I am not good at this game. Fifteen chapters and I’ve managed one C — Fs for all the others. Fourteen times it’s called me “Worm Chow”. Told me that I am old, that I am slow, that I have never possessed the peace of mind to let go of the thumbstick, to not mash the button while the animation plays and my inputs are meaningless. That my times are too slow, my combos too small, my damage taken too great.
BloodRayne: Betrayal is developer WayForward‘s take on the last-gen action game/Uwe Boll film trilogy featuring a leather-bound half-vampire Rayne that kills more or less everything that gets in her way. This is what WayForward (Shantae, Contra 4, the Wii A Boy and His Blob) does: they make old games now. They stitch together old IPs and old game styles and update them, and rather than being slaves to the past they reinvent. It feels very familiar, like someone flattened Devil May Cry (maybe you’ve played The Dishwasher?) and stuck the batting inside Castlevania.
Rayne travels between chapters by means of a rocket-propelled coffin (called a “coffin-rocket”) and has blades on her arms. The animation is smooth. The aesthetic is very Castlevania-gone-HD (one enemy, a dapperly dressed blonde man, recalls the Belmonts). Sometimes there’s piano music, sometimes there’s an orchestra, sometimes there’s a wailing electric guitar.
Gone are the Nazis and the pole-dancing attacks and the undead Western outlaws. This time Rayne and some commandos from a group called Brimstone are infiltrating a castle where the big boss vampire, Kagan (Rayne’s father), is throwing a party for a horde of identical monsters. You’re there to kill them all, as quickly and elaborately as you can.
Stun an enemy and suck their blood to regain health or tap the same button to “infect” them. They glow green and, on your command, detonate. They swell and explode, damaging the other enemies around them. If it’s enough damage to kill them, then it creates a chain reaction of swelling and exploding monsters. Which is kind of gross. But also worth points, so you want to do this as often as possible. The game’s grades demand it.
Plot? There are double crosses (maybe you picked that up from the name) and double uncrosses but they don’t matter. They don’t change which enemies you fight.
You unlock exactly one new ability and one new weapon over the course of the game. These happen at preordained times and you can’t take them with you to earlier levels. WayForward is not showing off their level design, making you marvel at how clever they are to build something that reveals new secrets as you revisit with new abilities. So you don’t go back to discover, you go back to master. And you know that as your score increases across replays, it’s a measure of your progress. Rayne isn’t getting stronger, you’re getting better. Being able to fly doesn’t make those earlier levels easier; your increased skill does.
You collect vampire skulls (they’re red and they float). Every five gives you the option to increase your health or your ammunition. They’re not too difficult to find, and they give you a chance to practice Rayne’s more elaborate acrobatics. You pull off high-jumping back-flips, fast-momentum jumping attacks, and stomp your way across pits via the heads of enemies like an Anime Goth Mario.
You’re supposed to repeat the same patches over and over, fight the same enemies and the same encounters. Every so often they throw another monster into the mix. There are a couple screen-filling boss fights (Kagan throws bodily organs into pools of blood and demons appear), but one player’s repetitiveness is another player’s practice run. If you’re playing it to see what comes next, it’ll only take a few hours (assuming your platforming is precise and your combat passable). But that’s not the point, is it?
It’s a comfort game, one that you can spend time with and wrap your adult-self in. Not a tattered childhood security blanket, but a queen-bed quilt that uses some of that blanket for its patches. It’s like where you would expect games to have grown from the early 1990s, smoother animations and clearer graphics and more complex and responsive controls. If only 3D hadn’t gotten in the way.
BloodRayne: Betrayal was developed by WayForward Technologies and published by Majesco Games. It is available through Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.
Brian Taylor is a freelance writer, photographer, and librarian. He also has a day job. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA and tweets too much as @brianmtaylor.