If we look back at 2D games of the ‘90s it’s obvious that every developer was out to create the next Mario. There are countless examples of mascot-driven action platformers and most failed miserably in the marketplace. The other genre that hit big was one-on-one fighters, with Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat sucking up quarters at the arcades and mindshare in the home console market.
Perhaps that’s why when Super Metroid launched on the Super Nintendo in 1994 it became such a hit. It was a sprawling adventure game that required players to explore every inch of the world to discover new power-ups and abilities and asked them to backtrack on a regular basis. It didn’t spawn a ton of copycats, partially because the sci-fi genre is tricky, but also due to the fact that it takes a ton of hard work to create a cohesive world filled with items to collect.
So when Castlevania: Symphony of the Night arrived in 1997 it was sort of a breath of fresh air for the shiny new PlayStation, combining the Super Metroid gameplay ideologies with the world of horror. And it worked beautifully and spawned a bunch of sequels on Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS before Konami abruptly stopped making them and the lead developer, IGA, left the company altogether. He has gone back to what he does best and created Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. It’s been over ten years (2008) since I’ve played a game like this and I didn’t know how much I had missed this style of game. That’s partially due to the fact that it seems like every few weeks we’re told of a new “Metroidvania” indie game coming to the Switch and although many of those games are a great deal of fun, the brand has sort of been diluted over the years to the point that when I actually got to play the real deal a big smile crept across my face and I was instantly addicted to uncovering every inch of the map. Those that appreciated IGA’s prior games are in for a real treat here!
Fans of the Metroidvania style Castlevania games should feel entirely comfortable plopping down the $40 asking price and picking up Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night right now – no questions asked. This game is a love letter to the classics with modern day updates to the graphics. There are some really cool and clever background tricks where the game temporarily shifts into a sort 2.5D view as you climb a tower and move up the spiral pathway. There are plenty of really fantastic vistas and backgrounds to ogle and a myriad of creative enemies to slash your way through.
Part of what I really appreciate with this game is that it lets the player define how he or she wants to approach combat. There are a smattering of weapon types, from swords and daggers to lances and guns to even lethal footwear. Depending on what you have equipped you’ll be armed with a wide range of moves, many of which you’ll learn along the way by reading books and learning new button combos, just like a fighting game! I primarily went with the two-handed great swords, which provided me with the highest possible attack damage, but also meant I was much slower with my swings and had to be careful to dodge away at a moment’s notice.
Of course you’re free to switch up your weapons at any moment and you don’t have an inventory limit so feel free to carry as many as you like. The various combat shoes are fun to mess around with because you can actually jump on enemies’ heads and see how long you can stay in the air, bouncing from one to another. Even better is that you’ll earn shortcut shards as you explore the game, which then allow you to customize your loadout and save it to a button, making it nearly instantaneous to swap between weapons, powers, etc. It’s as simple as can be to enter a room, take down some enemies with a gun, then swap over to close combat weapons to finish the more difficult ones off – not to mention a whole lot of fun.
You play as Miriam, a young woman who has the power to absorb shard crystals and gain their powers. As you kill enemies you have a chance to acquire their specific shard, which then gives her their attack powers. Using them requires the use of magic so you won’t be able to spam the same attack over and over again. The magic meter slowly replenishes over time, or you can use food or items to restore it instantly. There are several varieties of crystal shards to collect and some of them are passive. To make the game even more addictive, you can have up to 9 of the same shard, making the power even stronger. On top of that you can increase their levels by infusing certain ingredients to give them even more potency and sometimes even unlock a secondary ability. Certain ones are required to fully explore the castle and surroundings and you’ll also gain new powers like a double jump to reach areas you previously could not.
Dispatching enemies results in gains in experience points as well, for both you and your Familiar, once you’ve acquired one. These helpers fly around and attack enemies or boost your abilities. The more they level up the stronger they become. Your stats increase as you level up Miriam, but you can also gain permanent boosts to your HP, MP, and other attributes by collecting ingredients and creating new food and eating it. Nearly every monster you kill will eventually drop some sort of loot, which means you might want to farm certain areas to stock up on important items needed for your recipes. It can be a lot to remember – I had problems getting strawberries as only a specific enemy would drop them and I wanted to make a bunch of different dishes. The first time you eat each meal you get the permanent stat upgrade. Subsequent feasts of the same recipe will usually result in filling up some of your HP bar. Other items can be used to craft new weapons, armor, and more. Simply put, if you fall into the same trap I did, you’ll spend hours collecting loot to create new equipment and food.
For those seeking out everything in the game you’ll easily spend over 20 hours exploring and farming items and uncovering every last secret. The game doesn’t often point you in the right direction, so even though there are warp points, it can be pretty difficult to know exactly where to go next. Several times throughout my time with the game I was at a complete loss of where to go next because it can be difficult to see on the map where there might be a secret room or a place to use a newfound power. Luckily if you do get truly stumped there’s YouTube or Google to help out. There are several endings to the game depending on how much of the map you uncover.
As much as I wanted to give this game a higher score, there are some major technical problems that hold it back from legendary status. Some of these are bound to be remedied in future patches, and if they do indeed fix some glaring issues then I may come back and revamp the score. I played Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on the Switch for this review, but also on the Xbox One to see some comparisons. From a graphics perspective the more powerful system definitely struts its stuff with a higher and more stable framerate, additional special effects, higher resolution, and just plain better visuals overall. It’s more noticeable if you’re playing the Switch version on a TV, but if you are mainly playing in handheld mode the differences are less pronounced. I had no issue with the way the game looks on the small screen, but blown up it’s not nearly as beautiful – although it’s still fine if you only own a Switch.
The biggest problem with the Switch version is that there is input lag with the controls. That means when you press a button it takes longer than it should to see the action on the screen. This makes jumping and platforming much more difficult than it should be. Now, having played hours of the game I can say that this becomes less of an issue the longer you play. Your brain sort of compensates for the lag and it’s not entirely game breaking, but it can really be a turn off for some players. The developers have said that they’re working on a fix for this, but as of now it’s still an issue. There are also reports of people having issues with the game crashing on them. Ironically I haven’t encountered this on the Switch, but in my playtime with the Xbox One version I did have this happen to me. I’ve also noticed other smaller glitches, like weird graphic artifacts or strange clipping and other oddities occur in some of the rooms. Slowdown in a few areas is also prevalent as the Switch tries to process everything going on. Again, none of this stuff is game breaking (at least to me), but those who are more sensitive to these technical issues may want to steer clear for now.
Despite these unfortunate technical problems, I had a fantastic time with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. I had almost forgotten how much fun the IGA Castlevania games were and this just brought it all back in a wonderful way. Special props to Michiru Yamane and crew for the absolutely amazing soundtrack. Each area features a unique song and they’re all great. Even the voice acting is above average and features talent like David Hayter of Metal Gear Solid fame.
My advice at this juncture in time is that if you plan on playing it at home on the TV and you have a PS4, PC, or Xbox One you might want to spring for it on those systems because of the better graphics. If, however, you are going to be playing in portable mode the Switch version looks fine there, although keep in mind you’re still going to have input lag and slightly more technical issues than seen in the other versions. If you know these caveats going in, I think you’ll still have a super fun experience!
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 10/1010/10
- Gameplay - 7.5/107.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8.5/108.5/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
The wait for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was completely worth it. The Switch version is still plenty of fun to play but is marred with some technical issues at the time of this writing, which holds back its overall score from being even higher. Those that can overlook these issues will find a compelling adventure game filled with secrets and content that should give most gamers over 20 hours of playtime.