Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! 😄
🎵 The song for this post is Voyage of Promise, from the Bloodstained soundtrack, composed by Michiru Yamane. 🎵
I backed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on KickStarter when it was announced years ago. It was released last week! And I binged it, because I love me some Metroidvanias. Here are a collection of reactions.
They delivered what they promised, and it's charming!
They did it! 🍾 They escaped the "famous gamedev crowdfunds" trap:
Ritual of the Night, I can say, is a game! That hits many of the arcs as promised! And I did (pretty happily) get through it in about 12-13 hours, and feel like you could do a lot worse! All that said…
Wow, the bugs
While I wouldn't call them "gamebreaking," getting several instances of very obvious bugs in a casual playthrough while not deliberately trying to break the game is… a bit embarassing.
Continued audio: twice, a continuous sound effect would never turn off. The first instance of this was meeting Alfred, where he was chalking the floor: I left the room to find a save point, and the chalking sound followed me everywhere until I triggered the cutscene. The worst was the final boss: Bael has this lightning attack that was playing when I killed him, but never turned off, so the entire ending cutscene had this electrical buzz louder than the dialogue. I'm hearing how The World Is Saved while sounding like The World Is A Faraday Cage.
Item drops and their sprites: a ton of times enemies would "drop" items you couldn't pick up, or invisible ones that you did.
Two-headed knockoff: while playing this boss battle, I got knocked off the stage. I ran out of bounds (which blackened the screen), ran back inbounds, and tried to rejoin the boss fight. I ended up behind him, and just started cracking my whip until I found the hitbox, and hit him to death from the back.
Ham, nostalgia, fan service, and pleasing
On Twitter I compared this to Arrested Development Season 4: fans went nuts with hype since Arrested Development was a comedy like no other in 2003, the notion of it coming back was a dream come true. But since 2003 we've had 30 Rock and Bojack Horseman and other clever, cutting comedies with recurring jokes. Arrested Development broke the mould, but it came back with a disjoint cast a decade after the mould has been broken, and arguably improved upon.
Similarly, SOTN is a breathtaking work, but it's 22 years old, and its torches have been carried by others in the time since. I can't reasonably expect anyone to make a game that will resonate with me like that did when I was 10 years old.
But they raised $5m on exactly that sentiment. So what you see are a lot of attempts at being SOTN, almost too directly: you can sit in the chairs, just like SOTN! There's a librarian who's actually Alucard lol. The final boss is a lie, like Richter! Even finding the real final boss is identical to SOTN: you have to acquire special armor to get past a spike corridor to get another special item you need in his fight. Like, it's appreciated! But friends, you could have done literally anything differently!
The deliciousness of Derivative work
I feel like this also works in its favor. Great art comes from constraints, and the fact that this has to be Castlevania without being allowed to be "Castlevania" means you get some funny workarounds. Bloodstained isn't allowed to be Dracula's castle, and the demons can't be Dracula's army. But they are… something. You have Boers, a lion with a circle of legs. You have this metal-playing lady who magics you with her hard guitar. A giant cat wizard. Demonic barbers.1
It feels a bit (in character, not production value) like the bootleg stuff Twitter account.
3D, checking the boxes
The last critique I'd offer is that 3D (and building on Unity) probably helped them make this multiplatform: you can play this on consoles, your PC, and the Switch. But for all they tried to do fan service with this game, I feel they could have done better by the fans with with tigher controls and/or more work on the animations.
I'm going to steal some assets from this most fantastic article, which compares when Street Fighter III (in 2D) got succeeded by the first 3D Street Fighter, Street Fighter IV. Miriam looks and moves like Chun-Li in Street Fighter IV:
whereas I feel like the alternative games I'll mention downthread at least feel more fluid and smooth-to-control as I feel when I see the 2D Chun-Li:
Especially in boss battles, Miriam felt like navigating a tank, and I didn't love the way the game looked or moved.
(Independently, you should absolutely read the article I cribbed these from, it's a delightful look at art, consumption, nostalgia, constraints, and humans. It came to mind a lot while playing this).
So you want a successor to SOTN?
Then give this a try! It's evident that I had lots to chew on, and it's chock-full of content I could go on to unlock if I was so motivated.
That said… I feel like some of the games in my last post are a bit better for the Metroidvania itch.
I feel like Hollow Knight hits the romanticized "epic Metroidvania" a lot better. It's a proper epic, taking 40 or so hours to get through. Its controls (both platforming and combat) are smooth and silky: I joke that it's really three games in one, since White Palace feels like Celeste and the boss rush of Godhome feels like Cuphead. Its aesthetics are hyper-polished.
If you want a SOTN tribute project, Timespinner is worth a look. It's about as long as Bloodstained, has beautiful 2D art, and controls a lot closer to the GBA Castlevanias and SOTN. Whereas Hollow Knight did a more "expand on the broken mould" game, TimeSpinner is more "tribute to it." I wrote about these games earlier this year.
Honorable Mention: Curse of the Moon
The last thing I'll say: as a backer incentive, the Kickstarter for ROTN also produced a tribute game called Curse of the Moon, which is more an homage to pre-SOTN Castlevania. Curse is a delightful tribute to a certain kind of side-scroller, and it cross-pollinates with RotN very well. I like this writeup of it.
(The harder difficulties are a bit more in the style of Volgarr the Viking, which I absolutely don't recommend it casually!)
1. ^ My favorite example of this idea, which belongs in its own blog post, is Dota 2: it had to be accessible to existing Dota players, but it couldn't infringe on Blizzard's intellectual property. The problem was that all of Dota was built on Blizzard's IP since they were using Warcraft III models. So Dota 2 heroes all look a lot like Warcraft heroes but each design is a case-by-case example of some designer getting as close as possible to a line without crossing it.
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