If you look at Koji Igarashi's Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, you won't even need to know that he worked on the Castlevania series to notice that Bloodstained wears that influence blatantly on its sleeve. We played the game for ourselves at E3, and it appears as if the legendary producer has balanced throwbacks to the iconic gothic platformer with new and modern features.
Bloodstained follows an orphan called Miriam who suffers from a curse that turns her skin to crystal, and to stop the curse she must explore a castle filled with monsters to find Gebel, who has suffered from the same curse, and this is where the Castlevania influences start, as no series does castles better after all.
The demo we played showed us a section within the castle, and we instantly noticed the standout visuals. Unlike a lot of retro-inspired games these days, Bloodstained goes for updated graphics rather than pixels or vintage visuals, and this is a nice change of pace. The environments move behind Miriam as you navigate through the castle, but never in a disorientating way, and the game still maintains the classic distinction between foreground and background so it's clear where you can access and where you can't. This is all detailed and decorated in the classic gothic style as well, but modernised and painted with classic greys and dark colours. The church organs of the soundtrack also helped drive home this gothic vibe, and was very effective in doing so.
As we started navigating our way around the world, we quickly came across a key mechanic in the form of shards. These embed themselves in Miriam and give her different powers when you discover them, ranging from fireballs to double jumps, some of which you can swap out for others in the menus. We came across plenty of these shards just in the short demo we played, both passive and active, so it'll be interesting to see just how many are in the full game.
In terms of weapons, there were quite a few to see in the demo as well, and these included a whip, a short sword, and a claymore, just to name a few, but our favourite has to be the kung fu shoes, as these allowed you to perform lighting fast kicks, so once we put them on we pretty much didn't take them off. One thing we would say about attacks is that animations are very limited, and there aren't any combos that flow nicely together, so it seems pretty jagged as the same animation loops when attacking, especially with the short sword. A bit more flow to this key part of the offering would be appreciated if only to make things that bit smoother.
After we navigated the castle using the very helpful mini-map, which shows areas you haven't explored yet, we eventually came across a boss called Bloodless. This boss was interesting in the sense that her dress was made of blood, and this disintegrated as she lost health. She also used her umbrellas to home in on Miriam, as well as raining blood from the ceiling, and this caked the whole level in the red stuff, producing this very extreme but entertaining boss that kept you moving around avoiding her bloody attacks.
For those who like a challenge, there's also plenty of secrets to see in the game, if the demo is anything to go by. Harking back to the series that inspired it, there were some areas that required an ability to access, as well as other locations you had to find an access point for. On top of that there are all the usual things you'd expect from a castle such as this, like chests filled with useful items, including equipment and weapons.
Overall the section of Bloodstained we played was enjoyable and intriguing, with the mysterious castle and its secrets capturing our attention, not least of all because it was all in lovely 3D. However, the game wasn't without faults, as repetitive attack animations dampened the combat system a little. Castlevania fans should definitely keep an eye on this, though, as its a spiritual successor that achieves that quintessentially gothic vibe, although that's not particularly surprising considering the man behind it.