Developer: ArtPlay / WayForward Games
Publisher: 505 Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Version Reviewed: eShop download
Category: Action, Adventure, Platformer, Role-Playing
No. of Players: 1 player
Release Date: June 25, 2019 (EU & NA)
Price: $39.99 USD
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night started life as a successful Kickstarter, one created by Castlevania guru Koji Igarashi, promising to bring his brand of Metroidvania games back. These Igavania games as some refer to them as, have a distinct feel to them, so of course the prospect of more Castlevania-style games was enticing to people, even if it was released under a different name.
A demon-filled castle has been erected by Gebel, a shardbinder who has presumably gone mad with power from consuming demon shards. Another shardbinder, Miriam, awakens from what has been a ten year slumber, and springs into action to stop Gebel and his sinister plans. Of course, not all is as it appears.
Although a fairly simple story, the way it is told, and the characters it is told through are expertly done. Igarashi has been at these style of games for a while after all. There are quite a few twists and turns in the story as well to keep things interesting, and it is told in a way that never gets in the way of the demon-slaying action.
Metroidvania-style games have been in abundance of late, though none have quite been able to capture the certain magic Igarashi brings to his Igavania games. Anyone who has played Symphony of the Night, or any Castlevania game that came after will have a good idea of what Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is.
Essentially, you enter the castle, and only certain areas are able to be explored. As you progress, more items and abilities are bestowed upon your character, allowing you to reach parts of the castle that were out of reach previously. This cycle repeats until you reach the end of the game.
There are additional aspects that flesh out the core gameplay. For starters, there are a plethora of weapons to wield. From short swords and axes, to whips and guns, there is enough variety to keep you entertained, as well as trying to find the right weapon to fit your play-style. Each weapon type has multiple weapons to choose from, so you may end up with five different short swords, all with different stats and strengths.
The weapons also have special moves available to them, activated by putting in fighting-game-style commands, such as quarter-turn attack or down attack inputs. This adds an interesting element to the combat if you choose to engage with it, though you can just fall back on standard attacks if you wish to play the game that way.
As you kill demons, you can sometimes obtain a demon shard. These shards grant you powers that, for the most part, emulate the abilities the demon you defeated had. For instance, killing a demon that can shoot fireballs can grant you a flame ability that allows you to do the same.
The variety of shards here is staggering, and you can have five different types equipped at any one time. Some of these abilities can level up, and you can also make them more powerful with the vast crafting mechanics.
Speaking of crafting, you can create a multitude of weapons, food, shards and items from materials you gather. If you want the most powerful weapons in the game, then engaging with the crafting system is the only way to do so. To be able to craft an item, you first need the recipe to do so, and those are found in chests scattered around the castle.
There is also a levelling system. As you kill enemies, you will gain experience, eventually levelling up Miriam. As your level increases, so does your basic stats. This can be a big help for those who need a bit of help taking on a tough boss, as you can go back and farm experience points to try and level your character up for those moments. That said, generally a more powerful weapon is more help than purely levelling up.
As is synonymous with Igavania-style games, there is a map percentage indicator. Exploring 100% of the map is always a tough prospect, as there are hidden rooms to find. At one point I was stuck on 99.90% of the map explored, and finding that last room took me hours. The satisfaction I had when finding it though was equal to any of Igarashi’s past games.
Hidden bosses are also scattered around, and a few of them were quite challenging. If you want to just finish the game, the bosses never get too difficult, but if you want the added challenge, then there are certainly bosses that will test your mettle.
Some of these bosses require special keys to enter their rooms, and are hidden in some tricky-to-find places. The most difficult one though required a specific set of circumstances, as well as having explored the majority of the map.
There are a heck of a lot of systems in play here, but all of them work extremely well together. Mixing up normal attacks with your shard skills is a lot of fun, and trying out new abilities is always a joy. Just getting around the castle is a blast, and the map feels extremely well thought out, right down to the placement of the fast travel points and save rooms. Bosses are a lot of fun, and I never felt that a cheap death ever sent me to a Game Over.
CONTENT & FEATURES:
Currently, there are a number of features in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The standard story mode has three different difficulty settings, and completing the game gives you a New Game+ mode. In New Game+, all items and most of your weapons and abilities carry over.
The only things that don’t are those that are integral to progressing, such as your double jump ability. There is also a Boss Rush mode and a Speed Run mode. Free DLC is supposed to be coming in the future, one of which will include a new playable character.
The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal. Each area has a song that fits the aesthetics perfectly, and the dynamics within each track is tremendous. I really cannot say enough about the soundtrack, it has to be one of my favourites this year by far. The voice acting is pretty good for the most part.
In English, David Haytor of Metal Gear Solid fame is a weird choice for a katana-wielding samurai though. That said, his performance is well done so it is easy to look past the strange casting there. Enemy attacks, snarls and quips are all great, and add to the overall feel of the game. Miriam’s attacks are also on point, and nothing really seems out of place.
VISUALS & PERFORMANCE:
Visual design is one of the games strongest points. From the character designs, right down to the environments, the entire game has a distinct and coherent look and feel to it. Well, there are giant cat and dog enemies that do look a little out of place, but besides them things are spectacular.
Enemy designs are also equal parts creepy and wacky, from giant archdemons launching magic attacks, to guitar-wielding humanoids shredding up a storm. At 720p docked and 576p in handheld, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night’s visuals are not exactly ideal. The quality of the textures are poor, and there is a muddy haze seemingly over everything. That said, if you want to experience this game on the go, then this is a perfectly acceptable sacrifice.
What isn’t acceptable though is the performance in general. During my 20 hours with the game, I experienced 7 crashes, forcing a loss of progress. Opening up a book on a bookshelf is a risky proposition, as that is where most of the crashes occurred.
The loading times can also get way out of hand, ranging from three seconds right up to over a minute. There were multiple times where the console would get stuck on a black screen loading, giving me enough time to go grab a snack from the kitchen and get back before the next screen had loaded.
There is a noticeable amount of input lag as well, which is always a bad thing to have in a game. When you press a button, the action is carried out a fraction of a second after you press it. This may not sound like much, but when you are platforming or in combat situations, you definitely feel it. The framerate is also locked at 30FPS, but in quite a few areas it will take a significant nosedive, with the game stuttering and progressing in a way that resembles a slideshow.
The game is absolutely incredible, though the Switch version in its current state is a hard one to recommend. PlayStation and Xbox versions of the game do have their share of problems as well, though their framerate being at 60FPS, along with being significantly better looking and more stable, make them the more ideal way of experiencing this game on console. To be honest, if the Switch version didn’t suffer from so many issues, I would have considered giving this game 10.
Having the game on the go may be a big selling point, but until patches are available to fix its issues, the Switch version is just not in a state where I can recommend it if you have the opportunity to play it elsewhere. That said, if the Switch is your only console, then by all means get this game, it is tremendous.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is arguably the best Metroidvania game in years. The excellent soundtrack and visual design, mixed with outstanding gameplay make this a game that has to be experienced if you are a fan of the genre, despite the multitude of issues on Switch hamper what is otherwise a spectacular return for Koji Igarashi.
THE VERDICT: 8/10
*A download key was provided by the Publisher for the purposes of this review
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