It goes without saying that we would need to cover a game in this series as part of our history. I assumed when I began looking for writers that there would be fights over who got to write about what Castlevania. I was wrong. In fact, no one offered to write about any of them, in spite of this being one of the most long-lived and loved (by the masses and by the people who run this site) horror series. I suppose it’s just been talked to death, so people didn’t feel they had much to contribute. Well, I do.
Castlevania: Bloodlines is the best 16-bit game in the series. There. I said it. It’s better than both of its 16-bit prequels, Super Castlevania IV and Rondo of Blood. In fact, Bloodlines is one of my top five games in the series and top five Genesis games. And, yes, I know I’m going a little Genesis heavy with a lot of my articles this month, but there are two reasons for that. 1) As we discussed during the Splatterhouse 2 article, Nintendo wasn’t having the kind of violence often associated with horror games and 2) most people I interact with on the internet seem to have a lot of nostalgia for the SNES, but don’t seem to have a lot of Genesis experience, which makes me want to spread the word about some of the finer games on the system. At any rate, as much as I love Super Castlevania IV, this game edges it out with some creative level designs, great boss encounters and multiple selectable characters. As for Rondo of Blood, it’s a game that, despite not being released in the US until recently, seems to have considerably more notoriety than this one. Anyways, the point is that this game rules, and there’s a chance you haven’t played it. Hell, even 1up.com editor-in-chief and Castlevania junkie Jeremy Parish hadn’t played it until last year.
So, a little history; Konami was late to the Genesis party. They were firmly in bed with Nintendo for a long time. In fact, they were one of only two developers to be allowed to start a second label (Ultra Games) so that they could produce more than five NES games per year. To say they were loyal to Nintendo would be something of an understatement. They didn’t start developing for the Genesis in earnest until 1992. In 1994, two of their most venerable franchises of the time, Castlevania and Contra finally hit the Genesis (for the first and only time), and both games are excellent entries in their respective series. And as much as I’d like to talk Contra, this is our History of Horror Games, so it’s all about Castlevania.
As I said previously, the series is known for its milling of Universal horror icons, and this game is no exception. The plot revolves around yet another attempt to revive Dracula (SPOILER: it’s a successful one) and it’s up to two intrepid vampire hunters to stop him and his legion of Creatures from the Black Lagoon, Mummies, Frankenstein Monsters and more. Aesthetically, though, it’s much darker than earlier games, both in tone and literally in terms of its color palette. As far as the latter goes, the Genesis obviously lacks the number of colors that the SNES had, but as for the former, well, see the comments about Nintendo’s stand on violence and gore. There are corpses that are ripped in half and dripping blood. The first boss has it’s flesh torn off when you defeat it. It’s fairly tame by today’s standard, yes, but at the time, for a Castlevania, it was pretty gory.
Like I said, the choice of characters makes a big difference here. This is the first game in the series to have a main character that uses a weapon other than a whip (Castlevania III allowed players to pick up secondary characters and switch on the fly to them, but Trevor Belmont stays the path and uses the Vampire Killer whip). There are two selectable characters: Jonathan Morris, who is supposed to be the son of Quincy Morris from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel and has possession of the Belmont clan’s Vampire Killer, and his friend Eric LeCarde, who uses the Alcarde Spear. Both have unique attacks and abilities, such as Jonathan being able to swing from nearly any ceiling like Indiana Jones and Eric being able to vault to great heights with his spear. The differences between the characters add to the replay value, as some stages feature paths that can only be taken by one character, so playing through with both is a must if you want to see all the content the game has to offer.
Speaking of that content, the level designs also play into things, and a big part of this is that the only part to take place in the titular castle is the first stage. The following stages take the protagonists on a journey across Europe, pursuing Elizabeth Bartley as she tries to resurrect Count Dracula. These locales open up the possibilities a lot, and the developers took advantage. There’s a lot of variation, although the German Munitions Factory found in stage five does just fill in for the Castlevania standard clock tower stage. That aside, there’s a lot of stuff that was new to the series at the time and is still seen in new installments, including rising water seen in stage two, and intentionally disorienting visuals in stage six.
Gameplay-wise, it’s what is now referred to as a traditional Castlevania, as opposed to the Metroidvania-style, but it’s the peak of that form. The levels move quickly, the enemies have interesting patterns, the sub-weapons are intentionally slimmed down and reworked (most notably, that useless fucking dagger is gone, and this is the first US appearance of the item crash) and the bosses are all different, with different mechanics, strategies and attack patterns. It moves briskly, the controls are responsive and most of all, it’s just fun to play. It’s enjoyable to control the characters and effective play demands the use of all their unique abilities.
Overall, this may be the most underrated entry in the series. It has everything an old school Castlevania fan would want. If you’ve never had the chance to check it out, you owe it to yourself. Unfortunately, it seems even Konami has forgotten about this game, as it remains, as of this writing, the only game in the series released in the US on 8 or 16-bit consoles not on the Wii Virtual Console. Still, seek it out. You won’t regret it.
Images for this article were borrowed from The Castlevania Dungeon.
- Released: 1994
- System: Sega Genesis
- Publisher: Konami