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Bloodstained Wins the Prize for E3's Best Thinly Veiled Version of an Abandoned Series

Koji Igarashi's new game isn't Castlevania, but... it's Castlevania.

Preview by Jeremy Parish, .

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

How many times have we seen developers games crafted in the style of a venerable franchise that has been put out to pasture by the original property's owners? Practically too many to count. Yet how many of those games have actually lived up to their inspiration? Those tend to be far fewer... vanishingly few, really.

On the other hand, we have Koji Igarashi Bloodstained. Successfully crowd-funded shortly before last year's E3, Bloodstained was playable at this year's show in the form of a one-stage demo that should be going out to Kickstarter backers in a few days. And it nails the Castlevania feeling perfectly.

Now, the fact that Bloodstained plays very much like the franchise Igarashi oversaw for Konami for a decade — running from Symphony of the Night to Order of Ecclesia — should come as no surprise to anyone. "Make a game that plays as closely as possible to the Castlevania action RPGs" was almost literally the Bloodstained Kickstarter campaign's entire remit. Igarashi was as open about those intentions as he could be without incurring legal troubles with Konami.

What you may not expect is that Bloodstained doesn't simply imitate Castlevania; it duplicates it. In fact, based on the E3 show floor demo, it could well turn out to be better than Castlevania, at least in a sense. Igarashi has already dabbled in the same 2.5D action style that Bloodstained uses, back with 2007's Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles. While good, that game suffered from the flaws and technical frustrations that typically go hand-in-hand with 2D action games rendered in 3D polygons; it moved somewhat sluggishly, had edges that felt murky and imprecise, and was also kind of ugly. Nearly a decade later, Bloodstained returns to that style, yet it demonstrates none of the technical frustrations present in The Dracula X Chronicles.

Instead, it controls and feels almost exactly like those two aforementioned Igarashi Castlevanias: Symphony of the Night and Order of Ecclesia. The heroine moves fluidly yet deliberately, responding crisply to commands while demonstrating a touch of inertia that lends her a touch of weight and presence without bogging down the action. She wields different forms of attack (the demo includes a sword and a pair of boots for kick attacks) that feel pretty much perfect. Protagonist Miriam can wield magic, perform slide attacks, and use the gear she collects to boost her stats or change her combat style. It feels spot-on in subtle, important ways.

For me, the best testament to the way Bloodstained so perfect recaptures the Castlevania vibe can be found in the way I immediately fell back into familiar play patterns. As I fought the demo's boss — a massive demonic woman with a grotesque mouth splitting her abdomen and kraken tentacles below — I found myself using the same triangular jump motions to attack with Miriam that I tend to use with Alucard from Symphony of the Night: Leap forward while striking, then pull back to safety once I reach the apex of my jump. It's such a trivial little thing, but it's a technique that I never use anywhere but Castlevania... and, apparently, Bloodstained.

The Bloodstained demo takes place inside a rotting galleon swaying on the sea, reminiscent of the boat stages in Castlevania III and Rondo of Blood, the action taking place both above and below decks. The structure of the area is effectively linear, taking players in a sort of counter-clockwise circuit through the ship's interior, but it offers many opportunities to branch off in search of treasures and other perks, like the mystic tattoos that grant Miriam her magical powers. (These are almost identical in both function and in distribution to the powers protagonist Shanoa collected in Order of Ecclesia.) Once you reach the branching-off point to the boss battle, the level doubles back onto itself, allowing you to create a shortcut for future traversal. Along the way, you battle never-before-seen monsters (zombie-like wraiths called Mortes) as well as familiar foes like Buer (the face of a lion surrounded by five spinning wings) and Dullahan (a headless giant knight who wields a flail and sends spectral skulls after you).

It's not Castlevania, but Bloodstained sticks to the Castlevania formula almost to a fault. Fans who found the series in danger of growing stagnant during its DS days probably won't complain too much, though; a slightly predictable new Castlevania-like game is a far sight better than the no Castlevania-like games whatsoever we've been not-enjoying for the past six or seven years. Besides, the demo clearly doesn't represent a true final product, lacking proper balance (it's super easy for a veteran fan of Igarashi's work) or essential niceties like save points. Even at this early state, with launch still about a year out, Bloodstained nails the most important factor of the game: Its feel. Even legit Castlevania games sometimes had trouble getting that right, which means Bloodstained's already won its hardest battle.

In short: Castlevania's back, baby. Don't let that Witness Protection Program fake ID fool you.

We're at E3 this week, covering the year's biggest gaming event. Be sure to check out all our coverage on our E3 2016 hub!

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Comments 10

  • Avatar for ArugulaZ #1 ArugulaZ A year ago
    (kicks spammer to the curb)
    Looks promising. We'll see how the final product turns out... I'm hopeful that it will be a better product than Mighty No. 9 seems to be.
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  • Avatar for Keldorek #2 Keldorek A year ago
    Seeing this game of all games get a positive vibe from Jeremy Parish is genuinely all the reassurance I hoped for (not that I doubted Iga at all, really). Can't wait.
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  • Avatar for Godots17thCup #4 Godots17thCup A year ago
    Am I being a lazy consumer when I admit that all I really needed Bloodstained to be was a SotN-style Castlevania game with the serial numbers filed off?

    I feel that I'm at least being hypocritical given all of my complaints about the complacency of the New Super Mario Bros. series over the years, but man, I can't deny that I really do just want some more Castlevania.
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  • Avatar for hiptanaka #5 hiptanaka A year ago
    This matches my impression of the off-screen cam footage I saw of the game. It really looked like it had the feel of one of the now classic metroidvania-Castlevanias. I'm glad.
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  • Avatar for docexe #6 docexe A year ago
    This sounds truly encouraging. I have to admit the only thing I wanted when I backed this project was precisely another Castlevania with the serial numbers filled off. The franchise has just been dormant for too long, so it is encouraging to hear they are getting the “feel” of Castlevania right.
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  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #7 LBD_Nytetrayn A year ago
    I'm just hoping that Bloodstained doesn't find a way to pigeonhole itself into a corner the way Castlevania seemed to, with the Eastern title kind of forcing Dracula to be the fixtures of almost if not every game (isn't that part of why they tried to change the Japanese name to Castlevania as well, besides brand cohesion?). That little bit of freedom could go a long way in time.

    Then again, I suppose there's always the risk of it diverging too far from its roots... but that's just hypothetical. For now, I'm looking forward to this.
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  • Avatar for mganai #8 mganai A year ago
    I was also thinking the same thing about the galleon stage, haha.

    Me, I just hope they manage to combine the amount of arcana SotN had with the design lessons learned circa the Sorrow games. With the amount of time, money, experience and dedicated manpower they surely have, it's possible.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #9 Kuni-Nino A year ago
    Watching that video, I could only think one thing as I saw it: "This looks dope."
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #10 DiscordInc A year ago
    The last few Castevanias were getting kinda stale, but I wonder how much of that was to blame on how they were being semi-annualized? The fact that Iga gets to take his time gives me hope that the game will feel fresh even aside from the game between it an Order of Eclasia
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  • Avatar for Punk1984 #11 Punk1984 A year ago
    I've been jones-ing for a Castlevania game so bad lately I've dug up those Shaman King games. This can't come out soon enough.
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