Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Blood of the Werewolf (XBLA) Review

After being available on the PC for over half a year, Blood of the Werewolf has brought its blistering platforming to the Xbox Live Arcade.  The game stars Selena, nowone of two surviving werewolves, who sets out to get her son back and get revenge on those that stole him and murdered her husband.

Going along with the werewolf theme, many of the enemies you fight are from older horror movies.  Vampires, skeletons, bats and mutants are some of the fodder you run across while seeking Selena's son Marko.  The bosses are also modeled after such classic monsters as Dracula and Mr. Hyde.  The characters, music and look of the game fit very well together, and are really neat for fans of old B-grade horror films.  Even the voice acting of the main character is done really well.  The only part I'm not too happy with is the lack of subtitles for the cut-scenes.  The volume always seemed low for those especially, and it can be almost impossible to hear over children running around.

Selena, as the werewolf matron, splits her time in the game between human and wolf forms.  The human form has a crossbow for distance attacks at any angle, while the werewolf has a double jump and stronger attacks.  Controlling either character is fairly easy and the controls are responsive and tight.  They need to be for all the precise platforming you have to do as you make your way through the game.  The story follows the pattern of two stages followed by a boss fight.  At various points through each stage (and sometimes the boss), you will switch between Selena's human and werewolf sides.  It's a great and really unique aspect of the game.  I like the dual gameplay of using each form for different combat and platforming challenges.  And boy, are there plenty of challenges.

While the game starts off fairly easy, it quickly gets tough.  The second stage gets downright brutal with a section that has instant-death pistons.  It wasn't too bad until the part where you have to fall down a winding path without getting hit.  If you touch the ground at all, you've taken too much time and will die.  It was a bit jarring for the game to have that jump in difficulty so quickly.  However, it ends up being a decent introduction to the game, since there are several parts where you will die with a simple mistake (especially the fireball/moving platform/spike sections in the late game).  Oh, and one more brutal thing I have to mention: the bats.  If you've ever played a Castlevania game, you will know the medusa heads, aka the "Bane of Platformers' Existence".  The bats in Blood of the Werewolf behave almost exactly like the medusa heads, annoyingly simple pattern and all.  I can't decide if it's an homage or torture.  Or maybe a little of both...

The game takes many cues from old-school platforming games.  There's a lot of hazards just off the screen, so when you run or jump forward, you get hit.  I didn't find many of those parts that would knock me into a pit, but a few that would do so for spikes, which basically amounts to the same thing.  It is less about reaction and more about memorization.  Some jumping sections have lots of dodging while you make your way through, which would, however, test both.  Like older games, a lot of perseverance will make up for any other shortcomings you have, and several times my heart was pounding when I finished a tough section.  There were frequent checkpoints, and deaths would only waste your stage completion time, so it was much less frustrating than it could have been.  Plus, I found the bosses to be pretty easy.  I would get hit a fair amount, but I never actually died on any of them.

The main game consists of ten stages and five bosses.  A first run through a stage might run about 10-30 minutes, depending on how many times you die.  Bosses are shorter, simply because there is no stage beforehand, just the boss fight.  Total time for me through the story was about 4-5 hours.  In addition to that, you can play each completed stage in Score Attack, where you grab gems and kill enemies for points.  There's even an Endless mode, where rooms are procedurally generated (randomly strung together from a large list).  These are rooms created especially for this mode, so knowledge of the normal stages won't help you here.  Both of the extra modes are good ways to test your skills, and I'd say you can easily get your money's worth if you at least beat the story.

All achievements in Blood of the Werewolf are for completing quests, and you get one for every five or ten quests that you do.  The quests are for pretty much doing everything in the game- finishing levels, getting good ranks, beating bosses, stages and scores in score attack, getting collectibles, etc.  Some aren't too hard, like surviving one room in endless mode or getting 25% of the sigils, but some are very difficult, like completing each stage quick enough to get the S rank.  If you are a perfectionist, getting all the quests in the game (and hence all the achievements) will keep you busy for many hours.

The game has a great vibe, but the difficulty was frequently frustrating.  The bosses seemed almost too easy while the stages could be downright brutal.  Fans of old-school platforming games should definitely check it out, as the difficulty will make them feel right at home.

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