Castlevania: Bloodlines

Grade: A-

Ranking in Sega Genesis Top 50: 13th

Publisher: Konami

Year: 1994

Genre: Exterminator

World War I doesn’t get a lot of attention in history books or other media, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t significant. Most obviously, it set the stage for World War II. But there were a lot of other historically important consequences of the Great War. It was essentially the final blow to any kind of meaningful aristocracy in Europe, led to the collapse of some previously powerful empires, and ushered in a modern era of warfare, with astronomically higher casualty rates than nearly any previous conflict in history. Perhaps most significantly, it nearly led to the premature resurrection of Dracula.

Ok, so that’s not something they teach you in school. When we about learned the the four “-isms” that led to World War I, Vampirism wasn’t on the list. And our history books never told us anything about the sorceress working behind the scenes, creating tensions between nations and plotting the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to start the war, so that Dracula could harvest millions of souls and return to power. I had to learn that lesson from the intro to Castlevania: Bloodlines.

It does start to seem pretty obvious once you think about it, though.

Fortunately, the Belmont clan is there to stop Dracula before his resurrection. Well, not the Belmonts exactly, but a distant relative, John Morris, a fully trained vampire hunter living in Texas. Kind of interesting that even vampire hunters eventually started immigrating to the US in the late 19th century. I guess it truly was a land of opportunity, where even the most humble killers of the undead could have a fresh start, and with hard work and a little ingenuity, could slay their way from rags to riches.

That’s one thing that’s always overlooked in these Castlevania games is the professional aspect. I imagine hiring a Belmont (or a Morris) to clear out all the skeletons and mummies in your haunted castle would probably be a pretty expensive undertaking. It would be like hiring a really specialized exterminator, except the work is extra dangerous and one family has a monopoly on the entire industry. I’d love to see one of these games end with a scene where the protagonist is going over the invoice with the owner of the infested castle: “Well, you had a lot of zombies in your basement that I took care of, and there were some mermen in your underground lagoon. And up on the roof, there were a bunch of harpies dropping tiny men armed with swords. I think I got all of them, but I left some traps, so check those in a week and call me if any more turn up. Also, your main dining hall is full of pits – I don’t know if maybe your last slayer made those to try to get some of the werewolves to fall into, but if so, it’s not working. You might want to call a carpenter and get those fixed up – I had to swing on chandeliers to get across the room. And actually you should probably have someone look at your foundation, because this whole castle is built on top of a series of caverns, an abandoned mine, and some catacombs. The last place I was in that was like that actually collapsed right behind me moments after I killed the head vampire. Besides, caves and stuff like that very attractive to undead, so there’ll be more infestations unless you get that taken care of… Anyway, the total comes to 50,000 gold, but with our Spring Special promotion, it’s actually only 45,000. And actually, I’m going to knock another 200 off that price, because I destroyed just about every candle in the place. I… I really just hate candles.”

…and the moon. That was the real reason I took this job.

Yeah, in my imagination, the Belmonts are very honest vampire slayers, who explain all the charges, pay for anything they accidentally damage, and offer unsolicited advice to their clients on how to prevent more attacks, even at the cost of future business. They would get really good reviews on Angie’s List.

Of course, Angie’s List doesn’t cover vampire hunters, since that’s not a real profession and you should be extremely suspicious of anyone claiming to be one. Nor do they review video games. Luckily for you, we do, and I can tell you that Castlevania: Bloodlines is excellent. The visuals and music are great, there are some really creative boss fights, and the entire thing is just well-designed and executed.

Look out! A boss who can argue with himself constantly.

There are also some really innovative touches.  What’s interesting about the special effects in this game is that few of them rely on some kind of revoluntionary technological breakthrough. Rather, it was a lot of taking things we knew the Genesis could do and using them in a unique way – tricks like upside down rooms, or un-aligning parts of the screen to disorient the player. It’s less “I’ve never seen that before” and more “why hasn’t anyone else thought of doing that?”

Still, gameplay is what counts in the end, and Bloodlines is one of the most well-balanced games we’ve played. The game is extremely challenging, yet at the same time, there are very few times that you take damage where it feels like you couldn’t have avoided it. This, combined with a limited number of lives and very few healing items, turns this into a quest to make near-perfect runs. You only get  two continues to complete the game’s 6 stages, which means only 15 lives (assuming you go into the options and set the lives from three to five which, for the love of God, just swallow your pride and do that),  to complete the game. In most other games, this would seem impossible, but because Bloodlines is so well designed, it never gets frustrating. You will do better almost every time you play it, and with a little practice, this impossible feat doesn’t seem quite so daunting.

Admittedly, it’s not the best game in the Castlevania series, or even the best Castlevania of its generation (the SNES’ Super Castlevania IV is a little bit better). But that really says more about the utter dominance of this series than anything negative about this particular entry. Until the past few generations of consoles, Castlevania was consistently one of the best games on any system it appeared on – the NES, the SNES, the Genesis, even multiple evolutions of the Gameboy. And don’t even get me started on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which is not just the original Playstation’s finest moment, but one of the greatest games ever made. Bloodlines may not be a masterpiece, you can see the connections between it and the later games that were.

The detailed sculpting around the clock face is a nice touch you don’t see in many games.

Availability: Castlevania: Bloodlines never made it to any platforms other than the Genesis, hasn’t been included in any compilations that we know of, and is not available for download for any of the current consoles. This means that if you want to play it, you’re going to have to track down a Genesis copy, and that’s not going to be easy. Well ok, in the internet era, it’s extremely easy to find a copy, it’s just not going to be cheap. The game is slightly rare, and this combined with its quality and dedicated fan base mean prices can get a little out of hand.

A quick search online revealed several copies going for more than $100. Now, I’m not one to tell you how to spend your money, but good lord, don’t do that. Seriously, if you’re even thinking about spending that much, I’ll sell you my own copy for $60. More realistically, most copies tend to fall into the $20-25 range, though patience and persistence might lead to better results. I picked up a copy a few years ago for $15, which I suppose makes my offer to sell it for only $60 seem a little less charitable.

Flowers may not seem like a fearsome enemy, but these are evil flowers.

Whether or not this is a good value to you depends on a lot of things, but it’s worth taking into account the availability and cost of other Castlevania games out there. Super Castlevania IV is available for the Wii for less than ten dollars and is a slightly better game. Symphony of the Night is available on the Playstation (and by extension, the PS2), and used copies sell online for about the same price as a copy of Bloodlines, and it’s also available for for download on the Xbox 360 for a mere $10, despite being pure heavenly glory translated into game form. And the series has several entries available on the Gameboy DS (and Advance) which are also less expensive and arguably better games. With those considerations, Bloodlines is probably best left only to Genesis enthusiasts and hardcore Castlevania fans who have already played most of the aforementioned titles.

Having said that, the offer to buy my personal copy for $60 is still on the table. It doesn’t have the instructions, but I’ll throw in a poster for the Game Gear that probably didn’t originally come with it. Hello? Anybody?