December 5, 2022

Die Nite

Are people who control the game

The term ‘Metroidvania’ is used to describe just about any and every open-world platformer these...

The term ‘Metroidvania’ is used to describe just about any and every open-world platformer these days, but once upon a time it referred to a very specific thing: the non-linear Castlevania games put together under the guiding vision of Koji Igarashi. It eventually became a much broader thing, but there’s a certain flavor to Igarashi’s take on this formula that few games offer. Unfortunately, diminishing sales returns on the Castlevania series led to Igarashi being moved off the series and, ultimately, his departure from Konami. It’s hard to say if there will ever be another Castlevania game in that style ever again.

Fortunately, the talent behind a game is generally more important than any branding. Igarashi wanted to make another Metroidvania, and fans enthusiastically obliged when he went to Kickstarter to find the funding for it. A lot of stories like that have disappointing or even terrible endings, but Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night ($9.99) seems to have largely gone as everyone hoped. A few bumps on the road, to be sure. It was originally set for a 2017 release but ended up coming in 2019 instead. A few of the planned versions were canceled thanks to the platforms being on their way out. The Switch version launched in a rather miserable state. A few planned features had to be changed.

The most important goal was achieved, however. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a fine game that feels just like the kinds of Castlevania games Igarashi used to make. It certainly helps that many of his collaborators from those games joined him on this one, helping it look and sound right. While it comes off a bit overstuffed in places, I can’t imagine anyone who enjoyed titles like Symphony of the Night or Aria of Sorrow not being pleased with Ritual of the Night. Well, the higher end versions of the game, at least. There’s a world of difference between Bloodstained on the PC and Bloodstained on the Switch, even after a lot of work was put into the latter.

That being said, I suspect we in large part owe the existence of this mobile version to that Switch port. Ritual of the Night on mobile looks more like the version for Nintendo’s system than it does any other. 3D models have the more simplified look, and the visual effects also follow suit. The framerate is also about on pace, which may be a problem for some. Looking closer, the mobile version is actually better in some ways. The input lag on the Switch version is quite poor, but it’s much snappier on mobile. This makes the game much more playable right from the hop. This isn’t the most demanding game, but it’s nice to not miss jumps because of lag.

As for disadvantages, the biggest one for most is likely to be the controls. It’s a bit of a complicated game control-wise that was never meant for mobile play, which translates as it often does to a very cluttered set of virtual buttons. This was something the mobile version of Symphony of the Night also suffered from, and if you couldn’t get on with the touch controls there I can’t imagine you’ll do any better here. Annoyingly, you can’t even customize the locations of the buttons. The button for jumping is to the left of the attack button, and you’re just going to have to get your brain around that. Magic attacks can also be a little complicated to deal with as they often need to be aimed.

You can kind of play with a supported controller, but some of the menu options and actions require you to use the touch screen. On top of that, the UI doesn’t go anywhere even when you’re using the controller. The developers are apparently working on an update that will provide better support for controllers, so this may well not be a problem by the time you read this review. For now, you’re stuck between two non-optimal choices. I was personally able to adapt to the touch controls, but I generally do. Presumably you are aware of your own ability to deal with virtual buttons, so I’ll leave that in your hands.

Setting aside the expected control differences and the technical points, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is an excellent pick-up for those who either haven’t had a chance to play it elsewhere or want a version to take with them. It has just about all of the content of the other versions (I believe the most recent update with a new playable character isn’t in here yet, but I’m sure it will be), and it’s easily the cheapest way to get in on the game. You can look forward to dozens of hours of exploring, crafting, battling, and messing around with alternate modes as you guide Miriam and company through the sprawling castle Hellhold.

Indeed, there’s almost too much here. Like a lot of Kickstarter projects that dramatically overshoot their initial ask, Bloodstained picked up a lot of extra stuff as stretch goals had to be conjured up. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this is definitely the all-dressed potato chips of Metroidvanias, and some flavors come through better than others. Crafting, collecting, completing quests, a wide assortment of gear and magic, special moves, secret areas, and more are present and accounted for. It feels like there are little threads popping out everywhere on the design, but that oddly makes it work even better as a mobile game. It’s always easy to find something to do, even if you only have a little time to play. It goes without saying that longer sessions can be filled without much worry.

Frankly, outside of a few minor issues with the controls, I think this is as good of a port of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night as we could expect on mobile. It’s a good game, and it fits mobile quite well. I’d probably recommend picking up Castlevania: Symphony of the Night ahead of this game, but there can and should be room in your life for both. And much to my own surprise, I would recommend this version of the game over the Switch port. It just plays better thanks to the reduced input lag, and it feels more stable all-around. The biggest snag here for most is going to be in the controls. You’ve got a choice between imperfect controller support or a non-customizable arrangement of virtual buttons. If that doesn’t bother you, I can heartily recommend this game. It’s great.