Creepy castles from the ads of the past – Castlevania: Bloodlines

Like their arcade flyers, Konami went for a little realism with this ad. Spooky graveyard, the series’ heroes lined up on the ground, a few screenshots and some text creating the atmosphere for the game made it enticing for players on Sega’s system eager to get a taste of what Nintendo had long enjoyed.

As something of a surprise, Konami released a chapter of Castlevania for the Sega Genesis, the first and only Castlevania to be released for the system. And like many games in those days, it wasn’t a simple port from one console to another — this was a new game created especially for the system it would call home.

Though it seems unusual for Konami to be making games for rival Sega while still in a long partnership with Nintendo, they were still BFFs with Mario and company. It did, however, demonstrate the kind of hunger Sega sought to satisfy by taking a page out of Nintendo’s third-party playbook.

Where the Master System’s library largely focused on Sega-0nly titles, in the 16-bit round, Sega opened the red carpet to all comers and it showed. It also demonstrated that developers were eager to spread their creativity to as wide an audience as possible (which also helped in that Sega’s licensing was seen as less draconian than Nintendo’s). This was a sign of things to come in the later generations.

Bloodlines’ story made an all out effort to tie itself closer to Bram Stoker’s Dracula with a number of notable references. It starts out by taking readers to 1897, to the “Transylvanian countryside of Romania” where Dracula ruled with fear (courtesy of Bram Stoker’s book and the year it was published). But standing in his way since the 16th century were the Belmonts, a family of vampire killers (courtesy of Castlevania). Finally, in 1897, Quincy Morris, a Belmont descendant, put a stake in Dracula’s heart but died of his wounds shortly afterwards. His son, John Morris, however, along with childhood friend, Eric Lecarde, had witnessed the battle and vowed to become hunters of evil themselves.

The game also sees the return of the famous film strip notches with a lavish intro.

The game also sees the return of the famous film strip notches framing a lavish intro.

Now it takes readers back to 1421 where a young woman, Elizabeth Bartley, has been found guilty of vampirism. Despite her noble title of countess, she was sentenced to a fate “too gruesome” to mention. Years later, in the ruins of a Transylvanian castle, Drolta Tzuentes, an amateur witch, casts a spell that brings Bartley back to the land of the living where she schemes to resurrect her uncle who happens to be…Count Dracula. It’s up to our two heroes to stop her by traveling across Europe from Transylvania all the way to a castle in London for the final showdown.

However, the European version (titled Castlevania: The New Generation) actually elevates Tzuentes to a witch who was actually performing a “Ceremony of Evil” to raise Bartley — she was no rank amateur. Not only that, but the story heavily implies that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914 was because of Bartley herself in to plunge Europe into war in an attempt to revive Dracula which roughly points to when the game actually takes place in the 20th century. Quite a change!

If you’re a gothic horror fan, some of the names already mentioned should be familiar. Quincy Morris refers to Quincey Morris from Bram Stoker’s Dracula where he, along with Jonathan Harker, finally destroy Dracula. Elizabeth Bartley is a play on the name of Elizabeth Bathory who was accused of torturing and killing hundreds of young girls between 1585 and 1610. The European version even uses this as a part of its own story, saying that Bartley “sucked the blood of nearly 800 girls, for which she was executed in Transylvania”. As for Bathory, legends abound of her bathing in the blood of her victims in an attempt to remain young until the authorities finally caught up with her and walled her in her own castle alive.

Bloodlines was another daring take on the series. Not only did it not take place in a traditional Castlevania castle setting for much of the game, but it also featured a choice of characters at the start — Quincy Morris or Eric Lecarde. Both had different weapons and up to four different endings were possible between them. Castlevania also, as a first for the series, offered difficulty settings for players with the harder ones adding extras for the endings.

Two heroes united in one purpose -- the destruction of Dracula!

Two heroes united in one purpose — the destruction of Dracula!

It still had the Castlevania basics down pat, however — power ups for the main weapon, action adventure platforming, smashing candles for items, linear stages, sub weapons powered by gems (in the previous Castlevanias, these were powered up by heart points), and a cast of villainous bosses guarding the middle and end of each of the titles six stages.

Morris used the “Vampire Killer” (which was also the name of the game in Japan), the mighty Belmont whip. It could power up for a total of three times but powering it up to the fourth level turns it into a flaming whip which also improves his sub weapons as well. It can also be swung diagonally allowing him to swing over obstacles at certain points, but gone was the ability to just hold the whip and shake it around as in Super Castlevania IV, not that it was really missed in Bloodlines.

As for Eric, he had a powerful spear weapon which could also be upgraded four times. He can also perform a diving attack with the spear, is capable of doing super jumps using it, and the weapon has great range and power which is multiplied when enemies are raked by it when the player jumps at them with an attack. Playing with a spear in a Castlevania game was a refreshing change of pace and Eric can easily hold his own even though he doesn’t have the Belmont blood in his veins.

The stages took the player across Europe from Transylvania to London. In Transylvania, the final stage where the player climbs a staircase up to a ruined hall is straight from the first Castlevania — albeit reversed so that the player is going left to right instead of right to left in order to get up those stairs. Many of the stages featured a lot of creativity such as the Atlantis Shrine in Greece and its rising water level, sorcerous mid-boss, and the golem waiting for you at the end.

In a great twist, the first stage's climax takes place where Simon Belmont faced off against Dracula in the first Castlevania.

In a great twist, the first stage’s climax takes place where Simon Belmont faced off against Dracula in the first Castlevania.

Also featured in the game were buckets of gore such as when zombies split in half to a boss losing its head leaving the player to beat on the corpse. Though it didn’t look quite good as Super Castlevania IV on the SNES,  the artists did a great job with the Genesis’ palette and squeezed a number of clever effects from the hardware such as rotating stages and reflection effects on the water. The action also felt faster paced than Super Castlevania IV. Familiar beasties like flying Medusa heads were back, but a number of new monsters made their way into the game as well. Finally, Michiru Yamane, who went on to score Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, provided the excellent soundtrack pacing alongside the action with a number of twists on familiar themes from Castlevania’s other games all the way to its first debut.

Unlike a few of the other Castlevanias, however, Bloodlines did not find its way to other systems or even later generations as an official download or collection. It remained exclusively a Mega Drive/Genesis title which is really too bad considering how good it actually is. Despite having different characters and a game that didn’t take place in a vast, sprawling castle, it made Europe its castle and split the challenges into a grand tour of the Continent creating a colorful stage bursting with potential that Tomikazu Kirita and his team took full advantage of delivering a vampire hunter’s feast considered by many to be another of the series’ best.

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