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!

Favorite Sega Genesis Games

It was 30 years ago today, Sega released their 16-bit follow up to the Sega Master System – the Sega Genesis(or Mega Drive outside North America). For this occasion, I have made a list of my 11 favorite Genesis games. Sega’s foray into the video game home console market began with the SG-1000 which was released in 1983 in Japan oddly enough, the very same day Nintendo released the Family Computer, or Famicom. The follow up – Sega Master System was the first Sega console to be released in North America in 1986(Japan in 1985). By the late 80’s the home console market has prospered greatly and Sega was in the midst of the of a console arms race. The Sega Genesis was released on August 14, 1989 in limited areas, with the rest of North America by the end of the year. The Genesis was by far Sega’s most successful console with over 30 million units sold.

I remember our family getting a Sega Genesis for Christmas of 1993. It was the Gen. 2 model that came with Sonic the Hedgehog 2 packed in, “Santa Claus” had brought us a copy of the Aladdin game too. I remember sitting in my sister’s room playing Sonic 2 and Aladdin the rest of Christmas break from school and spending countless hours over the next several years buying and renting games. I wrote down a list of my 10 favorite Genesis games, only to discover I can’t count….so…these are my 11 favorite games.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Sega’s mascot debuted on the Master System, but Sonic 2 launched the blue hedgehog to a level of popularity that only Mario had seemed capable of reaching. Sonic’s spin dash was added as well as new sidekick Tails, which added some co-op elements to the game. With memorable levels and an iconic soundtrack, Sonic 2 is the quintessential Sega Genesis game.

Aladdin – There were many great Disney games during the 80’s and 90’s, and Aladdin is certainly one of them. An argument has always been which version of the game was better, Genesis or SNES? I prefer the former as my favorite version. The graphics, while nothing spectacular now, were quite impressive for its time. The level that always gave me the most problems as a kid was escaping the Cave of Wonders on the magic carpet, that and sitting on the edge of the screen throwing apples at Snake Jafar so I could finally beat the game.

Gunstar Heroes – I wrote about Treasure’s Gunstar Heroes a while back, saying that I always felt the game was a bit under appreciated compared to the likes of Contra or Metal Slug games. I got the game as a birthday present not knowing anything about it, but quickly became enamored what a great run and gun co-op experience it provided. Gunstar Heroes has aged remarkably well, and being included in the upcoming Mini Sega Genesis being released this September.

Street Fighter 2: Special Champion Edition – While SCE may not be considered the best version of Street Fighter 2 that Capcom released(there were MANY), it is the one that got me hooked on playing Street Fighter games. In general, fighting games on the Genesis are viewed as inferior, mostly due to the standard controller only have 3 main buttons versus the 4 face and 2 shoulder buttons of the SNES controller. I had one of the Genesis 6-button controllers so that criticism wasn’t applicable to me. I remember picking out Street Fighter 2: SCE at a Kay-Bee Toys; having previously rented the game from a local convenience store after thinking the turquoise/black cover with Guile and M. Bison fighting looked awesome.

NBA Jam – An arcade staple that most of us growing up in the 90’s will remember, Acclaim’s NBA Jam popularized arcade sports in the 90’s with its fast-paced gameplay and over-the-top dunks and announcer commentary – “BOOM-shakalaka!” “Is it the shoes?!?”. You could even play as team mascots and then-President of the USA , Bill Clinton. This was the kind of game that would gather friends around the family living room to play for hours.

The Lion King – Another Disney/Virgin Interactive game, The Lion King boasted impressive graphics and sound for 16-bit consoles, but has since become better known for being quite difficult, with a huge difficulty spike and erratic(at best) hit-detection. I played the game recently, and don’t remember for the life of me how I was able to beat this game. I remember being able to finish the game in about 30 minutes as a kid, what happened? Regardless of the game’s shortcomings, it still holds a place on my favorites list from playing this as a kid.

Vectorman – One of the first games that spring to mind when I think of my favorite Genesis games; Vectorman is an excellent action-platformer released near the end of the Genesis’ life cycle. The year is 2043 and Earth is has been rendered uninhabitable, humanity has migrated to colonies in Space(as if written by Jeff Bezos…) and left behind robots to clean up the mess. The story may bit a bit generic, but the tight gameplay and interesting levels more than made up for that. There was even a contest where you had to play through to the end of the game to find out if you won $25,000…which I didn’t <sigh>, but Vectorman is still one of my favorites.

Quackshot – I don’t exactly remember how I was first introduced to this game, but I’m glad I got to play the game. Quackshot is a Disney adventure game with Donald Duck embarking across the globe with Huey, Dewey, and Louie to find the Great Duck Treasure before Pete and his goons can get to it. An interesting element of the game was your weapons – a gun that shoots, popcorn, bubblegum, and plungers; being a Disney game after all… Quackshot in hindsight may seem pretty much “Indiana Jones meets Donald Duck”, but it remains as a really fun adventure title on the Genesis that not many people seem to remember.

Streets of Rage 2 – The Streets of Rage games are some of the most beloved games on the Sega Genesis, with Streets of Rage 2 usually being the favorite. Fighting your way through the streets and alleys as Axel or Blaze provided some of the best memories on the console, even if I still hate the elevator levels that seemed to be in every beat ’em up game back then. SNES may have had the Final Fight series, but I always preferred Streets of Rage.

Contra: Hard Corps – The Contra series is most closely associated with Nintendo consoles, along with the Konami Code – Up, UP, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start. Contra 3: Alien Wars may be the more popular game, but my favorite has always been Hard Corps on the Genesis. I don’t believe I was ever able to beat this game as a kid, only reaching the final bosses a couple times. Contra: Hard Corps has the weird characters, huge bosses, and tons of blowin’ shit up…everything you’d expect from a Contra game 🙂

Earthworm Jim – While not an exclusive, Earthworm Jim still may be my favorite Sega Genesis game as a kid. You play as Jim, an earthworm being hunted down by a psychotic crow named…Psycrow, as he is trying to save Princess What’s-her-name from the Evil Queen Slug-for-a-Butt. I loved the goofy tone and humor of this as a kid, which probably influenced my own sense of humor…for better or worse 😉 One of my favorite moments of the game is the second level – What the Heck?! in which you make your way through the fiery realm of Heck before fighting Evil the Cat. The level soundtrack begins with a snippet of composer Modest Mussorgsky’s – Night on Bald Mountain, which establishes an ominous mood, before cutting away to elevator music(muzak?) complete with pained screams in the background; the elevator music still playing as you’re being attacked by lawyers who shoot papers from their briefcase. If the game sounds weird, that’s because it is…and that’s what I love about it!

The Sega Genesis was also home to some great RPGs such the Phantasy Star games, or Shining Force; the genres of games listed stick mostly to action/adventure games as I was still learning to expand my “gaming palette”. Have you played any of the games mentioned above? What are some of your favorite Genesis games? Let me know in the comments. Until next time…