You need to play the most overlooked horror game of all time on Switch ASAP
No more Belmonts!
Vampires rarely go out of style. Years ago, in 2009, two authors at Slate decided that instead of looking at when vampires were in style, they would try to find the rare periods where no vampire media was being made, periods they called “The Garlic Years.” The results were slim: a few years in the ‘60s, until the supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows debuted. A few years in the ‘70s, until Anne Rice released Interview With a Vampire, and so on.
Despite how many times they’ve been done, using vampires offers several creative advantages in any medium. The nature of the character forces an intimacy, and the most famous vampire of them all, Count Dracula, was developed in 1897 by Bram Stoker and is firmly in the public domain. The same applies for Dracula’s most famous portrayal by Bela Legosi in 1931.
So when Hitoshi Akamatsu used Dracula in Castlevania, he had a strong template to go on. And his influences didn’t stop there. As recalled by developers who worked with Akamatsu, who disappeared into obscurity after poor treatment at Konami, the game’s trademark whips were inspired by Indiana Jones. Meshing the familiar with memorable gameplay became a trademark of the Castlevania series.
And that’s the case with Castlevania: Bloodlines, a memorable game that plays wisely with classic motifs from the series.
As can be hoped in any video game sequel, Bloodlines feels like Castlevania, but more. A game built to explore the possibilities of the Genesis, it’s available right now if you’ve subscribed to Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack.
Bloodlines does not feature the classic Belmont family protagonists and instead focuses on a new generation of heroes, which feels like a risky move that paid off. We’ve got John Morris (the son of another character found both in Stoker’s novel and Castlevania, Quincy Morris) and his friend Eric Lecarde. John is packing the trademark Castlevania whip, known as the Vampire Killer, and Eric has the Alucard Spear. Both have the same short-range attack, although the whip allows John to swing from ceilings while Eric has a superior jump but is slightly weaker.
One goal of Bloodlines developers was to move away from Dracula, at least in part. Programmer and scenario developer Toshiki Yamamura noted in an interview that “the previous games all were limited to the environments inside or around Dracula’s castle, which meant there were many things we just couldn’t do.” The game’s enemy is not Drac but rather his niece, Elizabeth Bartley, who is attempting to revive her uncle on the eve of World War One.
While the game starts off in the ruins of Dracula’s castle, further levels take the player on a Rick Steves-like tour of Europe: the player fights inside the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Palace of Versailles, not to mention Atlantis and a giant munitions factory where players are attacked by floating gears.
The game makes these varied settings work with horror flourishes, like skeletons running around everywhere and Frankenstein making a guest appearance in the factory. The new settings are unexpected ones for a vampire story, but the team really played into the gothic potential of each locale. It’s a gorgeous game with inventive settings.
There’s also the fantastic Michiru Yamane score, one of the elite soundtracks from the Genesis. The first of several Castlevania Yamane soundtracks, Bloodlines sounds like classical European—Yamane highlighted “Ravel and Debussy” in an interview with The Verge, as well as “pipe organs, choirs, church bells, and other instruments” — except if it was electrified and played by robots who are all slowly losing conception of reality. It’s driving, bouncy, and fascinating.
One reviewer at the time said the game was “certainly imaginative” and “contains some of the best effects I’ve ever seen” on a Genesis. While dinging it for being somewhat easy, the reviewer was right. Today’s players have a chance to explore one of the console’s most fascinating platformers.