Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is the best platformer I've played in 2019. In fact, it might be the best indie of the year too. It's a must-have for any Castlevania fan and resurrects the old wellspring of magic only really found in lower-budget indie games today, the kind of intimate, slow-burn exploration across sprawling levels punctuated by challenging boss fights. Bloodstained is an ode to every Castlevania game in existence and hearkens back to a simpler time before MMOs, live games, and microtransactions.
It's the kind of game that takes you back to the past, and rightly so. The main selling point of Bloodstained is that it promises an opportunity to relive those old PlayStation days of yore when it was only you, a CRT TV casting the only light in the room, and a controller (and maybe a printed GameFAQs guide). It perfectly encapsulates those old days in the 1990s where you had to use grit, ingenuity, and tact to survive, progress, and conquer, all set in your own self-contained slice of an interactive world.
Sadly experiences like Bloodstained have become an outlier in today's online-dominated industry, but the spirit of age-old classics is far from dead. Koji's latest magnum opus stands with other indie greats as Axiom Verge, Dead Cells, and Hollow Knight in carrying the torch.
Bloodstained is one of the most confident games I've seen in a long time and doesn't try to lie to you. It says what it means right away and delivers what it promises without any kind of shortcuts or sidelines. There's no live service hooks here, no roadmaps, no unfolding events or carved out DLC; just straight singleplayer Metroidvania mastery.
One thing we should get out of the way is that yes, Bloodstained is pretty much Symphony of the Night 2.0. This iteration shares so many similarities with the PS1 classic, but it also shines with its own innovative mechanics and features. Koji's team is ingenious and creative with new systems, characters, enemies, and a surprisingly in-depth story framed in that distinct gothic world.
But rather than making you want to play Symphony of the Night again, Bloodstained stands on its own two legs as a competent side-scroller. It's actually quite refreshing in its presentation and execution. It stays true to the old-school Metroidvania style that Koji helped create and genuinely feels like a direct continuation of the gametype--Bloodstained is definitely coursing through the same vein as its Castlevania forebear--but it's also quite different and unique.
It's a spiritual successor that breaks new exciting grounds while paying ultimate respects to Alucard's adventures.
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