Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night was a triumph. While not a perfect game, it was exactly what any fan of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night could ever ask for. It took the content of the PSX classic and reworked it for the modern era. It was an homage that flirts with being a direct riff on what came before it.
Three weeks ago, the game received a substantial update adding Speed Run Mode, Boss Revenge Mode (play as boss baddies), and other cool, optional features, none of which interested me all that much. However, one mode did get my attention: Classic Mode.
Classic Mode is like playing an old school Castlevania game where you merely progress through linear levels (peep that old timey map) ultimately facing off against bosses (with the classic “Pez candy” life bar) at the end of each section. While that may simply sound like the Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon games, this mode is done with the current gen graphics of the main game.
As I began playing, I noted several sections that are clearly paying tribute to the original NES Castlevania. The first level features a section with fishmen jumping out of the water, culminating in a boss battle with a giant bat. The second section has those pesky Medusa Head stand-ins, crushing spikes, and hard-to-time jumps.
The references go even deeper at times. In level two there is an area (that looks similar to an area in the original game) where you can break a wall with your whip, but nothing happens. If you walk into the cubby hole and crouch however (whoop whoop whoop!) a hidden treasure worth points appears.
Yes, points matter again as well. Extra lives are achieved by reaching certain scores, and you’ll need them with the aforementioned hard-to-time jumps you’ll be attempting while dodging perfectly placed foils.
By the time I reached level three I said to myself, ‘Bring on the hunchbacks!’ which is a reference to the beginning of the third level in the NES classic where they make their first appearance, and wouldn’t you know it, the RotN versions were indeed there! So far I’ve gotten to level four, which again pays heavy homage to the original (although no “cut scene” where you fall a great distance). It’s a challenging mode, and I’m enjoying it immensely.
Ring of Pain is Hearthstone meets The Binding of Isaac and is utterly addictive. Its uncanny atmosphere and dark approach to card combat games makes for a memorable experience. You play as an unknown individual, confused and inquisitive about the rather odd situation you are in. You’re confronted with seemingly endless rings of cards, that comprise of armor, weapons and gruesome creatures hellbent on destroying you. Apparent “friends” you meet along the way, including the creepy Owl, are vague in their motives and overall place in the world, and the only goal, other than survive, is to locate various exit cards that will throw you deeper into the unknown, and confront you with ever-growing rings of cards.
The presentation and gameplay are quite unique. Every ring of cards requires you to circle through it and make choices. These choices are encouraged to be made ahead of time; much like chess—making you think two spaces ahead. Since the circle is a, well, circle, you can naturally see what sort of things you’re going to have to deal with. However, you will be forced to always deal with the two fore fronted cards. Planning is essential but never easy. It’s a hard one to explain and can look daunting, but I found it simple to pick up the jist.
Your focus in this game is fixed on balancing various stats to survive long enough to reach the next depth. Never have I concentrated harder on a game of this ilk. You never feel sure on the decisions you make. Every choice is met with an upside and a downside, offering a pick your poison approach that’s wild to explore, especially when there are so many different combinations you can experiment with. Its stressful and held me in a thinking mans pose at every opportunity. The stress is heightened in no small part to the often-terrifying music and morbid mood that parade the overall experience. At times, it can feel a little too reliant on luck, as each run is procedurally generated to the point where you can literally die on the first ring via an unfair arrangement. But the lightening fast reset will just have you starting again after a prayer or two to lady luck.
The narrative opts for a Dark Souls, “we aren’t telling you nothing overtly” approach, but takes this to the extreme. I would have liked a little more context as to what the overall point of this strange world is. There is a fascination about the whys of the world, but it’s too vague and all surface. The art design for Ring of Pain is contrastingly colorful and morbid; often resembling children’s drawings created in a nightmare.
If you ever manage to reach the end, the sense of achievement is weighty. You’ll still contemplate the horrors you faced in card form, and your curiosity will lead you to venture again and again into the Ring of Pain, in order to gleam its secret equipment and discover new paths. It’s a bit pricey for what it is at the moment, but I say definitely give this one a go if it goes on sale and you want to apply some enjoyable stress on the mind.
After many months of downtime, I’m back to playing Undermine after it recently got a big update. It’s in a similar vein to others in the roguelite genre, Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon (some of my personal favouites) where you travel through randomly generated caves while collecting gold and powerups. You’re a little minor with a canary (although you get other familiars later) armed with your trusty pickaxe that you use as a weapon and to mine gold. You can also throw it, which is my preferred method. You’ll find chests containing powerups for your axe and bombs, like “bombbushka,” which makes your bombs explode into smaller and smaller bombs, or chain lighting for your pickaxe. Side note, no matter the game, I go for chain lighting effects. I love them. I don’t know what it is about roguelites that bring me back again and again. They’re very addictive. It takes me a long time to get “good” at a game (my Gungeon and Hades hours are full of many failures) but I come back every time. One more game! I can get farther! You get into this zone while playing and I lose track of time. Probably helping me take my mind off of world events!