Blood of The Werewolf PC Review
I am fascinated by the tug of war between the simple pleasures of arcade experiences where depth is hidden within a small, closed circle of gameplay systems, and the sheer abundance of a sprawling, multi-layered machinery. Super Mario Bros. vs Elder Scrolls – games that trade in widely different characteristics, but that somehow both give off their own irrefutable sense of substance. Blood of The Werewolf proposes the former.
“Old school” is a term that is bandied around a lot – to the point where the merits of its application become debatable – but I’d be amiss if I didn’t call BoTW distinctly old school. Though its presentation circumvents the usual pixel art and chiptune shenanigans of games typically earning the moniker, this perfectly echoes the kind of no nonsense action platforming I couldn’t get enough of as a kid. Half of the ones I loved to play weren’t even particularly great, which may make my commentary on this game somewhat dubious, when even its flaws lend it an air of nostalgia.
The touchstones seem to primarily be the likes of Ninja Gaiden, Castlevania and Ghouls and Ghosts. Progression is linear and punctuated every few levels by a boss fight. Enemies are sprinkled throughout, but the main crux of levels is timing and precision based platforming. It’s not uncommon to be jumping on platforms that give way, while simultaneously avoiding incoming enemy projectiles, or avoiding elaborate traps while fighting strong gusts of wind. It’s the kind of ARGH! DAMMIT! OKAY, ONE MORE GO-centric gameplay that defined games back when us oldies were schoolies.
You perform these feats as a werewolf named Selena. Her husband, Marko, has been murdered, and her child, Nicolai, kidnapped. On her quest to retrieve her son she’s shifting between her human and wolf form. The wolf emerges when Selena is in direct moonlight, and she reverts back to her human form indoors. The two forms have wildly different attributes. Her human form is armed with a crossbow, which you can fire in any direction by aiming with the right stick. She can collect damage upgrades and the ability to fire several arrows at once. The latter requires you to collect arrow pickups in the levels.
The wolf form sports a very useful double jump, and attacks with its claws. Upgrades increase damage done, and also grant special moves that can be triggered once there’s enough blood in your blood gauge — a metre charged by eating hearts dropped by enemies. If you wait between attacks, your basic attack charges up to a slightly more damaging strike. This usually takes out the normal enemies in one blow, and becomes an extra variable in timing your advances during platforming gauntlets, where one enemy can easily impede your path and send you flailing to your off-screen doom.
Levels can be replayed – mostly to grab the game’s collectibles, but also in order to improve your time and rank on a level. In order to get top marks you’re asked to never die once, and that’s a pretty harsh proposition that may just sound daunting enough to be enticing for some of you.
Blood of The Werewolf is an incredibly simple affair, and that simplicity can be compelling in itself. I certainly was drawn in by the fair and concise challenge it posed – much like Legend of Grimrock, actually – but where it falters is in the presentation. BoTW just isn’t particularly memorable. It checks the boxes for the type of level themes and elements a game like this *should have*, but it doesn’t really elevate any of them above emulation. It’s a bit like watching Superman Returns.
And the graphics aren’t to blame. I very much like the chunky, colorful geometry, and the enemies, bosses and especially Selena’s wolf form translate well from the bits of drawn artwork shown in cutscenes. The menus feel robust, and have a classic framing to them that feels lifted from an 8 bit game, yet avoid the weird, plasticy Flash/iPhone graphics feel some receive in the conversion. The sound mix can be a bit weird, with random sounds being overwhelmingly loud, but that aside it feels very competently done. It just isn’t cohesive, and lacks a confident sense of direction.
Levels are prefaced with a title card and music cue echoing early horror movies, but that tone isn’t reflected in any other aspect of the game, save for perhaps some of the boss designs. The story, meanwhile, is played very straight, and the game itself – which doesn’t provide much tone on its own – ends up treading an indistinct middle ground. The soundtrack has ups and downs, but more damningly wraps back around to the same tunes too soon to lend levels character that way. Monsters, locations and characters are instantly forgettable – there’s just nothing striking here to anchor the experience in your mind.
Which is a shame, because I essentially enjoyed BoTW. It is simple, but it gets basic things very right. The controls are good – having a nice jumping arc with just the right amount of after-touch to soon become addictive, and the game provides compelling platforming segments to put them to use. Boss fights are pattern based, methodical, challenging and fun. The crossbow attack that you fall back on for the majority of the game is definitely the weakest part of the gameplay experience in terms of feedback, but it becomes largely parenthetical with platforming taking centre stage. So – I’d love to love it, but there’s just too little personality here to develop attachment to, and the gameplay is ultimately too simplistic to shoulder that extra weight.
The category of old school, “maso-core” platformers is simply so crowded with more satisfying overall packages that It’s hard to recommend investing in one that is likely to leap, werewolf like, out of your consciousness as soon as you’re done. I will, however, watch keenly for future endeavours from this team.