Sep 12 2011

Review of Bloodrayne Betrayal

Starting off the week we have Bloodrayne Betrayal, an attempt to revitalize the semi-infamous Bloodrayne franchise from the last generation. From name alone you may be turned off but once you see a screenshot you’ll become intrigued because not only is it 2D and beautiful but it looks striking similar to Castlevania in gameplay. Made by Way Forward, the developers of the Boy and his Blob remake and the surprisingly good Batman: Brave and the Brave game, this game looks to do some very different things with the series. With such a dramatic shift from the original titles you can’t help but be interested. So with that being the case we dived in to see if this is the game that makes Bloodrayne relevant and brings it into the modern age.

Your guns will tear through even the biggest enemies but be sure not to miss.

So the gameplay here isn’t really what you’d expect off the bat. The original Bloodrayne games very much about stealth, gunplay, and acrobatics; while most of those things are represented here they’re interpreted in different way. The game takes a majority of its cues from the original 4 or so Castlevania games, they’re level based with difficult frenzied combat and platforming that can border on the edge of unfair. It feels like a surprisingly authentic old school game and really captures the design of that era.  That said it does some things to change the formula, for instance the game has a very strong focus on combo driven combat and it gives you plenty of options to explore within it. There is of course a good melee combo set to abuse but it’s complemented well by the magic out cards of guns and infection. Guns, or at least your use of them, is very limited as you can only hold so many bullets but to balance that out they are incredibly powerful and can be used to annihilate whole groups of enemies. Infection also plays on the risk/reward aspect, basically infecting an enemy is starting to suck their blood (Rayne’s only mode of healing between checkpoints) but stopping just short of killing them. Once infected an enemy will still walking around and try to attack you again but from then on you can detonate that enemy at will by pressing the triangle button. When an enemy explodes he showers any other close enemies with fleshy debris and if their health is weak they can become infected and immediately explode themselves. These tactics along with some other cool mechanics you pick up later in the game help you really take control of a fight and if you’re good you can really have some fun experimenting. It’s a great balance though as the game piles more enemies onto you the scales do start to tilt.

The smart strategy in this game is always attack the female enemies first as they have annoying long distance attacks.

There is a problem with that idea of being good enough to fuck around in this game though and that’s the fact that this game is intensely difficult. I don’t even mean it’s difficult by regular standards, I mean old school NES game difficult; I’ve even seen word of people saying this game is harder than things like Demons Souls and Hard Corp Uprising. It’s this aspect the game that I think is both its greatest strength and weakness. On the one hand the difficulty works with the style and it’s what makes this game feel authentic, anything less and this game would just feel like one of the legion of other games out there pretending to be old school. However that classic style of challenge has fallen out of use for reasons beyond the cost of broken controllers. You see the feeling of Rayne getting a slight nick and then flying backward into an insta-death pit is just as annoying as when the variety of Belmonts did it. It simply doesn’t feel like a true test of skill in those parts but rather just a test of patience and rage control. Just like Demons Souls this is a game you buy and enjoy because it’s hard but that’s also the reason you put it down and choose never to pick it up again.

It's just like an episode of Scooby Doo.

This game’s other claim to fame beyond being stupid hard is that it looks stupid beautiful. We’ve seen it before and it we’re seeing again , Way Forward knows how to make incredibly pretty 2D games. All of the sprites look incredibly sharp and the palette while dark is certainly not drab. It kind of looks like a Saturday morning cartoon just with way more blood. Unfortunately though, like a Saturday morning cartoon, it reuses a lot of assets. I played through 12 levels (two-thirds of the game) and I only saw seven enemy types and two bosses (one of which was used twice) and while that may not seem too bad, with the amount of enemies this game throws at you they quickly become tiring to look at. There are also the environments which all have kind of the samey castle look to them (albeit different parts of a castle), which makes sense contextually but still a more distinct shift between environments would have been appreciated. That said despite the lack of variety it still looks absolutely amazing and what is there is a feast for the eyes.

This but with awesome electric guitar just playing all over it, .

I think it’s important to mention once again the extreme Castlevania-ness of this game because in a lot of ways it’s the defining factor here. Everything in this game smacks of reverence and homage to the Konami legacy, almost to the point where litigation could be needed. The music is the same kind of electric guitar meets gothic classical music that we’ve heard throughout our many fights with Dracula. The game play and difficulty as I mentioned earlier maintains the insanely hard and sometimes cheap platforming mechanics and intense enemy combat patterns we’ve spent years agonizing over. Even the story follows a similar structure with the same kind of vaguely-if ever-defined characters working with/betraying each other and a vampire lord looking to do bad things to mankind. I still only have the faintest clue what the story of Bloodrayne Betrayal is but just like the original Castlevania games I don’t really care because killing monsters is fun.

This game is a very specific homage to the past but it does manage to do just enough to have its own identity. It fills a gap for this particular type of retro game and it feels genuine in a way many other throwback style games don’t. That said it is difficult in a way that’s not always about skill and as such it’s not really going to be for everyone. So for an experience I don’t think anyone was expecting from this franchise, Bloodrayne Betrayal gets a 3.75 out of 5 stars.

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