I had the opportunity to try out an early demo of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the highly successful Kickstarter project from Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi, at New York Comic Con. A side-scrolling Metroidvania and a spiritual successor of sorts to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Bloodstained follows Miriam, who is suffering from a curse that is slowly turning her to crystal.
Being a Castlevania fan myself, I was eager to try Bloodstained, although the team running the demo informed me this was a very early build; this was, in fact, the same demo that was playable at E3 last June. Nevertheless, what I saw and played was promising, yet in need of some serious work to get where it needs to be.
I began the demo in a castle/cathedral-esque area, protagonist Miriam equipped with…well, nothing yet. Just kicks, which were somewhat awkward, but effective. I’d soon find a short sword, equippable through a basic but intuitive enough menu system. After destroying candles and opening a couple of chests, I finally ran into an enemy—a sort of zombie-husk thing. A few sword slashes quickly dispatched it.
And so it went; I’d run into an enemy, kill it without much resistance, and move on. Sometimes I’d pick up a new weapon (the demo had a surprising amount of weapons to find), but I never felt the need to change from the rapier I had acquired early on. A heavy claymore, for instance, did more damage but didn’t seem worth the slow attack speed. And the whip (an obvious nod to Bloodstained’s predecessor) felt weird, as if the range wasn’t what it should be, not to mention it wasn’t particularly damaging, either.
Miriam can acquire various magic spells from defeated enemies, conveyed to you via an unsettling micro-cutscene where a magic shard impales her, imbuing her with various abilities. The demo only had a few of these to try out, ranging from a basic double-jump to a fireball to summoning a creature to attack enemies for you. My magic bar replenished very quickly during the demo, which meant I felt little need to actually engage with enemies, preferring to launch my demon dog at everything that moved.
The demo culminated in a boss fight against a demonic woman who attacks you with blood, while simultaneously launching umbrellas around the room that hurt you if you make contact with them. It was an interesting battle and a nice change of pace from the repetitive belltowers and hallways that made up the ten-minute demo. It was also over quickly, as again, I spammed the demon dog spell, seeing as how the game didn’t really penalize me for doing so.
Anyone familiar with Igarashi’s most famous title, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night would feel right at home with Bloodstained, but I felt like it didn’t do enough to differentiate itself from its inspiration. I felt like Miriam controlled slightly better than Alucard from Symphony (I always found him weirdly floaty), albeit slowly and with jumps that felt too vertical. Also, despite the demo being roughly ten minutes, I found myself getting tired of the level, consisting of copy-pasted rooms and the same enemy types, repeated again and again. I really dug the various weapons, and I hope the developers do more to make each weapon feel useful. And I’m excited to see what kind of magic you’ll be able to use in the full game, and I hope none of it ends up spam-able as in this early demo.
I mean, again, this was, as I was told, a very early demo, yet at its core, it felt like Symphony of the Night all over again. A lot of people would say that’s a good thing! But is it really? I could, after all, easily play Symphony again; the thought of a re-skinned version of it doesn’t really thrill me. Then again, this was basically an early beta, at best. I’m told the upcoming public demo (I can’t tell you the release date, because they wouldn’t tell me) is far different from this early build. I’m staying optimistic about that, partly because I saw the promise in this demo, and partly because I choose to be.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is set for a 2018 release.
Brian White writes about games a lot and thinks they’re pretty neat. Find him on Twitter.