Game Review – Blood of the Werewolf

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Game Review – Blood of the Werewolf
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Blood of the Werewolf
Action, Platforming
PC, PSN, Xbox Live Arcade, Wii-U
Review based on Xbox Live Arcade version
Publisher: Midnight City
Developer: Scientifically Proven
Release Date: May 9th, 2014
Blood of the Werewolf was put together as part of the recent Steam Greenlight program. It was first announced back in March of 2013 as an Action Platforming love letter to the golden days of gaming, a promise that set the gaming community into a frenzy of anticipation. Since then, 55,000 copies have been sold just on PC alone, not taking into account the many popular gaming console digital marketplaces out there. But is this classic Horror tale of love and loss exactly what we all have been waiting for, or does this entry simply abuse the gimmicks that only sell us on the nostalic factor?

Blood of the Werewolf is the tale of a Selena. She is in search of her son, Nikolai, who has been kidnapped by Dr. Frankenstein after husband was murdered, all in order to use the child’s blood to revive the race under his control. It’s a full moon, and Selena knows this is her only chance to get the child back. She goes out through the modern Gothic landscapes in an effort to reach his castle and bring her son home. But to do so, she must take out countless creatures and bosses, most of which straight out of the Universal Studios and such as The Mummy, Count Dracula, and a couple other well known beings.

The audio itself actuaslly isn’t too bad. Many scores capture that aforementioned Gothic mood quite well, though some later stages like The Lair can seem a bit repetitive. Selena is voiced by actress Erin Cummings (Dark House, The Iceman), who does a good job at conveying the right amount of emotion, though when meant to be reflective or morose it’s like listening to paint dry from the lack of necessary emotion to make you feel for the character’s struggle. Many of the other voice actors are pretty stagnant as well, though far from comically bad. Even some of the sound effects sound like stock recordings, which is really just par for the course in this case since it’s a throwback to the early days of side-scrolling action.

The visuals look pretty crisp overall, touting a slight Tim Burton-esque feel (or what is usually attributed to him) to the pointy art style that seems lost in modern American animation and anime. Eloquent backgrounds offer a decent amount of variety to the dark wooded terrain and a mixture of crypts and catacombs laced with modern technological advancements in enough of a steam-punk manner to keep it all from blending together the deeper in you get. There are some cut scenes as well, usually after the boss fights and a hidden clip after the credits, which are handled more as stop motion with some zoom effects, small motions from a limb, or blood splatters.

Blood of the Werewolf

There are times where obvious nostalgia plays a role in the stage designs and hazards. Much of the outdoor zones are reminiscent of titles like Super Castlevania and Ghost N’ Goblins, the latter of which acknowledged during the “thank you” section of the ending credits. There’s also rotating poles of fire balls that often impede your path, much like in Super Mario Bros. among others in the franchise. These are just some of the nods this game makes to the classics that clearly helped inspire it.

Blood of the Werewolf may be rooted in early side-scrolling gaming traditions, but it does manage to use some modern techniques to prevent it from being outdated right from the start. There are two sets of controls technically. Indoors you mostly play as Selena, while outside or by open windows that reveal the full moon and a shift to werewolf form. Human form is what you’ll spend most of your time in, which is also the most complex of the two schemes. You’ll rely on the timing of your jumps a lot more, and if you need to basically hop by pressing the jump button, or where to leap from while holding it in to clear longer distances or reach a higher platform or ledge. When it comes to fighting, Selena uses ranged attacks you aim by using the right analog stick for console versions. The problem with these non-PC entries is that the attack button is the right trigger. With how comfortable the typical old-school layout of a firing and b jumping, you’ll often hit the wrong button when you need to attack with your bow. I can’t tell you how many times I hit the x button on this version instead of the trigger, not to mention pressed down on the left analog stick or d-pad instead of holding the left trigger.

Then there’s the werewolf form of Selena, which ends up the most fun to use and the easiest of the two. All the buttons are the same, but this time you can double jump, as well as not worry about aiming. There’s two attacks that depend on a specific non-visible meter filling up. You can swipe your foes with a powerful slice of the paw when that gauge fills, typically shown by your character’s body have a white aura/shadow to it, or a less effective bite that is equal to one regular arrow in human form.

Thankfully there’s upgrades that you can unlock to make these attacks even more powerful. Throughout each stage of Story Mode there are floating circular objects you can pick up that act as experience. These unlock certain attributes like additional health points. However, there also are secret paths that are indicated nearby thanks to fireflies, which are really just easily missable yellow dots that move around close to the hidden rooms. These secret areas often have additional power-ups you can use in battle such as multi-arrow, fire arrow, and the always helpful health recovery for when you’re in werewolf mode, all of which can also be upgraded in those same sections of a stage.

The only problem with the controls is that sometimes they can glitch out. This is especially infuriating when having to dodge ground based foes with ranged attacks while avoiding or shooting flying enemies that move along similar paths to bats or Medusa heads in the Castlevania series. Once in a while I also found myself standing not on a crumbling stone protrusion or one of those cat walks that drop down when you land on them, but on a stationary ledge slowly sinking through the ground, ending up on the previous floor or the spikes of instant death. Thankfully it was more often the first than the latter.

Blood of the Werewolf

Glitches like that are mildly infuriating, but what really can kill the flow are the obscenely difficult sections of the game. While Scientifically Proven are trying to pay homage to the eight and sixteen-bit days of gaming, they amped up the difficulty in spots to make it so timing needs to be spot on you’re going to die instantly. The second stage is the biggest offender of all with the overuse of pistons at the very end. Selena has to dive into a hole filled with them that has an indentation in the middle of it. This is highlighted in the schematic on the wall, but you need to be absolutely precise on when you move from one side to the next, as well as when you jump in the hole to avoid being squished. I spent a good two hours working on this part alone, having retried over seventy times according to the level statistics screen, and I absolutely refuse to do it again until I need to. In fact I nearly quit playing the entire game after that.

On top of that, everything in this game uses a pattern. Blood of the Werewolf‘s battle difficulty is often nothing more than learning how an enemy or obstacle moves or attacks and exploiting it to progress. Sadly this goes for the boss fights as well, which are often the easiest part of the game. Rarely will you actually die when fighting them, and if you do that second time around will be much easier to exploit what you learned, especially if tackling the boss in werewolf form and have the ability to use the healing power.

Story mode isn’t that long, but with the number of retries you’ll find yourself using it can last well into over twenty hours. But there’s more to the game to keep you coming back. Outside of revisiting levels to collect items and upgrades you missed there’s Score Attack mode, which puts a time limit on you to see how many points you can rack up, earning time by picking up clocks or meeting certain criteria. There’s also Endless Mode which is just a room by room endurance test. Some can be as simple as avoiding a few poles of fire or avoiding being crushed by two pistons, others amp up the difficulty out of nowhere with plenty of enemies and instant death obstacles. All of these elements count towards a Quest Log, which is accessible in the Extras screen, as well as miscellaneous things like killing three enemies with one attack or earning a certain rank on a level that seems to be based on how quickly you reach the end.

Blood of the Werewolf

Overall, Blood of the Werewolf isn’t really a bad game, but it could have been much better. Even though it does include some modern control schemes that can be a bit more technical than they really need to be, this is nothing but a Universal Studios monster mash spawn of a Super Mario Bros. and Ghosts ‘n Goblins fling complete with stock sound effects and often lifeless enemies varied only by a different color. While not that unique and ends on a cliff hanger that is so cheap it’s as infuriating as hidden post-credit scene is cliché, Blood of the Werewolf is still familiar territory that fans of Platform games from the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System or it’s Super counter part can appreciate and find moderate levels of fun with, especially the endurance challenge that is Endurance Mode. With enough going on to keep you coming back, Blood of the Werewolf stands as a fun little game that is worth picking up even at full price (which can be found for under ten dollars US in some areas), though you’ll probably feel better about your purchase if you pick it up on sale somewhere down the line.

Overall Score: 6.5/10
Digital review copy of this title provided by personal funds.