638: Vampire Killer (Castlevania: Bloodlines / The New Generation)

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638: Vampire Killer (Castlevania: Bloodlines / The New Generation)

Post by JaySevenZero »

Here's where you can contribute your thoughts and opinions for Vampire Killer (Castlevania: Bloodlines / The New Generation) for potential inclusion in the forthcoming podcast.

A friendly reminder that where the feedback for the podcast is concerned, we love it - but keeping it brief is appreciated. We do want to include a breadth of opinions where appropriate, but no-one wants a discussion podcast that’s mostly reading out essays. Better to save yourself time and cut to the chase if you can.
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Re: 638: Vampire Killer (Castlevania: Bloodlines / The New Generation)

Post by Seph »

If memory serves me right, The New Generation was the first Castlevania game I ever played. I don't recall ever touching any of the Nintendo versions; and while I had a Super Nintendo, it was pretty much a Mario machine to me. Either way, as I was very much in action platformer mode when I played this as a youngster I remember enjoying it a fair bit despite its difficulty.

I think I maybe played as Eric once or twice for variety, but I was always a John guy because I thought he looked cooler and the whip is iconic. As a kid I never questioned the weird enemies or locations, because in those days we were used to random levels and odd-looking things to kill. I managed to beat the game once when I was younger, but it definitely took a few weeks of grinding and learning patterns.

I replayed the Castlevania collection version game a few months ago to refresh my memory for this show. I opted for the Japanese version, Vampire Killer, due to it being the original and because it has the uncensored gore. I found the game more difficult this time, which is either due to the Japanese version being harder or because I've lost my gaming skills in my advancing years (can the hosts please confirm).

Like a lot of games from the 16-bit era, the visuals still hold up today and the music is fantastic. It was still enjoyable and, though it may be controversial, I rank this above Super Castlevania IV and consider it the best of the "linear" Vanias. I love that the setting and story take leads from Bram Stoker's novel and this game made me aware of Elizabeth Báthory, the inspiration for one of the final bosses, whose life is fascinating. The cover art is also one of the best of the entire series. But not the North American version that makes John look like a half transformed Incredible Hulk and makes it seem like the main villain is some kind of Wolfman knock off.
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Re: 638: Vampire Killer (Castlevania: Bloodlines / The New Generation)

Post by AndrewElmore »

In research, I've found that most people seem to compare Bloodlines directly to Super Castlevania IV on the SNES, which seems a bit odd to me. I can certainly follow the logic, but in my mind, Bloodlines has always been most closely kin to Contra: The Hard Corps. That pair of planet-cracking Mega Drive games certainly sent the console out with an ear-splitting bang in 1994. The global release of these two games within six months of each other always felt like a mission statement to me, like a studio at the height of their power putting an exclamation point at the end of a hardware generation, planting their flag as if to say "All right, this is the best that we can possibly do, and we are proud to present it to the world with confidence."

I suspect that these games were primarily made for Western markets, due to the Mega Drive's relatively low sales at home in Japan, lagging well behind the Super Famicom and PC Engine. As a point of illustration, my copy of Vampire Killer on Mega Drive is now (absurdly) the most "valuable" game I own these days. The Japanese version of the game is a little bit less mean as well, which is welcome some times. I don't consider Bloodlines to be a particularly cruel game by Castlevania standards, but the American version certainly has all the telltale signs of an action game tuned for a rental market, as was the style at the time, etc. Though the difference is perhaps not as pronounced as that of its Contra sibling, where the Japanese release opted to give the player an actual health bar. Imagine that!

Castlevania: Bloodlines reminds me a great deal of similar games from Treasure and the like during the era, in the way it just loves showing off feats of technical wizardry as often as possible. It's almost like an Amiga demoscene reel wrapped up in an excellent action game. Each of the six stages is built around these hugely impressive set pieces that squeeze every drop out of the 68000, setting its very heart ablaze, as it were. I love these stages, as they manage to expertly weave a fantastic traditional Castlevania game into those setpieces, and it's just magical. The one point where the game begins to falter a bit for me--and just a bit!--is the boss fights. They're also technical flexes and artistically stunning, but the actual act of fighting them usually plays out much more simplistically than I would like. The boss fights in Rondo of Blood work so well for me because they feel like intense one-on-one battles with fast, dextrous foes or otherwise hugely intimidating creatures that read as an unstoppable force that Richter has been tasked with defeating. The boss fights in Bloodlines are creative and whimsical, but they tend to lean more into the thematic and technical hooks of their stages, serving more like individual crescendos for the stages themselves. I don't think that's an invalid game design aesthetic, but it kind of sums up why Bloodlines doesn't quite reach the watermark of Rondo for me. There's a blockbuster appeal to Bloodlines that makes it very fun to revisit often, and in that way I think it beautifully captures the heart and essence of the original Castlevania game. There is something to be said, however, for the inclusion of Eric Lecarde and his dramatically increased skill ceiling for advanced play that simultaneously makes the game easier and more difficult, while being significantly more complex in nature. It's not quite Alien Soldier, but there are two very different experiences to be had here between the two playable characters, that make for a very different game, which is a huge boon to replayability and study.

Of course, I'd be remiss to talk about any Castlevania game without praising the immaculate music. Bloodlines marks the series entry point for legendary composer and outspoken fascist Michiru Yamane. Her work needs no introduction at this point, I imagine, and I'm sure she'll be brought up quite often through the rest of these issues. Yamane is a legend for a reason, and while Bloodlines may not be her most well-known work in the annals of Castlevania, it's an exceptional suite of composition that makes deft use of a notoriously temperamental FM synthesizer chip (ask me how i know) to pump out a series of absolutely unassailable bangers at all times. Every track in this game is a brilliant work of applied musical theory, but crucially they also go extremely hard and are a major component of the game's rhythm and flow. Even the arrangements of existing Castlevania tunes are masterworks here. I just wish she wasn't all-in on so many silly conspiracy theories. It's tragic and frustrating to see such a talented and prolific artist (and one that that I've looked up to for so long) fall into an abyss of fear and hatred like this. It's genuinely impacted my enjoyment of Castlevania: Bloodlines, as well as the rest of her (otherwise excellent) career works.

All in all, Castlevania: Bloodlines is a game that I adore, and one that I have the utmost respect for. It's a hugely impressive effort, and I believe that effort paid off in spades. Run, don't walk, to play this however you can.
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Re: 638: Vampire Killer (Castlevania: Bloodlines / The New Generation)

Post by Alex79 »

I bounced off this the first time I played it, having come straight off a run of Castlevania 1, 3 and 4 on the Konami collection. Something about it put me off, it just looked, felt and sounded a little too...Mega Drivey? It just didn't feel like the other games I'd played before it.

I gave it another try a couple of years later on the Mega Drive collection included with the Switch Online service and for whatever reason it clicked. I have nothing particularly insightful to say about the game other than it was a lot of fun and had some cool graphical tricks. It felt just the right amount of challenging and is an easy recommend to anyone fan of the series or genre.
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