula in a plot that much more closely resembles Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Castlevania has always followed the Dracula lore but it was always more like the Universal Studios horror films from the 1930s than the classic novels.  According to the game John is a descendant of the Belmonts who for some reason is the same bloodline as the Morris family and follows Elizabeth Bartley as she tries to resurrect her uncle Count Dracula (oh and if you’re wondering Eric tags along because Elizabeth turned his girlfriend into a vampire).  Throughout the game you will go to various European countries as you chase down Elizabeth, who is apparently also responsible for World War I as this game takes place in 1914, and eventually fight off Dracula once resurrected.  John Morris uses the standard whip (Vampire Killer) and Eric employs a spear (Alcarde, a bad European wordplay on Alucard, Dracula spelled backward), which allows for different gameplay style depending on your hero.  How this all seemingly fits into the Castlevania lore is a clear afterthought, especially because these side stories were probably never intended to be cannon and none would be had Symphony of the Night not been such a breakaway hit and the sequel to Rondo of Blood.

Aside from the game design, Bloodlines integrates yet another impressive example of fully using a console’s hardware.  There are dripping water and blood effects, rotating level effects, foreground/background effects, reflective water effects, and even levels that divide your field of view or turn the world upside down.  I am constantly amazed by how well Konami can show off its ability to design games for consoles that consistently raise the bar in terms of what is graphically possible all while making sure the game is both well designed and fun to play.  Since this is on the Genesis, which had a strong reputation as being the console that pushed the limits of content, especially violence, Bloodlines has plenty of blood and gore.  Enemies die in a shower of blood (as do the protagonists) and drop to the ground in a gushy mess, blood drips from the ceiling, and tortured bodies sway on hooks in the background.  Ironically Sega’s internal ratings board gave the game a GA (equivalent to that of a G or PG in movies), which doesn’t seem consistent with the content and is probably one of many examples as to why it was best that an outside entity like the ESRB rate games.  Another staple of the Genesis are the awkward sounds and music generated by the Yamaha X68000 sound chip (which was basically the internal components of a Master System used as a sound processor).  As a result the game has that chiptuned drowned out audio that was so common of Genesis games but makes me cringe given that I’ve heard the amazing and crisp sounds of the previous games, especially on Sony’s sound chip in the SNES and the great Redbook audio of the PC-E CD.

I never got a chance to play this game as a child, but going back to it I’m surprised how different it is from other games in the series, especially if you’re not into rare or imported Castlevania/Akumajo titles.  At the same time the game has a fierce difficulty and the broken up levels make it feel almost too divided for the kind of flow most people like starting with Rondo of Blood.  Still, it’s a technical achievement for the Genesis and probably explains why we haven’t seen it emulated on the Virtual Console – I would imagine this was a tough game to emulate although I’m certain it can be done on the freely distributed PC emulators.  Also those of you in Europe playing The New Generation have a censored version that removes all instances and visuals of blood, removes Eric’s impalement death animation, and also has a rearranged version of enemy placement that can fluctuate difficulty significantly from the original version.  Oddly enough, the Australian version of New Generation pulls from the Japanese version and thus has nearly no censorship.  As a Castlevania game it is an acquired taste, especially with the side plot and complete change from traditional style, but as a Genesis/Mega Drive game it’s a great show-off piece to just what that system was capable of.

Written by Fred Rojas

July 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm

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