In its early years, Castlevania was synonymous with Nintendo. With the exception of Mega Man, Castlevania was probably the most revered third-party franchise on the NES. In 1997, the series would move on to Sony’s consoles with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, which not only revamped the entire franchise, but remains one of the greatest video games of all time.
Somewhere in between the NES era and Symphony of the Night, however, was an oddity of the series: a Castlevania title on the Sega Genesis! This lone Genesis entry is Castlevania: Bloodlines. Though Bloodlines has received praise over the years, it’s largely overshadowed by its Super NES counterpart, Super Castlevania IV.
Most people still consider Super Castlevania IV to be the series’ best pre-Symphony title, which means that both Bloodlines and the “other” SNES entry, Dracula X, are often in its 16-bit shadow. Personally speaking, I find Dracula X holds up better than Super Castlevania IV due to more fluid controls. Perhaps I’m just destined for unpopular opinions, but I also find Bloodlines to be a more enjoyable game today than its more famous SNES alternative.
In Bloodlines, Dracula is (of course) on the verge of being resurrected once again, this time by the hands of his own niece, who plans on reviving her vampiric uncle by causing mass bloodshed, which she initiates by starting World War I. A distant descendant of the Belmont family, John Morris, seeks to stop the resurrection by making his way through Europe, slaying monsters along the way. Morris is aided in his quest by Eric Lecarde, who seeks to cure his girlfriend of vampirism, after Dracula’s niece cursed her.
What separates Bloodlines from most of its predecessors is that players can play as the two different heroes. Morris is equipped with a whip, giving the game a more traditional Castlevania feel, while Lecarde uses his trusty spear, to change up the gameplay.
Not only do the two heroes have different weapons, but some of the levels include different paths depending on which character is chosen. Further character-specific exploration is performed through Morris’ whip, which can be used to swing past gaps, while Lecarde can perform a high jump with his spear.
The game works like the other traditional Castlevanias, with players simply making their way through the stages to defeat the bosses at the end. But being able to experience the game in two different ways was a nice, unique touch for the series.
Another highlight of Bloodlines is that – much like in Dracula X – the basic sense of control feels more polished than Super Castlevania IV. You can now jump while going up and down stairs, so you don’t feel so vulnerable to attack or awkward to control. The jumping itself also feels a bit smoother, though it’s still a shame you can’t change trajectory mid-jump (sure, it’s more realistic, but not exactly ideal in a game with this much platforming).
On the downside, both Morris and Lecarde suffer from the series’ infamous knockback when hit, meaning that most of your deaths will occur by being sent down a pit after being hit by an enemy. Though on the bright side, when you fall down on a more vertical level after ascending for a while, you’ll just fall back to a previous section, whereas in Super Castlevania IV such areas would suddenly become bottomless chasms after they left the screen.
The level design is a real treat, with many stages taking advantage of the 16-bit hardware in fun and unique ways. One section of the second stage, for example, sees the bottom half of the screen covered in water, with the action on the upper half being reflected in it. Meanwhile, the game’s third boss torments the heroes by spinning the tower they’re standing on, which makes for a great visual effect.
The stages are all well designed and creative, and the hordes of monsters to be found in each mean there’s plenty of action to be had in each of them. Unfortunately, at only six stages, the game is even shorter than Dracula X. Granted, quality is always more important than quantity, but you can’t help but wish there were a little more to the adventure at hand.
Still, Castlevania: Bloodlines remains a stellar installment in the storied series. The gameplay is fun and smooth, and made just a little more varied with the addition of a second character. The graphics are still impressive, with plenty of inventive visual tricks spread throughout. And like any worthwhile Castlevania game, Bloodlines has a memorable soundtrack.
It’s simple Castlevania action. But sometimes, that’s all you need.