My initial plan for talking about this game was to discuss everything that makes it different from other Castlevanias. Thing is though is that none of it actually matters. It's just as much a Castlevania as any other title in the classic series so the main point should be what makes this entry special. One of the nice things about this franchise is that even the early games made an effort to stray from would-be conventions at every opportunity. Back in March I suffered some serious burn-out playing through the Megaman games as they're so similar to one another.
Bloodlines follows the tale of John Morris and his good buddy Eric Lecarde. It seems some crazy woman decided to resurrect Dracula and it's up to our heroes to put her and the good Count to rest for awhile (though not for too long as Jonathon Morris takes up the whip in Portrait of Ruin). Rather than the game taking place in Drac's Castle and immediate surroundings there's a bit of country-trotting with each stage taking place in a different part of Europe. It's a nice twist as it gives the developer an excuse to come up with some unique level-designs.
The entire game is a rather cool mix of ultra-traditional Castlevania 1/Chronicles level-design and Super Castlevania 4's gimmick setups for the heck of it. Each section of the game tends to have something unique about it and is bolstered by the enemy placement and proper usage of fiends such as medusa-heads to keep things challenging. It's a great balance and the controls center more around early Vania but with some nice touches like being able to jump on and off of staircases. It's kind of hard to describe but in the game you'll see thing scenarios like a room where all the sections of the screen are out of place and the player has to dodge flying heads while doing some platforming. At times it's pretty creative and since the levels are broken into many of these small sections things stay fresh if a little disjointed.
The disjointedness comes from the variable difficulty each stage seems to have. This means the curve is kind of all over the place with areas being harder or easier than others. It's probably nitpicking since not every game needs some difficulty curve as graceful as a swan's neck but it's still notable as the other games tend to be pretty methodical in their approach to difficulty. This also extends to the boss-fights and other enemy encounters as sometimes foes make an appearance just because they're expected to be there. Again it's nothing major and it serves as more fodder for Konami to throw around a bunch of different ideas.
One aspect of Bloodlines that I think is particularly interesting as to do with Eric. He has a super-jump he can perform that while it can only go straight up he can use it to find all sorts of neat minor shortcuts. While this might not be the sort of thing that is good for the Castlevania series it seemed like something that could have been a really good addition if implemented to a greater extent. Sure a lot of games are designed around this sort of thing but not relatively straight-forward action games like Castlevania. Part 3 had a number of these aspects but it also had a non-linear nature and the abilities Grant and Alucard were capable of only saw real use in the manner of making certain sections easier. The implementation in Bloodlines feels just a bit more subtle and it recalls times during the Metroid games where there would be this power-up for reaching some areas but creative uses for it were to discovered that led to other areas being reached more quickly or by using different routes. It's that sort of game-design where tools are handed to the player with the vaguest of directions that really make for some fascinating games.
I guess it's all for naught at this point as the Castlevania series split into two different directions but eh for what its worth Bloodlines offers a good time and certainly more than enough differences from whatever traditions the series has to make it worthwhile even today.
Game Rating - 4 out of 5
Like I said the game's difficulty balance is a bit off as it can work with or against the player as they progress. The game is still fairly difficult regardless and settings such as Expert add enough to make this game just as solid as any other Vania. I gotta say though that the limited continues was just a dumb idea. Sometimes certain difficult spots have to be tried over and over again and having to ration lives is just annoying. I also don't understand the attempts at developing a scoring model when there's a very easy section in stage 5 where one can rack up some infinite number of points (especially since unlike most early games this one has no time-limit).
My Rating - 4.5 out of 5
I'm quite fond of the game and favor the variable difficulty as it means I see more of the game on a relatively casual play-through. Otherwise I enjoy the slightly more visceral feel this game seems to have over other entries. Attacks carry a little bit more punch and destroying enemies is ever so slightly more satisfying. I still don't understand why Konami never put this game on the Virtual Console. It's such a tremendous waste.