Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bloodrayne: Betrayal is a good game, but not as good as it could have been

Looks like I'm a bit late to the party with this one. I read somewhere that Wayforward's reimagening of Terminal Reality's Bloodrayne series was delayed to October, and since I didn't spot it on the XBL marketplace, I assumed that to be true. It appears, however, that Microsoft merely does still chicken out of releasing mature rated content on the German marketplace. So I bought some MS points for my illegal fake pirate UK account, and was finally able to play it. Sadly, I'm not quite satisfied. Many have likened the game to classic Castlevania, and it is true that it shares many aesthetic elements (the Gothic-ish architecture, the style of the music), but in gameplay it couldn't differ much more while still being a sidescrolling action game. Regardless, Bloodrayne: Betrayal is actually a good game, but there was potential for so much more. Or rather, less, as less truly would have been more at parts.

The platforming in this game is simply beautiful. Ever since smooth controls have become the standard over Mario's wonky high-inertia physics or Castlevania's stiff mechanics, platformers have struggled to keep the challenge up. Almost all of Betrayal's higher level jumping sequences rely on the abstract physics mechanics: Either she has to dash in mid-jump, slash to keep her suspended in the air, or get off the ground with her super-high backflip (done by running a few steps and then turning around just before the jump). In best Super Mario Bros. tradition, enemies serve as stepping stones with her footstomp move. To get to all the secret areas (mostly to collect hidden red skulls, which substitute experience points), often all of the above has to be applied in order. Environmental hazards like moving chainsaws and laser barriers put extra pressure on the player. There are also dozens of lovely hommages to the classics, like the rotating cannons of Super Mario Bros. 3. The only thing that pisses me off about the controls: Rayne can't duck. I consider that a terrible sin in a sidescroller, that's why I never liked Mega Man much.

Unfortunately, platforming is only half the game, as Rayne spends at least the same amount of time fighting monsters in a boring Devil May Cry style combofest. Most of the time battles take place in super lazy locked single-screen areas. The game often gets ultra-chaotic with several different enemy types on screen at the same time, and that's were combat draws all its difficulty from. Rayne carries a gun for crowd control, but ammunition is very limited. The system shows much potential when combined with the platforming, but the drawn-out arena fights are just unecessary padding. After each stage, Rayne gets a ranking for her performance. After a normal playthrough, it's almost invariably "F". So in theory there's much potential for score runs, but the only way to really improve on the ranking in a meaningful way is to solve the arena fights more quickly. Given that they're the part one would prefer to skip in the first place, there's not much motivation to go back, tough.

At least sometimes they make clever use of Rayne's ability to use environmental hazards to her advantage, in a more varied manner than it was the case in Bloodrayne 2. (It even has portions were Rayne uses slain enemies as platforms to cross bodies of water/acid, which was planned for Terminal Realities last game in the franchise but ended up being left out in the end.) They haven't been very creative with the bosses, though. Up to stage 10, there are merely three boss fights, and two of them are against variants of the same monster.

In other parts loyalty to the original games is sporadic at best. Many monsters are clearly inspired by the TRI horror universe, but the drawing style makes them all look much too cute and not nearly as disgusting and horrifying as was probably intended. The coffin rocket Rayne uses to get from level to level maybe would have had its place in an anime-style franchise like Gungrave or Hellsing, here it just comes off as silly. The worst part is the dialogue, though, which is truly abysmal. BloodRayne never was Shakespearesque, but it very well captured that certain B-movie charme with its mix of trashy one-liners and awkward pathos. Here, however, it's embarassing fanfic at its worst. There's even a shitty emo vampire who helps out Rayne by turning into a white raven (Rayne later learns to turn into a bird herself). The game could have significantly improved just by cutting out all the dialogue (and the crappy emo vampire)—it'S that cringe-worthy. At least the lines are few and far between.

Regardless, BloodRayne: Betrayal still is a really good platformer. For fans of Devil May Cry, the combat might even be rewarding as well, while everyone else is annoyed by the arena brawls balancing the more well-integrated fights for the worse. Whoever liked the original games' flair will get a toothache from all the bullshit anime tropes, but at least it's easy to ignore most of them. Also, budget title developers really need to stop thinking that blacking out all the sprites is artistic. It's not artistic, it's annoying and boring. Please stop doing that! And give me a ducking animation.


  1. Nice entry - and the perfect opportunity for me to rant... Apologies in advance Derboo.

    I don't know why WayForward gets so much praise for their 2D, considering how damn lazy they are when it comes to mirroring sprites. There are so many skilled developers out there who go the extra mile and don't mirror sprites, that I find it a little unfair how much praise WF gets.

    Anyway, dloaded the demo on PSN, and first thing I see it ambidextrous mirrored-sprites holding guns which swap hands depending on whether they face left or right. A few minutes playing convinced me it was a rather lacklustre game. Quit and deleted.

    I used to accept this crap in the 16-bit days, but it's about time devs starting making the effort to draw left/right facing sprites. Kagirinaki Tatakai did it. So did Phantasy Star 1 on the SMS (look closely). Super Metroid is probably my favourite example of accurately drawn sprites - so gorgeous.

    Everything by WayForward, Contra, Aliens Infestation, this, it's all mirrored. Bleurgh.

    And yes, I am totally that petty/OCD afflicted. :-)

  2. If you want to see why Wayforward is ahead of its game, compare Contra 4 to Contra Rebirth. The pixel work is orders of magnitude better.

    As for Bloodrayne, I'm not a huge fan of the combat either. Something about the DMC-style crowd control just doesn't seem to work right on a purely 2D plane. I also dislike not being able to cancel out of much of anything. Still an alright game though - I bought it mostly for the soundtrack, which I then bought directly from the composer.

  3. ^ Why would you accept mirroring in the 16-bit days but not now? It's not like it's any easier or less time consuming to make the graphics today.
    I'd never waste all that time on mirroring. A tiny thing most people won't even care about, enormous workload (and what boring work too) to fix. The reward just doesn't match the cost.
    Total waste of time that could be used to make actual content.

    And I love that they actually got mirroring into SFIV even though it's 3D. Nostalgic, but also makes sense in a competitive game where one side could be at the advantage if a move was trickier to see and react to when facing a certain direction.

    Either way, I don't like the way this game looks. Kinda flat and anime in a bad generic way. I like the idea of Bloodrayne, but not the actual games so far :/

  4. I accepted mirroring in the old days because I was less critically minded of what I consumed - I was also a kid. And kids accept all kinds of nonsense. But as I started to appreciate pixel art and mature, I also started to notice when they drew things correctly and when they didn't.

    Now when I see mirroring I find it jarring and unsettling. I have to put tremendous effort into ignoring it, otherwise it will affect my entire play experience, like a mild toothache which is always there, in the background.

    I've probably conditioned myself like this, but it really, really bugs me - as badly as when I play an FPS, reload my gun, see the guy open a revolver and throw six bullets away, even though he's only reloading the single bullet which I fired. Yet those other 5 are still in my ammo box, despite seeing them fall to the ground!

    I'm sure sprite mirroring does just boil down to workload. But it'd be nice if there was more recognition for those who go the extra mile.

    I was at one point tempted to make a blog entry with just screens showing every 2D based game which featured anatomically correct sprites.