Even though the Castlevania games have been around since the original NES, I don't think I really got into them until I picked up Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow on the Nintendo DS. This was my first real Castlevania game that I bought and played through, and I got hooked like no other.
I've always been a fan of RPG mechanics like leveling up, equipping items, and gaining abilities as the game progressed. This is one of the reasons why I fell in love with Dawn of Sorrow when I first played it. After Dawn of Sorrow, I picked up Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin when it came out, as well as Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia. After that, I longed for more 2-D side-scrolling Castlevania games but entered a drought period. I wasn't sure I'd ever see another Castlevania title that would make me fall in love like Dawn of Sorrow did.
Then came the Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Kickstarter campaign several years ago, with Koji Igarashi's name attached to the project. I immediately backed it, and have waited for what seems like forever for this game. And when I saw that it was coming to the Nintendo Switch, I just remembered the days of playing Castlevania on-the-go.
It seems that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is as close as I'm going to get to a portable 2-D Castlevania game, so let's get right down to it.
Bottom line: Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the closest thing you're going to get to a 2-D Castlevania game these days, and it has Koji Igarashi's name attached to it. It features a beautiful gothic art style that unfortunately is blurry on the Switch, but it plays and feels like classic Castlevania titles. It's also available on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam.
- Feels like a classic Castlevania game
- Plenty of character customization with gear
- Special weapon techniques spice up combat
- Tons of content to explore
- Interesting storyline and captivating soundtrack
- Blurry resolution
- Caps out at 720p in Docked mode
- No autosave
- Occasional typos in dialogue
- Some latency issues with button presses
Originally, when I had backed the Kickstarter, I opted for the PlayStation 4 version since that is what I had, but when they announced that it was coming to the Switch, I changed my pledge for a Switch code. However, it seems that the Switch is the weakest version of the game, which is slightly disappointing.
It's all Castlevania except for the name
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on Nintendo Switch: Features
The best part about Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is that it looks and feels just like a Castlevania game, except it's not. The gothic art style is just what you'd expect from Castlevania, and the dark tone and creepy environments just immerse you into the world.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night features Miriam, a young woman who seems to have been asleep for about 10 years, which also prevented her from being sacrificed. Once she wakes up, she discovers that all but one of her fellow Shardbinders, Gabel, were slain. With Shardbinders, they're able to embed crystals into their skin that allow them to harness the abilities of demonic creatures. Unfortunately, Gabel seems to have absorbed too many and has gone rogue, literally unleashing hell upon the world. So now it's up to Miriam to stop him, but hopefully, she doesn't succumb to the same fate as Gabel.
If you have played any 2-D Castlevania game before, then you'll know exactly what to expect once you start up Bloodstained. Once you get some basic weapons (kung fu boots or a knife), you'll start slashing away at what's in front of you with the Y button while moving with either the left joystick or directional buttons.
And when you absorb your first demonic shard crystal (these are loot drops from killing enemies), you can harness that creature's power with the X button (at the cost of MP). Jump with B and A for confirming options. You can adjust Miriam's aim with the right joystick and then press ZR for directional shard abilities. And don't forget about the back dash with the L button.
You first start off on a ship, but eventually, you'll reach land with a large castle to explore through. There's always a map available to show you the rooms that you've been in and what you need to check out, and it shows you save and warp points. That's right—just like the old Castlevania games, there is no autosave feature, so you need to manually save the game by reaching those save rooms.
The combat system is pretty easy: attack things and avoid getting hit. You'll always have the basic attack with your weapon with Y, but there are techniques that you can discover by reading books throughout the castle. To activate these techniques, you'll need to input a series of button presses, similar to what you do in fighting games. It also seems that you aren't able to get techniques for weapon types until you discover them in the book first, giving you a reason to explore every nook and cranny.
Once enemies are defeated, there's a chance that they'll drop a shard that Miriam absorbs. With these equipped shards, she gains a special ability that mimics the original demon. The more shards you collect of a single demon, the stronger that ability becomes, but you can also sell extra shards for money. There are five shard types (Conjure, Manipulative, Directional, Passive, and Familiar) in the game, so there's a lot of experimentation involved to find the best combination for your play style.
On top of that, Miriam can use a variety of weapons, from boots to swords to whips and even guns. Some of the equipable items will change Miriam's character model slightly, such as the headgear and other accessories, but not the body, unfortunately. Still, changing her gear as you progress is an important factor in the game, as they affect her overall stats.
It's important to break those purple lanterns and candles, as they'll give you money or blue MP orbs if your MP is not full. You can use that money to purchase useful items or gear at the shops, and the game even has a crafting system if you want to make gear instead of spending money. Enemies will also occasionally drop some money or items as well, and you can always sell unwanted items or shards if need be.
And while save rooms aren't as convenient as the modern Autosave feature that many games have, Bloodstained does have Warp Rooms, which are a nice addition. These rooms are marked green on the map (save points are red, explored rooms are blue), and allow you to fast travel between sectors, so you don't need to always backtrack all the way back if you missed something, or want to access the shops.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night also has three difficulty modes: Normal, Hard, and Nightmare. While some may find Normal to be too easy, Hard does offer a bit more of a challenge (enemies have 3x more HP) if you desire it. Nightmare has enemies hitting harder and prevents you from leveling up (you're stuck at level one), so all stat gains depend on your gear, food, and books. And enemy placements on Nightmare are switched up.
I can play an Iga-vania on-the-go!
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on Nintendo Switch: What I Like
Since I have fond memories playing Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclesia on a portable system, I had to have Bloodstained on my Switch. Playing Bloodstained on-the-go brings back that sense of nostalgia for me, and I love it.
The control scheme is a tad different, but it didn't take long to get used to. I also love the art style, and the possibilities for play style are seemingly endless with all of the combinations you can do. It's rather addictive, as I had a hard time putting the game down last night once I got started (several hours just flew by). In fact, the only reason why I put it down was because my battery was about to die.
The Switch version needs a lot of improvements
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on Nintendo Switch: What I Don't Like
Unfortunately, the Switch version of Bloodstained appears to be the weakest so far. The game came out a week earlier on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, and runs considerably better on those systems. The graphics on Switch seem low-resolution, especially when Docked since it runs at 720p, and somewhat blurry, even on handheld mode.
Other players have reported latency issues with button presses, lag when there are a lot of enemies on the screen at once, and sometimes the game even crashes. Considering that there is no autosave feature, crashing is definitely not something you want to happen.
The publisher of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, 505 Games, has issued the following statement:
"Hey, everyone. We have been listening to the feedback regarding Switch performance. Our goal is for everyone, regardless of platform, to be able to enjoy the game and have it run smoothly. We want to live up to your, and our, expectations.
Throughout the QA process we have been addressing performance issues in the game. Update 1.1 was published to Switch prior to launch to add content and improve performance. It did not accomplish as much as we had hoped and we need to do more.
To address the concerns brought up by the community we are immediately shifting resources to improve performance and stability for the Switch. You can expect a number of small updates that will improve different areas of the game rather than waiting longer for one big update. We will have more details as we dive into the work.
We thank you for your patience and apologize for the inconvenience."
It seems that the team promises to fix the performance issues on the Switch version, but they plan to do so over time, rather than one huge update. Either way, I hope to see all of the issues fixed, and hope that these updates come sooner rather than later.
A great Iga-vania overall, but maybe on a different platform
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on Nintendo Switch: The Bottom Line
As of right now, the overall consensus seems to be that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is best on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or Steam. However, if portability is a requirement (as it is for me), and you don't mind waiting for the eventual fixes to game performance, then the Switch version is decent.
But as a whole, despite the flaws, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a great Castlevania game without the name. I would recommend it to anyone who has been starving for a 2-D side-scrolling Castlevania game for the past several years.
Absorb shards, slay demons
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is as close to a modern 2-D side-scrolling Castlevania as you'll get right now. There's plenty of content to explore, tons of combinations of gear and shards for infinite possibilities of play styles, and just all around good fun. Developers are aware of the issues with the Switch version and are promising to improve performance over many small updates.
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