There are some games that we immediately associate with a particular platform or console despite not being a first-party exclusive title like a Mario or Halo game. In the case of Castlevania, fans are most likely to associate the beloved Konami series with either of two console brands – Nintendo or Playstation. The first Castlevania game was released on the NES back in 1986 and followed by two sequels in 1987 and ’89. It was in 1991 that Super Castlevania IV made its 16-bit debut on the SNES. Castlevania made its arrival on the Playstation with Symphony of the Night in 1997 and along with going on to be considered one of the best entries in the series(having finally played it last October, I very much agree), it marked a gameplay shift towards collection of items and acquisition of upgrades through exploration in the vein of Super Metroid. Symphony of the Night is generally recognized as the game that put the “vania” in the Metroidvania subgenre. It’s understandable that one would typically associate Castlevania with either Nintendo consoles or the Sony Playstation as the former was there for the series’ birth and the Playstation was the landing place for an immortal classic that helped create an entire subgenre of games. Despite this, there were Castlevania games released on consoles not featuring Nintendo or Sony trademarks; Rondo of Blood was released on the PC Engine in Japan and there was also a Castlevania game released on the Sega Genesis…
Castlevania: Bloodlines was released on the Sega Genesis in 1994 and quite frequently gets overlooked as a series entry due to being the lone release on a Sega console. I recently played through the game for the first time and it’s a shame a solid game from a beloved franchise such as Castlevania seems to have gone mostly unnoticed. I owned a Sega Genesis growing up and didn’t even know a Castlevania game existed on the console until my later teen years as I was finally purchasing my own Super Nintendo at a FuncoLand. I had always been more aware of the Castlevania game on the console I DIDN’T own….
My favorite aspect of Castlevania: Bloodlines is its levels and environments. The game features six levels, the first taking place in the ruins of Castle Dracula with the following levels being scattered across Europe. I really loved making my way across the marble columns and statues of ancient Atlantis as you avoid being knocked into the sea by charging minotaurs and avoid the flying medusa heads(of course they’re still here) that attack you as you both ascend and descend the sinking ruins. Another highlight of the game was scaling the Leaning Tower of Pisa to fight the flying Gargoyle at the top. The Tower of Pisa level features a rotating background and platforms in a very similar manner to the pseudo-3D/Mode 7 backgrounds used in Super Castlevania. The final level within Castle Prosperina is particularly memorable as sections of the castle are distorted as you attempt to jump from platform to platform(while avoiding medusa heads, of course), but must account for an offset section of the screen requiring you to stay focused on your character’s feet in order to properly judge distances between platforms. Another section of the level finds the laws of gravity being broken as the section is inverted and you fight your way through the area upside-down, very much like the Inverted Castle in Symphony of the Night.
Bloodlines still features the trademark Castlevania difficulty(pre-Symphony of the Night at least) as knockback damage is a very real hazard throughout. As with most Castlevania games, I believe I lost more lives due to being knocked from a platform or ledge rather than the actual attacks from enemies.
Bloodlines deviates from previous Castlevania games in a few ways: first, you play as either – John Morris or Eric LeCarde, both of whom are members of the Belmont….bloodline(pun) despite not sharing the same surname. Morris and LeCarde embark on a quest to stop Elizabeth Bartley, the resurrected niece of Dracula who seeks to use the death and destruction of World War I to revive the Prince of Darkness. John wields the iconic Vampire Killer whip as his primary weapon(the first game to mention it by this name) and Eric is equipped with the Alucard Spear, choosing Eric makes portions of the game easier due to the spear’s reach very similar to the way players would select Donatello in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles NES game. It’s interesting that Konami seemingly chose to canonize the events depicted in Bram Stoker’s Dracula into the Castlevania timeline by making mention of John Morris as being the son of Quincey Morris, one of the men responsible for defeating Count Dracula in the classic novel. The second difference from Castlevania games up to that point was the fact the game takes place outside Castle Dracula and its vicinity. The levels are spread across different locations in Europe during World War I, such as the Palace at Versailles, a German munitions factory, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and even the sinking city of Atlantis.
Similar to how Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse featured branching paths that determined which characters would accompany you and which levels you would play, Bloodlines includes areas that are only accessible within a level by a particular character. For example, John can use the Vampire Killer to swing across gaps to the safety of another platform whereas Eric has the ability to perform a super jump which propels him vertically to the upper reaches of a level. There’s also a different ending for each character, with the final scene being dependent on which difficulty level the game was completed on. I had no idea until an hour or so into playing Bloodlines that Eric even had the super jump ability; I had spent the prior 10 minutes replaying levels thinking I had missed a doorway or jump somewhere as I was unable to swing across the same gap as I had done moments before with John.
Bloodlines is a very good Castlevania game that feels right at home on the Sega Genesis among other sidescrollers of the time. The music and sound effects are good and have the signature 90’s Sega “crunch” to them(Streets of Rage is a good example of this sound profile). The game visuals have a very nice color and tone, with some striking environments such as Atlantis and Versailles, though some of the enemy sprites seem a little underwhelming compared to similar 16-bit games of the era. My other critique of Bloodlines is the controls – suiting the demanding style of play needed to reach the final areas of the game, but still feel slightly more restrictive in comparison to Super Castlevania, to my taste at least. I especially felt this when trying to attack enemies diagonally with the Vampire Killer or Alucard’s Spear(those shoulder buttons on the SNES controller make the difference). I feel what sets Bloodlines apart from other Castlevania games is mostly its setting and story more than anything in the gameplay formula, which seems to suggest a “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach by Konami as they brought the series to a Sega console. There’s a lot of fun to be had in Bloodlines’ interesting levels and bosses, including yet another encounter with Death and a final battle with Dracula, who this time around has not two, but three forms. Despite a few minor criticisms, I still feel Bloodlines is a very good-to-great Castlevania game and absolutely worth checking out. If nothing else, it deserves far more attention than it ever seemed to receive during the Nintendo-Sega console wars of the 90’s.
We’re starting this year’s Blogtober the same way we finished last year’s – with a Castlevania title. Any thoughts on Castlevania: Bloodlines? Let me know. Next up: my thoughts on Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. Thanks for reading!