We’ll add this one to the list of good Kickstarter games...for now.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign and four years of waiting, Bloodstained has finally been released...at least on everything but Nintendo Switch. The Switch version ended up with a small delay, releasing one week later than other systems. We’ll have Switch-specific coverage of Bloodstained for you in the coming days, but for now I’ve spent a lot of time playing on PS4, and I think Nintendo fans have a lot to look forward to in Koji Igarashi’s latest castle-exploring adventure—provided the Switch version manages to hold up better than it did during our preview at PAX East.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a spiritual successor to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night starring Miriam, a girl who has suffered from experiments at the hands of dark alchemists that have turned her into what’s called a Shardbinder. At the start of the game, Miriam awakes from a ten-year slumber to find that her friend and fellow Shardbinder Gebel has fallen to darkness, summoning a demonic castle called the Hellhold to terrorize humanity. In order to stop Gebel, she must explore the Hellhold and gain new magic powers and abilities to reach the top of the castle to defeat her former friend.
Bloodstained takes a lot of cues from Symphony of the Night, which is to be expected from the mission statement of Igarashi, who had previously served as the series producer of Castlevania. In true Metroidvania fashion, your path through the Hellhold is not immediately obvious, forcing you to explore every corner of the map to try and find new abilities that will open up new paths to explore deeper into the castle. Exploration in Bloodstained is extremely similar to Symphony of the Night, which can be both good and bad. The castle’s layout is overall very good, and getting from one point in the castle to another never gets old no matter how many times you backtrack through areas.
Unfortunately, the critical path can be a little too well-hidden sometimes, which is made worse by the spartan design of Bloodstained’s map and minimap. There are very few markers on the map, causing different areas to blend together easily, and after playing around ten hours and exploring 90% of the entire castle I still have trouble identifying any given area just from looking at the map screen. There were a few times I had to resort to looking up where I was supposed to go online, and while I usually felt like I would’ve been able to figure it out on my own, I do think that the homogenous design of the map screen confused me during exploration more than it helped me.
The biggest thing that sets Bloodstained apart from its PS1 predecessor is the way Miriam collects new abilities. As a Shardbinder, Miriam can gain new powers in the form of shards: a crystallized form of magic that can be dropped by enemies. When she absorbs a new shard, she gains a new magic ability based on the enemy that dropped the shard. While significant abilities that allow you to explore more of the castle will usually be dropped by bosses, a unique shard can be gained from every single enemy in the game, giving a huge wealth of options for how you want to approach different opponents and situations. The only downside to this is that it’s a bit cumbersome to change which shards you have equipped. You’re able to set a few loadouts as premade shortcuts, but unfortunately your armor and primary weapons are also saved in the shortcuts, so you’ll have to rebuild every single shortcut whenever you find new equipment that’s stronger than the stuff you already had equipped.
Over the week since its release Bloodstained has been celebrated as one of the rare successful Kickstarter games. On the whole I’d say I agree, but I have to reiterate that I have been playing the PS4 version, and what I have played leaves me worried for the version coming to Switch. When I played a preview build of Bloodstained on Switch at PAX East earlier this year the game struggled to hit its target of 30fps in the starting area, and while we couldn’t capture any footage to test for certain we made the guess that the Switch version dropped below 20fps multiple times during our short session with the game.
Bloodstained on PS4 targets 60fps and usually hits that target without issue, but it wasn’t unusual for the game to stall for several seconds when I defeated an enemy, absorbed a shard, or leveled up. There were also two boss fights with big, flashy setpieces that knocked my framerate down significantly. If the game is already pushing the limits of my PS4 Pro, then I’m very worried about the Switch version. Hopefully I’m wrong and the Switch version of Bloodstained has received huge improvements in the months since PAX East, but for now I’d urge anyone excited for Igarashi’s latest adventure to at least wait for early impressions before jumping in.