In the past year I’ve backed a fair amount of projects on a few crowdfunding platforms and among them are The Game Kitchen’s wonderful souls-like (or Metroidvania, really) Blasphemous and Koji Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, both taking us to gothic lands to fight unspeakable evils, though the former having a much deeper religious subtext than the latter. Over the past few months a few backer-only or backer-first demos have appeared and I finally got around to downloading my own little copies and giving them a go, perhaps a little too late to give proper feedback but I’ll try to do so anyway.

Let’s begin with Blasphemous:

If The Game Kitchen sounds familiar, they’re the developers of the low-res Lovecraftian horror masterpiece that is The Last Door. I played through and reviewed both seasons and found them amazing. When they decided to go into this bold new direction with Blasphemous it was exciting as I knew the quality they delivered and their open approach to development, where backers get to talk to them via discord and have access to prototypes is not only admirable but should be the standard for crowdfunded projects.

I had already played through some of the earlier prototypes so I knew the controls and most of the mechanics, from the rosary items that give passive bonuses, relics which give your new movement and exploration options, very much in line with Metroidvanias, and the prayers you not only collect but must unlock and which give tremendous bonuses to attack speed, defense or damage for a little while. But this demo brought narrative, lore and characters to interact with, the favourite so far being a giant man with a massive collection of keys. At first I thought this was an enemy but he was quite nice, opened doors for me and led me deeper into the dungeon with a task to silence some mysterious echoing noise.

The demo was solid and I really have nothing much to say. I love how every strike carries weight, and I like even more that there’s no falling damage and I can just plunge down with my sword. The wall climbing with the sword is still amazing, as it was the first time I played with it months ago. The new narrative bits give a bit more life to the world, like the pilgrim who speaks of a missing partner, whom we’re likely to meet further along in the game. The prayer lore is creepily pious and I love it.

For a future demo, I’d like to see just more, perhaps a 2nd boss. We’ve been fighting the same one in every demo so far, so I’d love to see other battle mechanics. Speaking of combat though, the lunging spirits are amazing, frustrating at first but easily defeated and countered when you know how to do it, or if, like me, you’re patient.

Now for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Unlike the above, this is my first time with Koji Igarashi’s new game, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. The demo takes you through the first couple of areas and bosses in the game, the boat and its monstrous sea creature and the first section of the castle and the hunter Zangetsu.

The gameplay is immediately familiar to anyone who’s played Symphony of the Night or any other post SotN Castlevania. You hack, slash, jump and use mystical powers to kill enemies and absorb their essences. Along the way you find equipment and items to help you survive just a little bit longer. And as you kill enemies you also gain experience and level up, though you can also find upgrade items hidden behind breakable walls (I kinda hoped to get some wall chicken too, but no luck).

The first playthrough I just went for the heaviest hitting weapon I could find, trying a few along the way but for the second run, which I recorded, I instead focused on fast weapons and there lies my first issue with the current state of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. It’s impossible to know how fast a weapon will be from its description, which only lists damage amount and type. The damage of slower weapons is also not even remotely as high as it should be to offset the attack speed. Sure, I’ll be dealing 15 or more points of damage with every swing of the Claymore, but in the time it takes to swing it, I can strike 5 times with the rapier for 9 points of damage each. Why in hell would I go for the slow weapon when the superfast one is much more useful? Also, the slower the weapon, the more you have to deal with the character screaming and grunting, which gets on my nerves incredibly quickly.

Shards are fine and they give helpful powers but the animation when you get the first of each should be a bit faster, and the melodramatic screaming by the characters needs some toning down, at least shortening, it goes on for too long. The first time you get hit by a shard, fine, extend it, make it dramatic, but after that, the longer it takes, the more time you’re wasting. Also, skip any and all tutorials, the mechanics aren’t even remotely complicated enough to need a tutorial. At least give me the option of removing them.

The demo is nearly unplayable with keyboard, as it’s super uncomfortable, so gamepad is the way to go. If you’re releasing a game on PC, even if you think gamepad should be the default, do make sure that Keyboard and Mouse are supported, with plenty of remapping options of course.

Visually, it’s clear which characters are new. Gebel and Miriam’s animations are smoother than the rest of the characters, as are their features. The other characters look bland in comparison and have a tendency to clip through the textures in their own clothing. That shouldn’t happen. I personally would remove the lip sync entirely. The close-ups of character models during conversations only highlights how bad they are compared to Miriam’s. I would go with Amano Yoshitaka character portraits instead. First Amano’s art is amazing, and second, it removes the need to work on lip syncing at all.

The ship is still the most polished zone, with plenty of environmental backround effects and lighting. But the castle and town are simply hideous, with lots of platforms and areas with poor texturing. The house that serves as your base of operations is quite bad, with the stairs having a wood colour that stands out and seems impervious to all forms of shadows and illumination, an issue that extends to the village on the way to the castle, where even the ground seems to glisten, even glow. Before this demo, I would never have though dirt could be shiny. The castle improves on this issue but it’s nowhere near the level of polish seen on the opening sections’ ship.

I’m glad they’ve pushed the game’s release to 2019. This game needs a lot of work and polish, but Igarashi and his team seem very keen on listening to backer feedback, so I remain hopeful that we’ll get a great game when finally released. Until then, I’ll keep my eye open on any demo or prototype to come my way, so I can see what’s being done!

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