Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has spent quite a while in development. The Kickstarter concluded nearly four years ago, and several platform changes later it’s finally slated for release this summer. So the demo at PAX East was almost certainly the game in a near-finalized state, and—for the most part—it was promising as a Castlevania homage.
Though the game has always been pitched as a modernized Symphony of the Night rendered in 3D, this session was the first time I’d grappled with the implications that such a change would have on gameplay. Bloodstained manages to render the physicality and weight of the classics it’s inspired by with remarkable accuracy. For better and worse, the demo included a creature flying in a wave-like pattern through a platforming area just like the series’ infamous Medusa Head enemies, and colliding with them even had the same knockback effect. It was a singularly frustrating and yet familiar moment.
The rendering manifested in the environment itself, as I climbed a large rounded tower. While it may have been technically possible to pull this off with traditional 2D art, it wouldn’t have been as convincing. The 3D gave it a sense of space and depth, so that weaving in-between the inside and outside of the massive tower seemed believable.
At the same time, I missed the pixel-precise definition of sprites, especially in the boss fight against a dual-headed dragon. Its attacks hit fast and hard, and it was sometimes difficult to tell just how close was too close. This was less an issue with smaller enemies, so it wasn’t universal, but as a longtime Castlevania fan I found the adjustment to be slightly jarring.
On the whole, though, the classic sensation of quick, piston-tight platforming and combat has made the transition. It’s difficult for a retro revival, much less one rendered in an entirely new way, to capture the essence of what made the originals stand out. Miriam’s variety of weapons feel alternately light and swift or heavy and thumping. The level design pitched a good balance of graceful platforming, tough combat, and occasionally a blend of both.
The Kickstarter boom of the mid-2010s led to a lot of retro revivals. By taking longer to release than many of its contemporaries, Bloodstained is launching into an environment that has had some fizzles and failures to recapture the magic with a new franchise. But perhaps because it took that extra time, this one feels a little more complete than many of the others. If it maintains the demo’s level of quality throughout, it could be something special.
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