LOS ANGELES – Kickstarter, in theory, lets brand new ideas flourish. In practice, enthusiasts are more likely to fund tried-and-true projects from people they know. Take Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, an upcoming action/RPG for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One. When Konami wouldn’t let Koji Igarashi make any more of his beloved, 2D Castlevania games, he struck out on his own and asked for $500,000 from fans to make it a reality. (He wound up with 11 times that amount.) The game is basically just Castlevania with a different skin – and it’s just what fans want.
I got to play through a level of Bloodstained at an E3 2016 Microsoft press event, and had the demo not ended, you probably would have had to pry the controller out of my hands with a crowbar. The game is an absolutely beautiful 2.5D side-scroller where you take control of a demon hunter named Miriam. Armed with her bare fists and a scarf, Miriam begins on a derelict wooden ship, full of giant jellyfish monsters, demons made of shadow and floating, fiery skulls.
The first thing I noticed about the game is just how much it reminded me of older Castlevania titles, specifically Symphony of the Night. Like Symphony’s Alucard, Miriam can find and equip a variety of weapons, armor and accessories. Before I made it out of the first room, I found and equipped a longsword, which made short work of my adversaries. Later, I found a pair of kung fu shoes with a slightly higher attack stat, and had to completely readjust my combat style to deal with high kicks instead of slashes. The variety of weapons seems like it will help combat feel fresh for the game’s full duration.
The second thing I noticed was how gorgeous the game was. Castlevania’s 2D titles always had a gorgeous storybook aesthetic, but with its subtle 3D touches, Bloodstained looks more lifelike than ever while still resembling a storybook or painting. The animation on both Miriam and her foes is fluid and believable, which is especially impressive given Miriam’s potential variety of weapons.
From there, the formula was familiar, like settling into a favorite armchair with new upholstery. Miriam explored an open-ended map, unlocked shortcuts, fought off enemies, discovered treasure, and leveled up. At the end of the level, she squared off against an enormous boss: a kraken with a disturbingly human upper half. Once I figured out her patterns, the boss fight wasn’t too difficult, but the sense of scale alone made it satisfying.
While Bloodstained makes use of a formula that has been more or less perfected since 1997, no one does it like Igarashi himself. Of the games I’ve played so far at E3 2016, this one is easily my favorite, and I’m waiting with bated breath to play the whole thing. The game will hopefully launch in March 2017, although Kickstarter release dates are slippery things. The price is also up in the air, unless you already backed it, in which case you know exactly what you paid.