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Game Review #1 - Castlevania Rondo of Blood (PC Engine)

Castlevania Rondo of Blood on the PC Engine (Turbografx-16 in NA territories) is a rare and expensive game, and also arguably the last "Traditional" Castlevania title before they started doing Metroidvanias such as Symphony of the Night.

You play as Richter Belmont, a descendant of Simon from the original games. The game play will feel familiar to anyone who has played the original NES titles. You have a long whip as your primary weapon, and several items that you can pick up and use one at a time. These can be anything from an axe which specializes in hitting aerial foes, to holy water that can cover most of the ground and rack up damage. The big change is that players get a special ability which can be used at a high cost of heart collectables found throughout the levels. These abilities are great for clearing out screen-fulls of enemies, but are best saved for boss battles.

The game is also in CD format, taking advantage of the PC Engine's CD add-on. This means the game has well animated cut scenes, high quality music, voice overs, and better art than would normally be displayed on a PC Engine (A console released in 1986). The look of the game goes well beyond many SNES and Sega Genesis titles, both of which came out much later than the PC-Engine.

This game has the same old Castlevania challenge as the NES titles, but with some twists thrown in. Most of the stages have alternate routes, for instance. Because the game is in Japanese, I can't be 100% certain, but I believe some of these alternate paths serve no purpose whatsoever despite being more challenging. The most egregious example is in level four, which had a difficult section I was hoping to get around. I took the alternate path which was very difficult and nearly killed me, only to find out it led directly to that same difficult section I was trying to avoid!

That said, most levels are manageable after you get used to enemy patterns and placements. It's the bosses that can be tough. Much like prior games, player movement is stiff. You can control your jump arc somewhat, but not nearly at the level of say, Mario. The bosses are usually much more agile than you, and combined with your limited air control, it's easy to get hit. This is why Richter's special abilities are so important and useful. The problem is that you require a minimum of 20 hearts to use one, and it drains a lot, rendering items useless, more often than not.

Even still, the game is forgiving if you're not initially up to the challenge. If you run out of lives, you can still continue, but you'll be sent back to the level's beginning rather than a checkpoint. There are also game saves, and if the difficulty is getting to you, an easier mode. Maria, a little girl who's unlockable in the first level, serves as the game's "easy mode". Since she's smaller and more agile, it's generally easier to make it through a level. The trade off is that it takes less hits for her to go down.

There are certainly some annoying parts of the game, such as enemies far more agile than you, or ones that can't be hit by your whip, which only moves in a single direction. One enemy in particular that I could never figure out how to handle was the charging knight. He charges right at you, and I was unable to jump over him because he was too tall.

Rondo of Blood is also a short playthrough. Even if you're heavily struggling, I can't picture this game taking anyone more than two hours to finish. There are multiple endings, however. So you do have incentive to go back.

The music and SFX are high quality thanks to the CD format. I wouldn't say that the music is better than previous games, though. Almost every level is a remix of a previous theme. There are some standouts for sure, but I wouldn't rank this in the top five Castlevania soundtracks either.

Overall, Castlevania Rondo of Blood is a high-quality, but short experience. If you're in the mood for classic Castlevania and are for some reason okay with spending hundreds of dollars to play a game, it's worth checking out.

Score: B

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