Tag Archives: Metroidvania

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Shattered Glass

Koji Igarashi was responsible for a handful of my favorite games, namely Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. When he left Konami and landed on Kickstarter with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and a promise to deliver an Igavania game like he’s given us before, I was 100% on board. Symphony is over 20 years old now, but it’s a timeless classic, and his other Castlevania games could be spoken of in the same breath. Could Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a spiritual sequel to a beloved classic as we’ve seen crowdsourcing attempt to replicate countless times before, live up to those sorts of expectations? The answer is no but it’s complicated.

Crystal shards, demons, a person wronged, and a labyrinthine castle; those are the ingredients of Bloodstained’s story, which is wholly ignorable for 99% of players. It’s just not particularly interesting nor is it the focus. This is an action platformer in the same exact vein as previous Iga-produced Castlevania games, but more namely, the Aria of Sorrow and Dawn of Sorrow games. Both of them have a mechanic that’s copied almost wholesale into Bloodstained, which is the collection of enemy abilities and enhancements. Killing enemies will sometimes result in a “shard” ability. Sometimes this means you will be able to replicate an enemy’s attack, like throwing a bone. Sometimes it’s a stat boost. Sometimes it’s a little familiar that floats along with you and helps in some way. Regardless, beyond the collection of weapons, armors, consumable potions, food, and crafting ingredients, this shard collecting gives the game a “gotta catch them all” feel as you repetitively slaughter these demons to collect their goodies.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night delivers on the promise of a Koji Igarashi style Castlevania game with an intellectual property that isn’t owned by Konami. You could do a few name swaps and this game would feel right in line with that series. The game itself feels like those prior games. The platforming and action are tweaked just right to rarely feel loose or cheap. It’s got responsive platforming, lots of enemies to kill, and lots of ways to kill them. It’s got the soundtrack that’s fairly close to those games and the gothic feeling and look. It’s 3D on a 2D plane done with Unreal engine, which sort of gives everything a shiny look. It comes off as a bit cheap when compared to how rich and expensive the fully 2D Symphony of the Night looked, but it’s far from bad. Stripped to its bones, the core gameplay is fun. Platforming, tons of weird enemies, and a lot of nooks and crannies to explore are what make these games enjoyable.

There’s a whole raft of non-gameplay bits that don’t have too much effect on that core loop. There are three side quest paths that simply involve getting particular items or killing particular enemies for item rewards. There are two crafting systems; one for items, another for food. Enemies drop ingredients for both systems, and they’re both of dubious return. I found that the weapons and items dropped by enemies alone were mostly sufficient to make numbers go up and get through the game. The food grants one-time permanent stat boosts, and some repeatable boosts by eating it, but I was collecting ingredients solely to complete the food side quest. Some of those ingredients are painfully rare. There’s also a ton of appearance customization options that you can only get by finding style books and delivering them to an in-game barber. I made a few changes when I found the barber the first time, didn’t make note of where he was, and never found him again. I spent the rest of the game running around with a pocket full of unused style books. This stuff exists, and it’s almost entirely optional.

Where the game stumbles is in this particular labyrinth. It just doesn’t seem to flow as neatly as previous games. As usual, progress is gated by a collection of core gameplay upgrades (like a double jump), but there were times where the way forward wasn’t clear and wasn’t gated by some kind of obvious upgrade. There was one particular obstacle that halted all progress and it was gated by finding and killing the right demon, but there were some extra steps in between. In other places, progress is simply slowed by throwing a ton of high damage, high hit point enemies in a long path to the next save point. The last third of the game really suffers from this.

The game also has the Stink of Crowdsourcing, which is stuff in the game that otherwise wouldn’t be there if it weren’t crowdsourced. The most obvious of these are paintings with the faces of Kickstarter backers, but the Kickstarter campaign sold a lot more:

  • Backer gets a special message in the credits
  • Backer face as a painting in the castle
  • Backer designed weapon
  • Backer pet as enemy in the game
  • Backer designed enemy
  • Backer designed hidden room

Going over this list, the least noticeable were the backer designed weapons. This game is so jammed full of weapons that I couldn’t tell if I ever used one that a backer designed; they simply blend in. Backer designed enemies also didn’t really pop out at me. But the backer faces as paintings were super obvious, and the pets as enemies were rather out-of-place. Is someone really that excited to know that I killed a digital representation of their dog a dozen times so I could get its shard? The backer designed hidden rooms were almost always exceptionally tough, optional boss fights. They weren’t necessarily bad, but often out of place with their location, and gated by finding a key somewhere in the rest of the castle. This key gating is itself out of place with the style of these games; I can only think of one particular key needed in all of Symphony of the Night. I was feeling like the night janitor with my ring full of keys by the end of Bloodstained.

I put down Bloodstained for a few days in the last third of the game because I got frustrated by the labyrinth. I couldn’t tell whether I was moving in the right direction, and this style of game still uses hard save points. Dying during a long exploration run means losing all that progress, and it sucks. I had very mixed feelings about the game at this time: was it really any better than those previous Igavania’s? Is this game fun and I am bad at it or does this particular labyrinth suck? I went back and pushed through to the end, and I’m glad I did. The game ends in spectacular, classic Castlevania fashion. But it’s not quite enough to pull it up to greatness.

What I hope happens is that the team of studios that made Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night can take this momentum to make a better sequel, absent of the muddy last third and silly crowdsourced additions, and Bloodstained 2 is a great game. Today, I’m glad I’ve got one Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night but it’s a flawed experience. It’s a good game that looks cheaper than it is, has a pile of bolted-on distractions, and really loses itself in the last third.

Darksiders 3

When I beat Darksiders, I thought it was the best Zelda game I’d ever played. It’s not Zelda. It’s really a mash up of a lot of good games, but its most obvious influence is the 3D Zelda games. Darksiders 3 most obvious influence is Dark Souls, but it’s not the best Dark Souls. It’s not even the best Darksiders.

The story of Darksiders 3 is convoluted, and it doesn’t help that there’s not much “in the previous games” lead up. The short of it is that you are one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, Fury (not an actual historic horseman, but whatevs), and you have to hunt down and kill the seven deadly sins. They’ve been set free on Earth in the middle of the apocalypse. Now there are demons, angels, and sins to kill.

After release, Darksiders 3 got a couple significant updates to address some of the major complaints reviewers had. One of those was “classic” mode, which was intended to make the game more like the previous two installments. I played the whole game in “classic” mode, and I still felt the Dark Souls influences in nearly every aspect.

In a game where you play as Fury, there’s a dearth of fury shown. Enemies rarely come in groups larger than three, and they’re mostly durable. It has a somewhat slow pace, especially compared to the rest of the series, with a focus on watching attacks and dodging them to counter attack and punish the enemy. I was slightly surprised at how few huge monsters there were, especially considering that huge bosses are staple of the series. The sins themselves are rarely bigger than Fury and follow the same approach as the basic enemies: watch the pattern, dodge, and punish.

There’s nothing really spectacular here. It’s an okay action game that obviously apes a lot of mechanics from Dark Souls. The problem is that Dark Souls‘ mechanics match its world and Darksiders 3 does not. Darksiders is a world of comic book action, heaven versus hell, four horsemen riding, deadly sins running amok. The sins are just bosses at the end of uninteresting dungeons. It mashes in some Metroidvania qualities by adding movement options when you get new weapons, and there’s some degree of non-linearity to the middle game. It doesn’t use the Dark Souls influence to elevate the world, and it never turns down the comic book influence to match the more methodical gameplay.

Darksiders 3 is confused about what it wants to be, and I hope Gunfire Games can sort it out by the fourth game and possibly the conclusion of the series. I’d hate for them to get to the end of it and never overcome the greatness of the first game. Darksiders 3 is not going to do it.


Reference: Gunfire Games. Darksiders 3 (THQ Nordic, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Green Man Gaming

Timespinner

Everyone slept on Timespinner. I know I did. I saw a Giant Bomb quicklook for it once, and then got a reminder of it during their game of the year articles, and that was it. This is the kind of game that Steam and other storefronts are doing a disservice to. It definitely would’ve landed on my best games list, and I barely heard about it.

In Timespinner, you play as Lunais, a time messenger. Lunais’ people have built a time machine, a timespinner, and they have to routinely send time messengers back in time to prevent the timespinner from falling into enemy hands. But after Lunais jumps into the past, the timespinner breaks and she has to sort out a conflict between two worlds.

I’m not going to dance around it. Timespinner is heavily influenced by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s a 2D action platformer with character upgrades, multiple weapon types, usable and wearable items, experience and leveling, familiars, and a huge variety of enemies. In many ways, it improves upon Symphony of the Night. There aren’t as many weapons, but they level with use and that means there are fewer/no junk weapons. They nearly all have unique functions so it’s a matter of your taste or enemy weaknesses to choose what weapons you like. There are no subweapons, but you can equip two weapons per set, and switch rapidly between three sets. You also get powerful spells that use a mana-ish bar that are trivial to use. Instead of Symphony‘s fighting game inputs for spells, you just hold down a button.

The levels are good looking and the music is the best imitation of the excellent Symphony soundtrack I’ve heard. I got a bit overleveled by the end, which took away a lot of the challenge, but I was ready for it by that point. I had upgrades that made movement fast and easy, so when I wanted to blast through an area just to get to the other end, it was as simple as it should be considering I’d manually traversed the area before.

Timespinner is an excellent game that I should’ve been playing since release. But Steam is a hellhole and it’s just flooded with trash. A game like Timespinner not only has to compete against this endless chute of garbage, but also the super high budget, AAA game releases. Steam has all kinds of algorithms to show you things it thinks you will like, but it never put Timespinner on my front page. I’m looking at games cycling through it right now and half of it is stuff I have zero interest in. I get that no recommendation engine is going to be perfect, and Symphony is a console game, but it hasn’t learned that I love Metroidvania style games so it’s not showing me those. It’s showing me NBA 2K19 because Humble Bundle gave me that game once. It’s showing me stuff I own on other platforms. GOG is a more curated storefront, but it’s also not putting Timespinner in front of me. I had to search this game out.

Here’s my attempt to correct these wrongs. I’m singing Timespinner‘s praises. If you enjoy Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, or Super Metroid, or any modern Metroidvania, you should play Timespinner. After bashing my head against Hollow Knight for so long, I think Timespinner deserves as much praise as that game got. Timespinner is a better game. It improves on Symphony in many ways, and it has an actual story worth investing time into. It shouldn’t have been so hard for me to find and it deserves more attention.


Reference: Lunar Ray Games. Timespinner (Chucklefish, 2018)

Source: Purchased from GOG