You won’t get a bloody bath with Belmont in this one

castlevania bloodlines

Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994)

It happened one night. No, I don’t mean that twee 1930s film that swept the Oscars, although the leading lady in that picture was a lot friendlier than the one I saw that particular evening. I don’t watch much telly, but I was having an old scroll through the channels and I chanced upon a film called Hostel 2. From my perspective it wasted no time – a naked lady with a plump Middle Ages figure and Renaissance era cans, red lips, the lot, walks in and plonks herself down in a bathtub. Is that a great start or what?

I forgot to mention the other naked girl, suspended in the air upside down. She’s found herself at the mercy of Lady Bathory, who loves nothing more than bathing in the blood of her victims. And so it is, she pulls out an enormous death scythe that’d make you giggle at his insecurity were it being wielded by the Grim Reaper.

Well, she starts going to town on the girl suspended above her, teasingly rubbing the sickle up and down her soft body before starting to make cut after cut, getting more and more aroused as she becomes completely drenched in blood in the bathtub below.

Sickening screams echo through this terrible building until finally the Lady brings it to a climax with a coup de not-so-grâces, a vicious slice across her victim’s throat, as the blood torrents from her lifeless hanging corpse. And I’m thinking, God, wish I was a film director. If I asked my missus to do that, she’d have all kinds of questions. What good is that?

We get to meet Lady Bathory again in Castlevania: Bloodlines, or someone like her and with wabs just as big anyway. But there’ll be no blood play if you’re in Europe – we seemed to have such a strong aversion to blood back then, possibly borne out of the old Mortal Kombat aggravation that was taking place around that time. Or maybe it was the amount of civil wars that mainland Europe was still having during the 90s?

Either way, it somehow became necessary to rename this game Castlevania: The New Generation over here. New Generation is right, you won’t even play as a Belmont here, and in fact you get the choice of a whopping two characters, unrelated to each other – a whip-thwacker and a spear-stabber.

I suppose the whip is more traditional, but you find that the trend in Castlevania games tends to be that, if you have any other weapon in your arsenal that isn’t the whip, then it’s probably a vastly superior choice. The cross, the Holy Water, they’re the real MVPs. Defeat Count Dracula with a silly ginger cat? Hey, it’s happened in Castlevania before.

What I haven’t seen in Castlevania is a spear wielder – he’s a good character, even if they quite literally had to man him up for new markets outside of Japan. Even with his good platforming and stabbing ability, when he dies – and he will, inevitably several times given that this is a Castlevania game – he impales himself on his spear. Jesus lad, it’s not that bad. That doesn’t happen in the European version either, where I imagine he does a Han Solo shimmy to dodge it instead.

No blood or gore allowed in Europe, of course. As I mentioned, they call this game The New Generation over here, with some zero effort word art for the new title on the game’s cover. The title makes me think of Star Trek: The Next Generation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, even though I’m no Trekkie.

This game isn’t out of the woods yet though, because The New Generation also makes me think of Saved by the Bell: The New Class, and what an ungodly abomination of mankind that was. Well, you might think I’m exaggerating it, but what were they expecting to happen, letting Screech lead the show?

Nonetheless, the presence of two characters provides a good bit of replay value for you, although I really think they could have given you more alternate routes – there’s only one ot two spots in the game I can think of where each of the characters has to get through it a certain way. Other than that, it’s a simple enough platformer though with great gothic elements and some classic 90s game horror. And, while it’s demonstrably different from other 2D Castlevanias of the time, it does great things with aging Mega Drive hardware, and the game still hits all the right notes.

And on that subject, the game’s soundtrack ought to come in for special praise, as many other Castlevania scores do. I’ve simpishly said before that in general, the best composers of video game soundtracks are women – I’ll refer you to Rainbow Road from Super Mario Kart. Bloodlines is where Michiru Yamane sunk her feminine fangs into the Castlevania series, and while Symphony of the Night is where she really came to the fore, some of her work here is terrific – none of that generic, muddy Genesis sound. This is a soundtrack not like any other on the console. And she wasn’t just composing it, you know, she had to get her hands dirty and program the beeps and boops into the hardware as well.

The theme for the second level, with its bizarre water effects, is particularly great, and the OST for Bloodlines simply doesn’t get enough references or recognitions in subsequent Castlevania games, in my view, though considering Yamane scored loads of them, that was probably her own creative design. But I am her simp and she is my queen so I shall not question her. There’s even Genesis renditions of classic Castlevania tunes in here like Beginning, Bloody Tears and Simon’s Theme. Super Castlevania IV probably does its tunes better, but I urge you to check this one out all the same.

This game went a long while without being re-released, and if you wanted it in original format… well, it didn’t break the bank but it wasn’t part of your crappy sports-heavy job lots on eBay either. Recently, Bloodlines became available on the forgettable Mega Drive Mini consoles – as if there wasn’t a million rubbish knock-off versions of Mini Segas in the last ten years, their manufacturers having enjoyed Sega hooring themselves out to them – but you can also get it as part of the Castlevania Anniversary Collection on current gen consoles, and it often drops in price. That’s the place to play it, in my opinion, with save states and a far better controller than the Mega Drive 3-button clunkfest.

The interesting question is, where does Castlevania: Bloodlines stand in that 16-bit triangle alongside Super Castlevania IV on SNES, and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood on whatever obscure Japanese console it was on, a console that probably also featured the homely ass-blaster that comes as standard on Japanese toilets? It’s a tricky one, though quite honestly, Bloodlines is probably third out of those three.

Still, Castlevania has strayed way too far from the rough and ready platforming games like Bloodlines, or The New Generation, or Vampire Killer in Japan. The three 16-bit Castlevania games are, if you like, three naked women suspended above your bathtub, waiting to be carved up. The taste of whose blood you desire the most is simply a matter of preference.

31 October 2020

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