Metroidvania is one of the terms I hate when talking about games. A mishmash of Metroid and Castlevania it is normally an excuse for backtracking through areas already completed when you have new abilities or ways to go further. There are plenty of these games about but it seems only the big name ones get the annoying Metroidvania tag. I’m thinking Shadow complex in recent years, that was beloved by many but didn’t click with me. Bloodstained is different, it can easily drop the Metroid tag. This is classic Castlevania in all but name, from the creator of Symphony of the Night amongst others, Koji Igarashi. It is game design of the highest standard and should be played by anyone who can get access to it.
This high praise is strong coming from me in relation to this genre. I usually detest anything that makes me return to the same sections repeatedly. From the beginning, however Bloodstained Ritual of the Night just ticks all the boxes.
The gameplay is snappy sidescrolling action where the protagonist Miriam wakes from a coma to find that demons have taken over the land. Of course, they are hiding in a giant multi-layered castle as well. Miriam is what is called a Shardbringer and this allows her extra powers that can be unlocked and equipped as she goes along. The easy thing to say about this is ‘they don’t make games like this anymore’ and that is the simplest reason why this is so special. It is a game without pretence, without lies and without empty promises. It is a game. It doesn’t try to be a service, it doesn’t hide things behind paywalls, there are no loot boxes and there is no threat of another identikit version being released a week or two later.
The graphics and artwork are another strongpoint. You may have seen the trailer where the original graphics were lambasted by the internet community for being lacklustre. This was certainly true so the game was delayed to make them cleaner and more colourful. Now we have a wonderful colour palette that shines from the screen. The enemies are all distinct and you can tell their attack patterns from their movements. Miriam has access to many hats masks and accessories that all display on the character and then in certain areas of the castle you can change her hairstyle and clothing colour. It’s a nice touch when you are spending so much time looking at the character and judging attacks and evades to a pixel-perfect degree.
The exploration is handled in a way that doesn’t become too tedious either. Dark Souls has obviously changed the game in as far as how far do you travel before heading back to bank your reward but Bloodstained shares the same genes to a lesser degree with its old school save system. Do you keep exploring the castle or do you go and bank the new equipment and shards you have discovered before setting off again? This core concept of the game keeps it interesting especially when you unlock a new path and must continue. Luckily the boss doors are marked differently so you should be able to decide before taking on one of these tricky fights.
The second boss, a katana-wielding swordsman is an example of how good the game is. For too long we have become used to boss fights being unfair, cheap and unnecessarily long. Here you are pitted against someone who is basically as good as you. They do have a couple of high damage moves and more health but their basic attacks and movement are the same as yours. No instant death, no sudden untelegraphed, unblockable moves. Everything in Bloodstained is designed to be played and the whole game has a feeling of polish and testing on PS4 anyway.
The only issue with the game seems to be the problems reported in the Switch version. This is disappointing as the Switch would be the perfect platform for the game. Because of this, I picked it up on PS4, and while I have the benefit of the better visuals and fewer bugs the desire to play this on the move is strong. Clocking in at about 17 hours for a run through it is a good length that lends itself to the new game plus modes and higher difficulties. Basically, if you are sick of the way modern games don’t feel like games anymore then this is an essential purchase and one which will carry you through the summer months with ease. Hopefully, the Switch port is fixed soon as it would be a shame for anything to blemish the experience of Bloodstained.