This new Bloodrayne is a love letter to classic, tough-as-nails games of yesteryear.
The similarities are apparent right off the bat: there's evil in a nearby castle and it's up to Rayne to save the day. That's the basic premise of the story. If you're a fan of the original games you'll be pleased to see returning characters, factions, and art styles with a new spin. The aesthetics are excellent and instantly pleasing: a beautiful moon illuminates the stages as enemies pop up and try to stop Rayne from continuing her tenacious assault. Way Forward, the developers known this generation mostly for A Boy and His Blob and Contra 4, clearly took key notes from the classic Nintendo Castlevania games and it works well.
Way Forward ditched the original's hyper sexual variation of Rayne who was constantly shooting and using slow motion bullet time for a more straight forward side scrolling hack and slash adventure. The game features stylized action that's pretty easy to pull off. You get one attack button for Rayne's main weapons: her blades attached to her arms. Pressing square repeatedly makes Rayne slash normally and pressing the directional pad/analog stick in a certain direction will change up what she's doing. You can also juggle enemies in the air or throw them to the ground using the same button. You can also shoot a pistol, jump, dodge, and suck the necks of stunned enemies for health.
Everything is very fast, simple controls yet a deep system. If you're looking for something simple to hack and slash your way through, this might not be the best experience for you. Bloodrayne is difficult, and it's meant to be that way. It really does resonate a feeling of old school games that weren't afraid to throw dangerous obstacles at you. For the most part though, it's doable. There aren't really any times where the game is downright frustrating outside of a couple platforming instances. For example, there's one section near the end where you have to bounce on top of enemies and kill the respawning foes before moving on. If you fall, you die. In order to perform this bounce you have to press down and square at the same time, but it isn't the most precise thing in the world. Rayne might do something else, and thus it becomes frustrating trying to get past this single instant.
Outside of that particular instant, the game runs well and the challenge is always more fun than brutally unforgiving. Bosses can be tough, but you'll quickly learn their patterns and the enemy that was kicking the crap out of you will die in no time, making it a satisfying victory instead of one you can just drift through in your sleep. Again though, the game is clearly aimed at people that enjoy the tough challenges of old NES Castlevania titles, so it isn't for everyone.
The game runs very smoothly. The frame rate never struggles to keep up even when there are enemies pouring out of the screen trying to kill the player and subsequent explosions happen. The graphics are gorgeous as well. Way Forward has a very unique art style with their games, and Bloodrayne shines here. The gothic styles of the castle, the bright and oversized moon shining in the background, the character models that have a cartoon look; it all looks fantastic. There are also sections where Rayne fights her enemy in a silhouette form. It's a nice change of pace and offers a very appealing aesthetic.
The music is fantastic. It isn't something you want to immediately buy or listen to casually, but it works extremely well in the game. The tune that plays at the beginning of the game is an awesome introduction into the gothic art style the game is going for. There's even a cool little Easter egg you can unlock that turns all the music into 8-bit recording, giving the game even more old-school appeal.
The story is simple and easy to follow. You play as a half-human, half-vampire (Dhampir) woman named Rayne who dedicates her life to eliminating evil. There's a castle and it's up to her to destroy it. There's no voice acting, the little story there here is told via text bubbles that pop over the characters head. There are some references to the previous games and random characters and "twists" that show up through the game. They're not very hard to figure out (hint: the game's subtitle is Betrayal for a reason) but it works well in keeping the pacing up. "Time to fight another demon boss you say? That's ok with me"
There are also collectibles throughout each level and leader boards that add to the replayability. Going for the "Dhampir" ranking in each stage is ridiculously challenging, but something to aim for. Also, exploring each little hidden path and finding the random collectibles throughout really bring the game to life in a sense. There are places to see that aren't instantly visible, and it's nice to see a game that's layered for more than one simple play through.
However, for all the old school charm and the visually striking, visceral action the game does offer it means absolutely nothing for a gamer not seeking a challenge. If you want something that feels more modern, or something that's just easy to complete, this game isn't for you. Fans itching for something challenging, fun, and retro should look no further, though: Bloodrayne: Betrayal scratches that itch.