The moment I sat down to play Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, I was immediately slammed by a wave of nostalgia. Michiru Yamane's synth-guitar soundtrack and the 3D environments evoke strains of PlayStation classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - which, of course, is absolutely intentional. This is from Koji Igarashi, lead creator behind Symphony of the Night, Aria of Sorrow, and half-a-dozen other incredible exploration-based, side-scrolling Castlevania games in what he lovingly refers to as the 'Igavania' genre. This is his first project post-Konami, and in the brief hands-on time that I got with Bloodstained, it looks, sounds, and feels exactly like a return to that classic style of gameplay.
Igarashi had been wanting to make a game like this for a while, but the last Castlevania title he'd worked on was the multiplayer XBLA title Harmony of Despair back in 2010. "Three or four years ago I was working at Konami and didn't have the opportunity to [make a game like Symphony of the Night]," Igarashi tells me. "When I saw the success of Mighty No. 9's crowdfunding, it showed that fans can empower the creator and open up new doors. That was the spark I was looking for to leave Konami, go out on my own, be independent." And hey, if Konami doesn't want to make any more true Castlevania games, Igarashi is more than happy to make them in all but name.
Bloodstained has all the hallmarks of the best Castlevania games - lanterns which drop money or additional energy for special moves when you break them; maze-like hallways ripe for exploration; hidden treasures and secrets off the beaten path; enemies which explode or fall apart after you take them out. According to Igarashi, that's all intentional. "My goal with this game is to give [players] that classic Igavania-style game that they want. First and foremost, we're not shooting for innovation - we're shooting for reviving that sort of gameplay that people have been wanting for the last five years, and that publishers and developers have really not been offering. So any innovation beyond that is the sort of spice and coolness."
But Bloodstained isn't just Castlevania with a new coat of paint. My first weapon was a broadsword - pretty typical. But then I found a special pair of boots which let me do flying sidekicks at the various monsters on this rickety pirate ship. Plus, as you kill enemies, sometimes you'll get a new ability to mess around with. One I found was a flame power I could shoot out of my hands - but I could control my aim with the right analog stick, giving me a full range of motion for my attacks. It's not just for offense, though. A conveniently-placed cannon placed next to a rickety wall beckoned me - so I used my flame ability to light the fuse and blow a hole open in the wall to my next objective. Nice.
Bloodstained is only 10% finished at this point, but it's already looking and playing great - like a modernized version of an old classic. It should be out some time in early 2017 on PC, PS4, Xbox One, Vita, and Wii U.