There’s a word to describe a certain subset of action-RPG games: Metroidvania. Obviously, this is a cross between Metroid and Castlevania that’s become a genre all its own; no other descriptor is needed to let gamers know that a title will have a sprawling map, 2.5D aesthetic, and incrementally unlocking abilities.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night isn’t just a Metroidvania; it’s a Castlevania-alike. And for those of us mourning Konami’s abandonment of its core franchises, that’s a good thing.It’s no secret that Bloodstained is a spiritual successor to the fan-favorite Castlevania series. Developed by ArtPlay studios, it’s the brainchild of Koji Igarashi, the mind behind many of the Castlevania titles (including the brilliant Symphony of the Night). Bloodstained originated on Kickstarter, where fans raised over five million dollars—more than ten times its original goal—back in 2015, and has been in development ever since.

There weren’t any bats or vampires in our meaty 30-minute gameplay session, but we did find a lot of familiar mechanics: action-based combat and RPG-leveling against a supernatural background, with exploration and an ever-expanding map being key tenets. Miriam, the game’s protagonist, has been afflicted with a curse that’s slowly turning her to crystal, and she must confront the alchemist responsible before it’s too late.

The demo took place primarily on a ship, not a castle, though we’re told that’s where much of the game’s later action will take place. Right away I felt at home with the controls, thanks to muscle memory from playing countless hours of various Castlevania titles. As I made my way through the galleon, I picked up new weapons—including a whip!—and different abilities gained from absorbing enemy powers. Before long, I was talking on multiple enemies at once, weird squid monsters and incessant flying beasts, culminating in an epic boss fight with some kind of sea witch. We finally reached dry land, though the demo ended before I could find out what happened next.

It was refreshing to see Bloodstained not confined to the walls of a castle, and there will be several other locations, according to the developers. Though I didn’t get far enough to really explore some of the deeper systems, there will be crafting, plenty of quests, and a variety of weapons with special abilities. The story is new, but the tone and gameplay are familiar, like coming home after a long journey. If you’ve been missing the appeal of the original Metroidvania, you can stop replaying Symphony of the Night for the tenth time. Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is ready to fill that void later this year on PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, Switch, and even PlayStation Vita.

Images: ArtPlay Studio/505 Games

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