The plot behind the BloodRayne franchise is one of those ideas that is both stupidly brilliant and brilliantly stupid. I mean, a half-naked half-vampire kills Nazis in a fantastic display of polygonal plasma… what’s not to love? You may hate yourself in the morning, but you have to admit, that is an awesome premise for a game. It was this reaction from gamers (and a trio of less-than-stellar Uwe Boll films) that caused the series to go dormant back in 2004. But you can’t keep an undead half-vampire down and Rayne has returned in the 2D side-scroller BloodRayne: Betrayal. And yes, she draws plenty of pixelated plasma this time. Sadly, there aren’t any Nazis.
Platform: PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Played)
Genre: Blood-Drenched Side-Scroller
Release Date: September 6, 2011 (PSN), September 7, 2011 (XBLA)
ESRB Rating: Teen
Not only is BloodRayne: Betrayal a 2D side-scroller, but it uses hand-drawn sprites for all of its character models. So Rayne is no longer a sexy mistress of the dark, but a cute, Hot Topic toon instead. The style is actually very similar to some of the more gothic NES or Super NES games from back in the day. Even the game’s story, Rayne storms a castle to stop the Vampire King, is a simplistic holdover from the late 80s/early 90s.
BloodRayne: Betrayal was created by WayForward and the game will definitely feel familiar to fans of the developer. The score, with its quieter tunes and action-packed rock interludes, seems like it was written for a Super NES game in 1995 (which makes it perfect for a WayForward game in 2011). There’s also a boss battle against the “Crab Puncher,” a robotic monstrosity that looks like a leftover from Contra 4, another WayForward game. More inspiration can clearly be seen in Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden trilogy, but not the one that has graced the Xbox, Xbox 360 and PS3. Instead, Rayne’s swordplay feels very similar to that found in the original Ninja Gaiden trilogy on the NES.
The only thing better than one big ass sword is two big ass swords and Rayne has that part of her arsenal covered. Rayne can deliver vampiric beatdowns by running, dashing, flipping and wall jumping with the best of them. She can also grab stunned enemies and suck them dry for more health or infect them with her vampireness. Pressing Y pops these walking undead like balloons and takes out all the enemies in the general vicinity.
In addition to her wide array of ninja moves, Rayne is equipped with a pistol for some extra punch. The gun mixes things up quite well, but I was disappointed that standing too close to an enemy would often result in an errant shot. If a vampire ninja can’t kill a gelatinous blob from point blank range, what hope does that leave for mere mortals like myself?
There’s also a noticeable lag between when the pistol attack button was pressed and when the bullet actually left the gun. Because Rayne has to slowly draw her pistol from her badass long coat you see. This doesn’t explain why the same lag is present after Rayne receives the Raven transformation power though. A good one-two seconds elapse between the button press and the Raven’s scream attack. My frustration level is growing! Evermore!
So WayForward has proven once again that they love the NES era and know how to recreate the feel of the 8-bit classics in the 21st century. But it’s kind of a shame that BloodRayne: Betrayal is sunk by poor platforming controls and a difficulty curve that will leave even the most hardened 8-bitters crying for their mamas.
Rayne’s movements are floaty and she never truly feels like she’s standing still. This is pushed to ridiculous lengths the further in the game you go. By Chapter 8, Rayne is being asked to dash jump from tiny platform to tiny platform while dodging a kitchenful of flying knives. And if she falls, there’s a river of toxic sludge covering the floor. Because that’s fair. But this is just practice for an even more extreme acrobatic assignment in Chapter 13. That one is truly brutal and stops being fun after the 50th time you die. Well, really, it stops being fun after the fifth time you die on the same level. I just stopped keeping track after death number 50.
It’s at this point that you realize Rayne’s black leather bodysuit isn’t just standard issue vampire fetish gear. Instead, it’s a symbol of the dominatrix within that beats any sense of fun out of Betrayal. You’re a bad, bad gamer and you will be punished. Or, without all the tortured metaphors, the game just stops being fun.
It’s a shame as BloodRayne: Betrayal has a lot going for it. In addition to the Crab Puncher, there’s another inventive boss fight against the Crimson Demon, a blood god who’s exposed heart is his only weak point. As weird as it sounds, fighting a giant heart while wading through a river of blood inside a spooky castle just feels right to my inner eight year old.
Truly, the sprite-based art style is just fantastic and I hope Majesco decides to bring it back in Rayne’s next adventure, which will hopefully have less frustrating controls. BloodRayne: Betrayal is an interesting experiment in resurrecting a character that no one seemed to miss, but it’s not worth your time when there plenty of better modern side-scrollers, many of which were even developed by WayForward.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of BloodRayne: Betrayal was provided by Majesco for the purposes of this review.