Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994)
Back in the 16-bit days, Genesis fans rejoiced when Konami started making games for their system. Amongst sequels to Contra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Tiny Toons, there was Castlevania Bloodlines.
In an attempt to merge together the Castlevania storyline and Bram Stoker's Dracula novel, Bloodlines casts you as John Morris, son of Quincey, the one who sacrificed his life to kill the evil vampire. He is aided by his friend Eric Lecarde, who seeks revenge against the demons of the underworld. Taking place in 1917, the evil Countess Bartley is attempting to resurrect her uncle Dracula. Obviously in need of being defeated, the heroes set across Europe, traversing various landmarks (from the original Castlevania level to the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the fountain at the Palace of Versailles) to find and destroy her before the Count comes back. While there are only six levels, they are fairly long.
While John is the standard whip-toting Castlevania protagonist, Eric wields a spear. Each of them controls a little bit differently (John can swing from the ceilings from his whip, Eric can use his spear to pole vault) and their paths diverge slightly in one or two levels, but for the most part, they're pretty similar. You can equip one of three special weapons (axe, boomerang and holy water) per usual Castlevania protocol, as well as a special attack unique to each character that you obtain when powered up enough.
Being that the Genesis is a bit less powerful than the SNES, the graphics have taken a bit of a step backwards. The characters have shrunken to the size of their NES counterparts, and even the awkward control scheme returns. In spite of these set backs, Bloodlines still manages to look amazing for a Genesis title, which incredibly well detailed backgrounds and lots of special effects from the programming wizards at Konami (reflections on the water, a shaking tower, a section done entirely upside down.)
The music quality isn't quite up to par with the SNES version either, being that the Genesis' FM chip just doesn't quite stack up. Still, the music is superb. The soundtrack was done by Michiru Yamane, composter of Symphony of the Night, and there's a good number of very memorable tunes, especially the first level. Unfortunately, while the music is excellent, the sound effects are a bit on the lame side.
Bloodlines is one of the only Castlevania games to actually have a difficulty level select. The type of ending you get depends on how hard you set the game to be, as typical of 16-bit Konami games. There are limited continues, but the password system is still present.
Of particular note is that, for the first time (at least in America), Castlevania is bloody. Crows peck at a bloodied corpse, torn bodies hang in the background, harpies get decapitated and spurt plasma before eventually falling to their deaths. It's subtle, but there's more gore here than any of the Nintendo Castlevanias were allowed to have.
Despite the setback in appearance, Bloodlines still plays like any good Castlevania game - spectacular level design, fabulous music, and two playable characters make one of the best action games on the Genesis.
Japanese scans by D&P Haber.
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Castlevania Games - Castlevania: Bloodlines