Remember when the worst part of gaming culture was Kickstarter? It’s almost hard to consider in 2019 that begging and scams were as bad as things got back in 2012 or so. Don’t get me wrong, games themselves are as great as they ever were, but it’s hard not to feel a little nostalgic for the old days of the hobby before the cringe-inducing culture slapfights of the modern era turned each and everything into a mission – even when those same old days consisted of everyone and their grandmother begging for a couple dimes.
Sometimes, though, that begging proved to be worthwhile, especially when there’s a particular lineage attached to the project. And that’s exactly what we see with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the latest title from famed Castlevania developer Koji Igarashi.
Shardbinder Miriam, one of the last of her breed of demoniacally-empowered children, finds herself locked in a fight for her life upon the return of fellow Shardbinder Gebel. Miriam and Gebel were the only two survivors of a vile ritual that took the lives of their cohort and filled the world with demons. Now Gebel seeks to finish the ritual’s job and end the world of man, while Miriam must explore the evil castle he’s summoned and find a way to stop him.
Bloodstained was clearly intended to be a nostalgia trip, and by that measure it does pretty darn well. You’ve got multiple systems from the Castlevania series all in place and working in concert here; Shards are basically the Souls from Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow, for instance, while you’ve got crafting that’s reminiscent of Curse of Darkness to produce most of your weapons and gear. Gameplay-wise it’s probably closest to good ol’ Symphony of the Night, of course, especially considering the presence of numerous hidden special techniques that can be used with your arsenal of weapons.
Long story short, this is a Castlevania-like for fans of Castlevania, direct from the source. Nice perks include a great selection of sidequests, significant and obvious differences between weapons that are ostensibly of the same class and several cosmetic options. There’s a lot going on here and not all of it had to exist – to say nothing of last year’s Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, an entire 8-bit styled prequel game released last year that ties into this one.
Bloodstained looks great. Using the Unreal Engine the entire presentation is rendered in lovely polygons that recall earlier Castlevania games while keeping one foot firmly in modern tech. The same goes for the soundtrack, which does its best to echo the mood (if not the tempo) of Michiru Yamane’s haunting symphonic melodies. They never quite hit the mark…but they sound more than good enough when you’re busy beating the demons of the night.
That’s not to say it’s perfect…well, actually, it’s kind of difficult to think of too many flaws. Item balance is somewhat skewed, I suppose, with a significant chunk of the midgame being rendered trivial if you farm the right items. I’m also not especially enamored with the enormous amount of obvious Kickstarter pandering going on throughout the game, from goofy special weapons to an incessant array of unattractive portraits, some of which you’re mercifully able to destroy (without hesitation, I destroyed them all).
Let’s be real, though – these are relatively minor complaints, all things considered. Bloodstained has great play control, its presentation is fantastic, there’s loads of content available already – and with more “free” DLC to come…I think I can deal with the odd gross nerd portrait if it means we get a solid game like this. Even Shovel Knight did it, right? Oh, he’s in this game, by the way, because it’s a pseudo-indie game that was Kickstarted so of course he is. I wish this game was worse so I could come up with a more substantial complaint, but alas. Oh, there’s a nasty game-breaking bug that occurs if you play an unpatched version, but that’s kind of par for the course these days.
I really want to dump on Kickstarter for the huge number of scams, junk and money sinks that have emerged from it as a result. Even a stopped clock is right every so often, and that’s what we’ve got with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Unlike other Kickstarter darlings like Mighty No. 9, this one absolutely delivers on what it’s going for, which is a modern take on the gothic look, feel and flavor of Castlevania. Turn on the Japanese voice track and enjoy (unless you want to hear the English tracks – which are easily the scariest part of the game). If you wanted a new Castlevania-flavored Metroidvania title, you’ll be hard pressed to do any better than this.