Rating: 3 out of 5.

Koji Igarashi, director of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, started a Kickstarter campaign in 2015 which raised a little over $5.5 million to produce Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which was released in 2019.

As of this writing, and probably for the rest of time, Bloodstained is rated as “overwhelmingly positive” on Steam, with over fifteen thousand reviews (95% of these reviews being positive). The OpenCritic score has a Top Critic Average of 83.

But did Bloodstained in fact achieve anything better than Symphony? Over twenty years later, Bloodstained seems very much like a rehash of that game and other games in the series produced by Igarashi (Aria of Sorrow and Order of Ecclesia come to mind), but with a cheaper look — yes, even after the graphics update video that Igarashi put out shortly before release. 

Bloodstained‘s list of features isn’t brief. It has player maneuverability on par with Symphony. There are numerous weapons and abilities to equip. It offers extensive appearance customization based on what you wear (as well as hairstyles and color palette swaps). The map is large and full of diverse environments, obstacles, enemies, bosses, and secrets. There are several characters to encounter and speak to. You can equip familiars. Crafting and cooking are a staple aspect of the game. However, it is all stuff we’ve seen in the past, at a level of execution that’s no better. Most enemy types are recycled from previous Igarashi games, and many sound effects feel reminiscent of existing designs rather than feeling authentic and new.

Miriam is a downgrade from Alucard, through and through. Back in 1997, Alucard was a splendid character to control, because his colorful cape and long hair flowed with his movements, which was ecstasy to the eye then. His design also sharply contrasted against the familiar design of the Belmont clan, which was enlivened by his flamboyant look, flashy animations and deep, charming voice. Miriam doesn’t conjure any such feelings when you control her. Her look and animations are as sensational as her non-existent personality. The controls may feel precise, but precision is not enough — without flair, style, or substantial characterization, the main protagonist, who the player controls and sees the world through, maintains no meaningful presence in that world. Not that the world is exceptionally fascinating, anyway — the story is largely unremarkable.

The game is also abundant with portraits of Kickstarter backers. While backers no doubt enjoyed that perk, most of these portraits chafe offensively against the game’s style, disturbing the atmosphere. Another backer perk (priced at $3,000 and $3,500) was to be able to design an enemy, which led to the creation of Nyabon (a giant pet cat with demon wings/horns) and its variants, which caused the same detrimental effect. Some of the appearance customization also disregards the game’s setting and themes. So, if atmosphere isn’t all that important to you in your games, you may consider these as funny and light-hearted additions, but if you do, you’re going to have a hard time ignoring them throughout the game.

Altogether, Bloodstained is what you would expect from Igarashi, and that’s the problem. There is little novelty in the game, and consequently little point to it. If all you want is to be able to play more of Igarashi’s Castlevania, then you will be satisfied with this, but if you’re seeking to engage in some form of an evolution from those games after all this time, and one that makes strong use of the 2D visual format, you’ll be disappointed.

Bloodstained is available on Steam, GOG.com, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.