Review: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Thanks to 505 Games for providing GWW with this review build.

Developer: ArtPlay
Publisher: 505 Games
Available on PS4, Xbox One, Windows and Switch (reviewed)

At the helm of Bloodstained is Koji Igarashi who produced past Castlevania games. To many, Bloodstained is a spiritual successor to the beloved series. That means the game plays a lot like the majority of Castlevania games: it’s a 2D side-scroller with RPG-lite mechanics. Killing bad guys grants you XP, which improves your stats (e.g. attack power, total mana, life). As you progress through the game you acquire items you can choose to equip them, which also improves upon your stats. The game loop is as follows: improving your battle effectiveness and unlock access to areas of the game that were previously blocked.

The protagonist, Miriam, is a solid lead character. She was an orphan who was experimented on by members of the Alchemist’s Guild. The experiments manipulated her mind and body to enable her to absorb and harness the crystal Shards that serve as her powers to defeat Gebel and his demons.

What’s Good

Bloodstained is a Metroidvania game executed to perfection. I’ve played dozens of games in this genre and only a small portion, maybe 25%, get that gameplay loop down well: explore, find enough temporarily impassable obstacles that you remember where they are, get stronger, kill bosses, unlock skills, find a way to clear the obstacles, and so forth. It’s also a platformer and I’m delighted to report that after several hours of gameplay I have only missed one jump. That may sound insignificant but, again, it’s not easy to nail these elements of gameplay.

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Leveling up and gaining new skills is a really satisfying experience. While grinding before the first boss battle I was randomly awarded a new Shard (skill) called “Gale Crawler” which creates a shockwave across the ground and impacts enemies. This is the kind of upgrade that can make a big difference in your approach to combat and act as an improvement to your preferred play style. In this case, ranged. The shards keep on coming too. I love the feeling of empowerment when a new shard is obtained. Your shards also gain level, which is helpful as the game progresses and enemies become more powerful.

A tip on leveling up: what worked for me is finding a room with a handful of demons near a save point. I would slay them with my skills, milking my mana. This was a fast way to kill enemies but I only recommend this for grinding. Otherwise I preferred to leverage melee attacks as I was discovering more rooms and progressing.

For the most part Bloodstained is well polished. The menus, inventory, skills, level design and enemies are all fantastic. The levels have some verticality to them, which is easy to keep track of relative to the overall map and multiple paths. The camera sometimes does a 3D pan as you move across certain areas of the game, which is a marvelous effect. The enemies vary tremendously. Their design, animation and attack patterns are distinct. Allowing you to really take advantage of the multiple play styles that come from combining shards with weapons.

What Needs Work

As of it’s initial release, build 1.1, the Switch version of Bloodstained suffers from random chugs in frame-rate, according to other reviewers. Frankly, I didn’t see this much, save for a few areas such as the sewers, which I reached around hour 3.Load times between rooms is often a longer pause then it feels like it should be. This should be faster. Developer 505 Games provided a statement on June 25th regarding reported quality issues:​ ​​

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Hey, everyone. We have been listening to the feedback regarding Switch performance. Our goal is for everyone, regardless of platform, to be able to enjoy the game and have it run smoothly. We want to live up to your, and our, expectations. Throughout the QA process we have been addressing performance issues in the game. Update 1.1 was published to Switch prior to launch to add content and improve performance. It did not accomplish as much as we had hoped and we need to do more.

In addition to performance issues, I’ve also come across an odd bug: there are times where I’ve died but my character doesn’t seem to know it. Without any contact from an enemy or projectile the “game over” screen will pop and my character animation will slow down is the game screen fades away. I still have control, however, and can initiate a jump or attack, for example. This happened a number of times during my review period.

Who is this For?

There’s no question Bloodstained is an excellent platformer. Any fan of platforming and RPGs will want to give Bloodstained a close look. Thankfully it’s available on multiple platforms too!

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