Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Falling In Love Again with Castlevania

Ahh, Castlevania. How you used to frustrate me in my bright-eyed NES days with your impossible jumps and chunky controls. Every set of stairs was another potential death trap and jumping was always a leap of faith. And yet, I still loved you. But like the shining brilliance of a shooting star, our romance soon burned out. It was just puppy love, we thought. Time to move on.

Four years later, I heard about the newest Castlevania game, this time on the Sega Genesis. But Castlevania: Bloodlines, I was told, was not worth playing. “It’s not Super Castlevania IV!” exclaimed the masses, “therefore it isn’t fun!” But something inside me just couldn’t let it go, and I was drawn to that new Castlevania game anyway. I learned two things the day it finally found its way to my Genesis: the masses are pretty dumb, and Bloodlines is freakin’ awesome.

The sloppy controls of Castlevanias past have vanished; in their place is a responsive layout that hardly ever has my hero careening into a bottomless pit unless it’s my own stupid fault. The graphics are detailed and creepy, with rotting flesh, severed heads and bloody skeletons populating some of the most interesting locations early 20th century Europe had to offer. And let me tell you, that sunset over the lake in the second stage is permanently etched into my mind as one of the greatest video game moments of all time: Even with the Genesis’s limited pallet, the colors of the setting sun are brilliant. Combined with the urgency and hope inherent in the soundtrack, Bloodlines establishes a sort of heroic duty within the player that lasts throughout the offering.

Huge, detailed monstrosities await players who dare to infiltrate Dracula’s strongholds, leading to some truly epic – and often unexpected – battles. But perhaps the greatest surprise is that the standard whip-toting character, John Morris, is no where near as fun to use as his spear-wielding comrade, Eric Lecarde. As Eric, you can vault up to higher platforms in a single controller motion! You can spin your lance around and use it as a makeshift shield, shredding the undead (and innocent candles) with ease! You can finally stab demons where it hurts instead of just whacking them with a vaguely taboo piece of leather!

It’s great fun to square off against massive bosses, tear all manner of snarling fiends limb from limb, and find the rancid meat that Dracula hides in his walls. The only problem is this: Though by 1994 standards it was about average length, some might say that Bloodlines is kind of short. However, in the age of 200-hour-long epics that require refresher courses every time you play, a quick and moody action romp from the past might be just what the doctor ordered. Besides, both characters have their own somewhat different path though the game, a la Sonic and Knuckles, and there are three difficulty settings, so there’s still plenty to do after you finish the game for the first time.

Without a doubt, Bloodlines was, and still is, a great game. When I first played it, I couldn’t put the controller down for hours. And that’s when I knew I had fallen back in love. Hard.

I’ll never leave you again, baby. Never again.

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