I have played some wonderful platformers these past couple of years. Among my recent favorites are the indie titles Fly’n, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams and the Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures. I can say without a doubt that Blood of the Werewolf is now among them. Blood of the Werewolf is a phenomenal action platformer that has a great balance of difficulty, gameplay variance, precision, artistic style and atmosphere. Aside from a couple of minor complaints, Blood of the Werewolf is a solid gaming experience, and Scientifically Proven did a wonderful job with the first game in what I can hopefully call a promising franchise.
The setting takes place in the early colonial days of the young United States, and we follow the story of an enraged mother, Selena, who is out for vengeance as she search for her kidnapped child. During the course of the game we learn to form a bond with Selena as she narrates her thoughts of why they are in the Americas, her feelings for her late husband and her yearning to live with her child free from harm and persecution. She interacts with some famous monsters in her travels during the game, like Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. The story does seemingly end abruptly, but it did not upset me as it would in most games that have done as such.
Blood of the Werewolf is an incredibly stylish looking game with an almost Brad Bird (Pixar’s The Incredibles, Dreamworks’ The Iron Giant) inspired art direction. The normal monsters, Selena and the classic monsters are all given a unique makeover, giving them a death cold look to them, though it’s refreshing at the same time. For example, Dracula looks incredibly skinny and his skin is very pale, yet he dresses very dapper, has his fangs sticking out and carries a ghastly gaze with his white eyes. Other monsters, like gargoyles, zombies, skeleton warriors and random irate villagers all have a more simplistic look to them, but still stand out as unique in style.
The levels carry the same vibrant, stylish look as the individuals that occupy their space. Whether you are running through the underground sewer system, scaling the tower, escaping Selena’s burning home or running through the Port, each level carries with it a strong ambiance. Forest backdrops, caves, and the decrepit lab all carry a heavy Transylvanian vibe. Overall, the art direction is incredibly unique and stands on its own merits.
The design of Blood of the Werewolf is definitely inspired by the classic Castlevania franchise on the NES and Super Nintendo, before the series transformed into an RPG/platformer hybrid with Symphony of the Night. Much like Castlevania, Blood of the Werewolf uses the classic monsters, several similar locations (like mountain ranges, castles or labs and haunted forests) and a difficulty based on both precise timing and memory of the stage layout. However, Blood of the Werewolf separates itself from the classic Castlevania series with it unique combat system, Werewolf gameplay elements, and its high speed reaction based gameplay.
For playing the game, using the controller is the only option you have. While you can use the keyboard, it does not translate well at all. The button layout on the keyboard is so awkward that my hand started to cramp within two minutes with trying to jump, duck and switch abilities. While it is more convenient to aim your crossbow with the mouse, the layout on the controller is much more comfortable and practical.
The gameplay for Blood of the Werewolf is not as uniquely diverse as some other indie platformers, like Fly’n, but it does have its own merits and offers an exceptional degree of challenge and fun. In human form, Selena does the conventional things you can do in most platformers; you run, jump, climb ladders, and shoot monsters with your crossbow. As you progress, you can upgrade her health, special ammo limit, and acquire new abilities which are also upgradeable. The game, however, changes significantly whenever Selena is in an area of the level that exposes her to the light of the moon. She transforms into a werewolf and carries with her a new set of unique abilities, which include a double jump, healing and dash attack, among other acquired abilities.
The werewolf transformation segments take effect in specific areas of the game, and not every level allows you to transform. This isn’t like Giana Sisters where you can transform at a whim to allow yourself to continue on. Some of the good things that come from playing as a werewolf include being stronger and even reaching new areas thanks to your double jump ability. The double jump ability is a life saver, in fact, because there will be moments when you are hit in midair and, thankfully, you can easily recover and air hop to safety. The extra attack power of the werewolf is a welcome addition too, but its biggest draw is its reach. In human mode, Selena has the safety of her Crossbow to hit enemies from afar, aside from it being weak. However, in wolf mode, you have to get up close to attack, and most enemies lunge at you on the spot.
The variety and challenge of playing in both her human and wolf form will pick up the further into the game you go. The later stages have areas where there are shutters that open, either by hitting a switch or button, or there is a timing mechanic involved. This ups the challenge of the game, as it forces you to use either form to their maximum limit in whatever brief period of time you are given. For example, there is a stage where you ascend a tower, and you have to shoot a lever to go up the tower. Whenever the lever is hit, windows open up, letting in the moon to transform you, and you have to use the wolf form to not only scale the tower quickly but to also kill some strong enemies that will make it hell to reach the next lever.
Of course, that’s not to say the transformation segments are the only areas that offer you a challenge. There are quite a few stages in the game where you have to move quickly, take well placed shots and memorize segments to reach your goal. At the end of a couple of levels, there are some areas where you have to outrun some pistons that are looking to smash you into little bits. It can be frustrating at first, but after some practice you will eventually get by those rather difficult areas. I’d also like to take a moment to vent that I hate the bats that flutter around in the later portions of the game. They are the new Medusa heads (an enemy from Castlevania) and they make precision jumping very difficult.
The levels aren’t really that long, but due to multiple deaths, they can actually take longer than expected to beat. They are deceptively designed to fool you into a false sense of security, allowing you to foolish think you can charge ahead, only finding yourself either taking heavy damage or dead. The level layouts in the beginning are designed to help get you accommodated to the game’s unique and punishing experience. Later levels become more difficult, requiring more patience, precise jumping and maneuvering to make it across monsters or obstacles.
There are also five boss battles that, while not nearly as difficult as the stages you’ve traversed through, still supply a fun challenge. The bosses all follow simple patterns that lead to several deaths until you’ve figured them out. The bosses themselves are actually the classic monsters, offering their own unique challenges and varying abilities. The battle with the Undead Guardian, for example, uses a mixture of both the werewolf and human forms, while also forcing you to deal with summoned minions to make things more difficult. Mr. Hyde likes to charge you head on, but also has the ability to regenerate his health if things stop going his way.
There is also an upgrade system, through collecting various objects like golden signets or hidden ability upgrades in the game. This can lead to extending your health or special/ammo meter, which will allow you to survive longer in dire situations. The weapons and wolf abilities are upgradable by finding them in secret areas that are dispersed in many of the stages in the game. Some of the abilities you can get for Selena in human form include a fire arrow, which can damage monsters over a small period of time, and a multi arrow shot.
Aside from the collecting of signets and upgrades, there are also achievements for those that enjoy them. There’s also a leaderboard for those that want to rank themselves against other players. You can compete to see who can beat the levels as fast as possible with the least amounts of deaths. Beating a stage with minimal deaths and a faster time can also result in a higher grade. Aside from that, there really isn’t much else that you can do with Blood of the Werewolf. You’ll just have to wait patiently until the expected sequel.
Short Attention Span Summary:
As a whole, Blood of the Werewolf is a surprisingly good platformer that has easily become one of my favorite games. It’s a challenging game that is sure to frustrate you at times, but not enough to demoralize you from playing further. In fact, there is an huge feeling of accomplishment when you do finally beat it. There’s also plenty to explore and discover in terms of item collecting. However, after all is said and done, Blood of the Werewolf is a short game, clocking in at four to five hours to beat on your first play through. There still is the option to perform a time attack on every level to improve your score and rank higher on the leaderboards, but after that, sadly there is nothing left to do with the game. What I can’t stress enough, though, is that Blood of the Werewolf is an excellent game that offers a thrilling and fun experience that feels very rewarding. I highly recommend picking up Blood of the Werewolf if you are a fan of old school platformers with a challenge. I hope a sequel is already in the works.