Castlevania fans have been waiting an awfully long time for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night to release, as Koji Igarashi's upcoming game looks to build upon all his experience working on the Castlevania series for over 20 years. While we've had Curse of the Moon to keep us entertained, we're still waiting for the main course, something we got to try in London not too long ago when 505 Games sat us down to experience a short demo at Rezzed.
We were told that the demo was from around halfway through the game, so in terms of the story, we didn't get a whole lot to talk about. Essentially the game follows a woman called Miriam, the protagonist who you control as you explore the various corridors and grand halls of the game because of course, this is a Metroidvania in every sense of the word. There are inaccessible areas you can't access without the powers you'll find later on, there's a mini-map on screen showing you where you have and haven't visited, and there's plenty of backtracking.
We didn't have to do a whole load of backtracking in this short demo, and right now at least it seems clear where you can and can't go, helped in no small part by that map we mentioned. You'll find yourself platforming and jumping through the levels to progress, but you've got to keep an eye out for hidden areas with chests, as they'll give you important items like healing potions and ingredients (we don't know what these are for, but we had a lot in our inventory in this demo).
Basically, this is very much keeping to the Castlevania roots of the project, except with a bit of a graphical upgrade. It'd be best described as 2.5D in style because Miriam and her enemies are 3D, but you move as if it was a 2D platformer, although it never feels overly simplistic. The levels we got to see were complex and detailed, and there was a clever moment where you made your way up a circular tower that spiralled upwards, putting an interesting spin on the sidescrolling movement as you moved up the tower. Miriam and her enemies are all creatively designed and stylish too, and it's a visually impressive experience already. There are flying nuisances that burst colour across the screen, as well as hulking knights and even hostile paintings, all of which offer their own flavour and challenge to proceedings.
With your main attack being a sword, every encounter with Bloodstained's enemies is way more challenging than it first appears. It's a dance where you're always balancing whether to get up close to strike or back off a bit and save your health, and you can easily get complacent and mash the attack button when you get greedy. Patience is the name of the game, as rushing in is a guaranteed way to get you killed, and you'll need to have good aim to hit the faster flying enemies.
You also have special attacks as well, which consume a finite gauge under your health bar. One of these moves launched an attack that clung to the floor and bulldozed forwards, while another flung a flurry of projectiles to cover a wider range. We assume there will be more in the main game, but these diversified your attack options and proved especially useful in the boss encounter with a double-headed dragon, which moved backwards and forwards to keep us trapped at all times between its heads.
The beauty (and difficulty) of this boss fight is that it didn't rely on raw power alone, but required you to exercise your platforming skills to jump and dodge out of the way of its fiery attacks and bites. Once you got into the rhythm of this it became all about patience, and waiting for your time to strike, keeping an eye on where your foe is moving at all times.
This demo only served to give us a brief glimpse at the action that we'll be seeing throughout Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, but already the combat feels satisfying given its balance between risk and reward, the scenery and character models look visually impressive (especially when considering the extra effects on screen via the lighting and various attacks), and it feels like Castlevania, which is perhaps the most important thing at the end of the day. The dreary rainfall and the dark hallways all bring us back to Igarashi's earlier work, and we're looking forward to seeing what else he has in store for us later this year.