Weekend Pickups – May 2021

Welcome back for another round of “I don’t really have anything specific in mind, so here’s what games I’ve bought lately”. It was Memorial Day weekend, which is usually considered the kick-off to summer as the weather has finally begun to stay a consistently mild temperature. It’s only a matter of days before we enter a few months of complaining about the heat as a change of pace from complaining about the cold(Talking about the weather…the signs of reaching middle-age have begun). Anyways…I was able to check out the game store in town and picked up a pile handful of games. I found a few PS3 games that I’d wanted to check out for a while, along with a few GBA and a single PS2 game. PlayStation 3 games have remained pretty inexpensive the past couple years, save for the few weeks this spring of people panic buying games after hearing about the now-reversed decision by Sony to shut down the PS3, PSP, and PS Vita digital storefronts. I have also wanted to build up my library of Game Boy Advance games, something I never did years ago when it was the current Nintendo handheld system. I happened to come across a few Castlevania games, which depending on the game, don’t typically sell for egregious amounts of money, but still aren’t something you find everyday.

The Games

Final Fantasy XIII

It wasn’t until my late teens/early 20’s that I really began to appreciate, or “get” RPGs as a genre, particularly(Pokemon Red & Gold being an exception). I’ve begun making the joke that I end up bringing home another JRPG every time I visit the local game store…and this weekend was no different. I’ve played quite a few different Final Fantasy games by this point, but have never played FFXIII(or either of the sequels). I remember when the game was released and thought it looked cool, but (foolishly)thought I was going to play through the previous entries before I’d begin playing it. I always heard a lot of mixed things about the game, but intend to play the game myself and create my own opinions from there…once I finish up what must be a dozen or so other JRPGs first…

The Darkness

I remember reading about a game called “The Darkness” shortly after getting my PlayStation 3 back in December 2007(as the original “Spider-Man” lettering indicates). The premise sounded interesting – a dark, supernatural FPS in which you have an army of monsters, “Darklings” available to summon and attack enemies, alongside an array of conventional weapons. The first game I played on my PS3 was a military shooter called Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Ratchet & Clank: Future Tools of Destruction shortly after that, so it got sort of lost in the middle of “bigger” games. I had always heard interesting things about The Darkness(and its sequel), so it’s simply another example of a game I didn’t get around to playing until years later.

Enslaved: Odyssey To The West

Enslaved: Odyssey To The West is a game that I don’t really remember hearing anything about back when it was released in 2010, but in recent years I’ve heard quite a few people mention the game and how underrated it is compared to other games of the era. A hack ‘n slash action-adventure game made by Ninja Theory/Namco starring Andy Serkis and written by Alex Garland. Pretty intrigued by this one…


Singularity is another game that I remember hearing about back during the PS3 days but didn’t know all that much about. Similar to Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, I’ve heard more people mention the game in the last few years than I ever did following its release. I really enjoyed some of the older games developed by Raven Software like Star Wars Jedi Knight II, X-Men Legends, or Soldier of Fortune II. It’s a little disappointing that Raven has been relegated to little more than assisting Treyarch and Infinity Ward in making yearly Call of Duty releases since Call of Duty: Black Ops in 2010, which was released a matter of months after Singularity.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

I remember first playing Castlevania: Lament of Innocence on a demo disk inside an issue of PlayStation Magazine and really liking it, so I ended up buying the game a couple months later. I ended up selling the game a few years back when I (regrettably)decided to downsize my game collection, but I’ve been keeping an eye out for a decent copy of the game the last year or so. I’ll admit the game didn’t do anything revolutionary with the series and may not reach the same heights of something like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but I still have something of a soft spot for the game. I had always known of the Castlevania games and had played Super Castlevania, as well as the NES original, but it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that I started getting really into the series, which happened to be right as Lament of Innocence was to be released…

Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge

For as much as I and many others love the Banjo-Kazooie games, it’s usually(and understandably) the console releases that are mentioned. There were two BK games released for the Game Boy Advance – Banjo Pilot and Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge; the former being a cart racer similar to Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing(Banjo’s first appearance, btw) while the latter is an adventure-platformer more along the lines of what one associates with the series. Throughout video game history, handheld releases very RAREly(well done, right?) receive the recognition of home consoles, it’s easy to be unaware BK games were even made for the GBA. You don’t come across either game very often, but I’m still looking for a copy of Banjo Pilot to go along with Grunty’s Revenge…

Speaking of sequels that went unnoticed because they were released on a handheld…

Gunstar Super Heroes

Gunstar Heroes is one of my absolute favorite Sega Genesis games and would likely be near the top of my all-time favorites as well. A sequel – Gunstar Super Heroes was released on the GBA in 2005, 12 years after the original. It was only within the last decade or so that I myself had even heard of the game and I don’t seem to be alone in that regard as I’ve come across many others who were surprised to hear there was a sequel released. Looking forward to this one…

Advance Wars

Advance Wars is a series that I’d always wanted to play, as I have heard next to nothing negative about the game from anyone or anywhere since its release back in 2001, but was a little intimidated by for the longest time as RTS-type games have always been my weakest genre of games. I came across a copy of Advance Wars for a decent price and decided to finally give it a shot. The GBA releases are revered by fans and seemingly destined to be ignored by Nintendo as Intelligent Systems has finally started to gain more recognition now the Fire Emblem games have begun to increase in popularity on this side of the Pacific.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

While I have played a few of the Castlevania games for the Nintendo DS, I have never really played any of the three GBA releases – Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow. Circle of the Moon was released as one of the launch titles for the Game Boy Advance on June 11, 2001. None of the Castlevania games on the GBA seem to be very easy to find in the past few years and the latter pair(the ones that didn’t essentially get erased from the overall Castlevania timeline by Koji Igarashi) have begun to skyrocket in price, so as soon as I saw Circle of the Moon the other day I knew I had grab it. It’s just 11 days short of the 20-year anniversary of the Game Boy Advance’s release in North America, so it’s a perfect time to kick back and play some Castlevania….maybe I’ll even get around to watching Season 3 of the Netflix series as well.

That’s all for now! I’m pretty satisfied with the games I was able to find over the holiday weekend. What games have you picked up recently? Let me know. Thanks for reading!

Blogtober 2020 – Castlevania: Bloodlines

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!