There's a fine line between playing homage and being a complete and utter rip-off. BloodRayne: Betrayal is the latter. It borrows heavily from classic Castlevania games, especially Rondo of Blood and Dracula's Curse. And yet, instead of being repulsed by the blatant aping of some of Konami's best side-scrollers, I ended up falling in love with this 2D marvel. That's the first time I've ever said that about a BloodRayne game.
Let's not mince words here; the BloodRayne name doesn't hold a lot of cache these days. After two middling 3D action games and three of the worst movies of all time, it's hard to get excited about the further adventures of Rayne the vampire. But fear not, because BloodRayne: Betrayal is here to shatter your preconceived notions about the series. This Xbox Live Arcade release is an incredible reboot to a series that desperately needed something to remain relevant. If this is the future of Majesco's long-running series, then let me get a chair and stay awhile.
Much like the past entries, you play a sexy vampire known as Rayne. This sword-wielding seductress knows a thing or two about getting her way, and it usually means getting a little bloody. In this game she's brought in to help stop something or other from ... actually, there's barely a story here and the last thing I want to do is get bogged down into describing the worst part of the game. BloodRayne isn't about the deep characters and story, but rather the incredible action sequences.
Unlike past BloodRayne games, Betrayal gives us a solid 2D action game with spot-on controls and plenty of moves to master. Think of it as a mix of old school Castlevania and the combat of Devil May Cry. Your arsenal of attacks is surprisingly deep, giving you countless ways to launch enemies in the air and continue epic combos in style. While a lot of games are content with letting you mash the "X" button, BloodRayne requires you to learn complicated maneuvers and improve your fighting prowess.
Not only does Rayne have her powerful blades, but she's also packing a powerful gun ready to take on enemies from far away. Getting low on health? Don't worry, because Rayne is able to chomp down on her enemy's necks and drink the sweet, sweet blood (recharging her health bar). You have a choice to let your victim live ... or so they think. If you let an enemy live, you'll be able to blow them up at any time to hurt other enemies and keep your kill combo alive. All of these moves play a big part in mastering this exciting Xbox Live Arcade game.
On top of the waves of bad guys, players will also have to deal with a lot of platforming challenges. Rayne isn't a fan of walking, so it can take a few minutes to get used to the speed in which she travels. She also has a dash attack, though the game never actually mentions it in the tutorial. Eventually Rayne will pick up a second gun (which is mostly used to solve puzzles) and even turn into a bird. All of these changes are added to the variety of each chapter. There are 15 levels in all, each getting increasingly more challenging. Gamers looking for an easy ride will get run over almost immediately. There are sections in this game that had me stuck for hours, constantly trying to make the quick jump or dodge the speeding saw blades. Yet I never felt like the game was cheating me. And once I finally cleared those feverishly difficult areas, I felt a sense of pride I don't normally feel in today's modern action games.
Along the way you'll meet up with several large bosses, each with their own patterns to memorize. Like so much of this game, these baddies feel like they are straight out of a 16-bit Genesis game. I was happy to see that each boss tested the new moves/abilities the game taught you along the way, making them a necessary obstacle on your way to mastering the game's many gameplay mechanics. And just like the platforming difficulty, gamers who don't like an old school challenge need not apply.
BloodRayne: Betrayal is visually breathtaking. The hand-drawn backgrounds, characters and bad guys are stunning in HD. The backgrounds (which include forests and castles) may not be anything new or original, but the way they are painstakingly detailing these areas makes this one of the best looking games on the Xbox Live Arcade. The animation is also slick, which shouldn't surprise anybody given the expertise of the developers at WayForward. From the first time you see an enemy jump into the screen to the final boss, BloodRayne's presentation is nearly flawless.
Sadly, the game does have a few flaws. For one thing, the level designs aren't always the most exciting. They often feel like a way to get you into a room with waves of enemies. Speaking of which, the game could have used another two or three enemy types. It didn't take long before I got tired of fighting the same blue-coated soldier. What's more, the story could have been more interesting. Even if this is an action game, it would have been nice to get some context and character development.
Of course, we've barely touched the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room. The more you play of BloodRayne: Betrayal, the more obvious the Castlevania comparison becomes. At one point in the story the villain magically raises a castle out of thin air. In another part of the game you are given the ability to turn into a flying creature. Heck, even the last boss looks exactly like Dracula's final form in Rondo of Blood (complete with the same background effect and attacks). This is more than a loving homage, this is WayForward grabbing everything they like about Castlevania and adding a sexy vampire.
I know I should be more critical of the obvious rip-off, but it's hard to hate a game that is this solid. The controls are precise, the action is constant and the challenge is rewarding. Even if the story elements don't hold up, I always wanted to see what was next for Rayne. Fans of older Castlevania games will be pleased with the way BloodRayne plays out, even if it's plowing familiar ground. The stellar presentation makes Betrayal the best BloodRayne game ever made.