The gothic set dressing of Koji Igarashi’s PlayStation masterpiece Symphony of the Night hasn’t been outdone in this spiritual successor. While the effects of modern 3D rendering have allowed the graphical capabilities of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night to thoroughly pop with gorgeous lighting and a great sense of depth, there’s no denying that Symphony of the Night’s lavish pixel art is simply unbeatable.
But Igarashi definitely isn’t competing with his most prominent retro work: this legally distinct follow-up title doesn’t aim to ape what’s come before, only reiterate what made Symphony great. While it distances itself from the in-depth Castlevania lore that’s been built up over decades—there isn’t an Alucard or sensually whip frenzied Belmont to be seen here—it inherits that series strong core concepts to create one of the best Kickstarter titles we’ve seen yet.
Kickstarted back in 2015, it’s been a long development for the Metroidvania, or Igavania, game. Crowdfunded during the service’s heyday alongside the likes of Mighty No. 9 and Yooka-Layle, the extra time allowed for this game to truly shine is much appreciated. Whereas the aforementioned spiritual successors to Mega Man and Banjo-Kazooie may not have been the critical successes that their funders may have wished for, this time it feels different. This will be the game that many players wanted: Bloodstained is a true successor for Symphony.
Put in the role of a shardbinder called Miriam, a woman cursed with the ability to absorb the powers of demons, you’re tasked with exploring a huge castle to find your friend-turned-evil Gebel. (I like to call him Evil Gebel but that’s just a personal preference.) It’s a clichéd catalyst for a pure gameplay experience. An engaging main story is provided at a primitive level, but it’s really the game’s supplementary cast that keeps you engaged.
Exploring Bloodstained’s sprawling gothic castle introduces you to an intriguingly unique library of side characters that usually exist to introduce their own gameplay mechanics. Early on, after fighting your way through around ten percent of the game’s environment, you’ll be introduced to a demon barber cursed to perform 666 haircuts before he can be cured. It’s just a cute way of introducing the game’s basic customisation system, allowing you to change hair, eye and skin colour, but it stands out as a memorable moment within the sprawling environment.
The more you delve into Bloodstained, the deeper its mechanics become. While you’ll begin with a basic moveset—backstep, slide, jump and attack—you’ll soon gain access to a wealth of weapons and interesting abilities gained from defeating demons. With an unlockable shortcuts ability, you’ll even be able to switch in and out of specific builds in order to really wail on your foes. Early on, I was rocking a deadly pair of boots that featured a sharp knife coming out of the toe cap—it made sliding a much deadlier attack. Combined with an upgraded demon power that allowed me to extend a spinning blade in a wide radius, I was an unstoppable force.
Combat here is a deep and dark well, full of unique secrets and combos to discover. You could rock up to a boss fight with a blunderbuss or carve it up with a weighty greatsword. Demon powers can range from summoning bats to lobbing a ball of water across the screen. Combined with familiars, craftable weapons and armour, unlockable traversal mechanics and more, the game you start playing is not the game you’ll finish. It becomes an entirely different beast that even hides a fantastic bonus of end game content to play through.
That’s not to say Bloodstained is perfect. It may have been in the oven for a long while, but it’s not that perfect golden brown the recipe book prepared you for. Dialogue suffers from some weird oversights in the typo department—one scene right near the beginning had entire words missing from the text—and walking halfway through a wall is certainly a more-than-common occurrence. But, if you’re wanting a pure gameplay experience that always entertains—especially with its awesome bosses and mini-bosses—Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a brilliant and bombastic Metroidvania.
After four years of development time, Koji Igarashi has created the game that fans have craved for years. It’s a love letter, not so much to Castlevania itself but to the fans that helped him distance from publisher Konami. Ritual of the Night is not a perfect game, but it’s a bloody good game. If you’re craving for a new Metoridvania, or IGA-Vania, then this is definitely a title to put on your shelf… or digital library.