Amongst the many games available to play at Microsoft’s E3 both was Castlevania alum Koji Igarashi’s spiritual successor to his “Metroid-vania” titles, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. From the moment you set eyes on this game, you can very clearly see the influences of Igarashi’s previous titles. The basic combat, magic collecting system, enemy patterns, and even the music would all be at home in a classic Castlevania title. It was the little touches that helped define this as an Igarashi game, though, as even the text box that appears when you collect a new item looks like it was straight out of Symphony of the Night. Many of the enemies themselves felt like stand ins for classic ‘vania, such as oily black masses coalescing into beings that function much like Castlevania’s ghouls and giant living suits of armor. What was great about the game, however, was how fresh it felt despite all these similarities to older titles.
This freshness comes from the title being built from the ground up and not having to drag around the baggage of an aging franchise. The game looks good, very good in fact. The visuals are very smooth and the design of all the enemies are unique yet fit within the theme of what was presented. Gone are the days of reused sprites that would plague the GBA and DS Castlevania titles. These enemies had to be created as something wholly new, and it shows. The controls are also very fluid. Players control a young woman by the name of Mariam, who must explore various gothic locals while defeating supernatural enemies. You have a standard attack button that changes depending on what weapon is equipped. I was able to find two weapons during my time playing the demo, a sword and a pair of kung-fu boots. A much appreciated touch was the fact that the boots actually appeared on Miriam’s feet once equipped. Mariam also has a backdash, a move player’s familiar with Symphony of the Night will immediately recognize.
The E3 demo took place on a derelict galleon, a suitably spooky and Casltevania-ish location. It was a good snapshot of what the game has to offer, as the player was able to do a bit of exploration (the entire thing took me about 15 minutes) before fighting against the stage’s boss, a giant octopus/woman hybrid. You were also exposed to the games “shard” system along the way. Think of shards as the games version of “soul” or “cards” from Igarashi’s handheld Castlevania titles. For those not familiar with this sort of system, killing certain enemies can result in Mariam obtaining shards. These shards then become equippable spells. The spells are fun to use, largely because the player can use the right thumbstick to aim them in any direction – even while moving!
Judging soley from this demo, this game seems to be a can’t miss proposition for fans of the Metroidvania genre. My only complaints would actually be the lack of difficulty and just how much some enemies remind me of their Castlevania counterparts. While it is true that the overall design feels fresh, I hope to see some truly unique monsters in the final game. The difficulty of the game might be skewed as I am an avid fan of these sorts of game and it was meant to be an accessible demo. Still, I was able to beat the stage boss without being hit, and let me remind you, I had no idea what it’s attack pattern would be like. Overall, I can say that I am very excited for the future of this title, and I would certainly recommend keeping your eyes on it if you have any sort of interest in 2D exploration titles.