The portmanteau “Metroidvania” has become a lazy way to describe a certain type of platforming game. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night isn’t a Metroidvania game though, it’s a Castlevania game. But is it one that you’ll want to visit?
If you’re a fan of Konami’s original series then yes, definitely. Right, can we stop writing and go back and play more now? No? Mumble… mumble…
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night may not be an official Castlevania game, yet for all intents and purposes it is one. It takes all the beauty and chaos of the 20th century platforming-styled entries into the series, and weaves it into a spellbinding concoction for modern consoles – and sensibilities.
The man behind it, Koji Igarashi, has a penchant for cowboy hats. But more pertinent than that is that he was the key person responsible for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the PlayStation back in 1997. It reinvigorated the Castlevania series, and all the love that he poured into that and subsequent releases for Konami spills into this splendid outing.
While ostensibly Castlevania in all but name, Bloodstained doesn’t skimp on creating its own lore. You play as Miriam, an orphan who was exposed to demonic crystals by a bunch of experimental magical types who, in a just fictional world, would all be behind bars. She may have incredible powers as a result, but if she isn’t careful they’ll consume her remaining humanity.
Anyway, she wakes years after a purge of such ‘Shardbinders’, leaving just her and one other – who’s gone off the deep end and is threatening the entire world, swearing to wreak revenge on the humans that did this to them. Basically, it’s up to Miriam to save all of humanity from this demonic threat. Talk about being deep-ended!
So, with gothic overtones established, how is the actual game? It plays over several 2D areas that are increasingly accessible, dependent upon your powering up progress. Yes, if you’re the completionist type you will be backtracking. Otherwise, you’ll puzzle, you’ll jump, you’ll slash, burn, loot, craft (so much crafting…) and otherwise explore, while every so often you’ll encounter a boss battle and do your thing – wondering why proceedings became so old school bloody hard all of a sudden.
As you progress, you’ll unlock all manner of weapons, ranging from knives and swords through to maces and guns. These allow for all manner of mixing and matching as you work out the fight style that best suits your way of slaying. Kill baddies and you receive bonus bits and bobs, of which shards are the most desirable, allowing Miriam to let loose those demonic skills that were foisted upon her as a child.
For a relatively independently developed game, there’s a lot of gloss here – as well as the odd rough edge. We encountered slow down on our PS4 Pro on occasion, but nothing game-breaking. The platforming action is generally a smooth sailing affair, while the seemingly never-ending reveal of enhanced weaponry rarely fails to delight. We could have done with less crafting distraction, as it runs quite deep, but those who like a bit of RPG in their platforming are sure to revel in it – and in truth it doesn’t seem out of place in this world.
Fans of the genre will also love the dialogue throughout, which takes a wonderfully campy and suitably B-movie vibe befitting of the game’s world of vampires, their hunters, demonic beasties et al. In fact, fans of the genre should love basically everything about Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. It truly is a love letter to Castlevania that we’re sure, if it had arms, Konami’s legendary game series would be clutching to its bosom besottedly.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is available now for PS4, Xbox One and Switch.