With two video games and a movie tie-in, BloodRayne is an unusual franchise in that it's recognizable without ever really meeting huge success. Set during World War II, it's sort of a grind house film of a game, where a sexualized half-vampire clad in skimpy leather kills Nazis and monsters. It's been a while since we've seen a new BloodRayne game, and for a while, it looked like the franchise might have gone to an early grave. WayForward, developer of fantastic titles like Shantae and Contra 4, were put in charge of reviving the franchise with the PSN and XBLA title, BloodRayne: Betrayal. The result is a game that is not only the best in the franchise, but also a fantastic platformer and action game in its own right.
The plot in BloodRayne: Betrayal is so light that you don't need to know anything about the BloodRayne universe to play and enjoy the game. Players are cast as Rayne, a half-human and half-vampire mercenary for hire. Betrayal focuses on her being hired to assault the castle of a vampire lord — who also happens to be her father. There aren't a lot of twists and turns here. Rayne is a very straightforward character, and you hardly see anyone human over the course of the game. It's more reminiscent of an old-school NES title than anything modern that's laden with cut scenes. This works in the game's favor, as it can be silly, campy and incredibly enjoyable without being bogged down in the characters or plot.
Combat is built around Rayne's twin blades, which are controlled with the Square button, and they are the only weapons you'll need. The combat system is simple but is surprisingly deep. While Rayne doesn't have a huge selection of attacks, each has a purpose. The default Square-Square-Square combo is fast and damaging. Adding an extra Square press to that causes Rayne to kick the enemy at a foe. Using different directions can allow Rayne to knock enemies at one another, sweep them off their feet to stun them, knock them into the air for longer combos or even bounce off them to remain in the air longer. There is no such thing as a useless move in Betrayal, and figuring out where to use which attack is a big part of combat. Defense, on the other hand, is relegated to a single move. Rayne has a dash move, which scoots her across the screen and renders her pretty much invincible for the duration. Use it wisely, and you can go through most enemy attacks. Time it poorly, and Rayne can be stunned by an attack and pounded into the ground.
Rayne is half-vampire, and with that comes the vampiric ability to suck blood. This is one of the more unique combat options at your disposal. As long as enemies are alive, Rayne can suck their blood. You do this by stunning an enemy with an attack and then tapping the Circle button. This is where things get interesting. Holding down the Circle button lets Rayne suck the enemy's blood, instantly killing them and refilling some of Rayne's health. It's worth a minimal amount of points, though. On the other hand, tapping the Circle button causes Rayne to bite but not kill the enemy. This "infects" them, represented by the foes turning a sickly shade of green. The next time Rayne taunts, the enemy explodes like a bomb. This does massive damage to anything nearby and can even trigger a chain reaction of explosions. This is an optimal way to get points, but it's riskier because you must leave the enemy alive and don't get the invincibility frames that you would from sucking their blood. Doing well in BloodRayne revolves heavily around balancing the two approaches.
In addition to your swords and vampiric bite, you also have access to a couple of guns. By default, you have the Magnum, which has powerful shots that penetrate every enemy between you and the edge of the screen. This is balanced by the Magnum's limited ammo; you have five shots (upgradable through collectible power-ups), and you're drained until enemies randomly drop more rounds. It's an incredibly effective crowd-clearing weapon, but you have to use it in the right place. Midway through the game, you get the Sun Gun, which is mostly a tool to solve puzzles but can also be used in combat. The Sun Gun has infinite ammo and fires a concentrated burst of solar energy at the target, like a sun-powered laser beam. If you hold the laser on enemies long enough, they'll heat up and explode. It's a tough weapon to use in combat, but it is better than nothing if you've exhausted your Magnum rounds. If you're careful, the Sun Gun can be used to hit certain tough-to-attack enemies.
BloodRayne: Betrayal has a pretty disappointing lack of variety when it comes to enemies. For the bulk of the game, you fight the same two enemy types over and over again. Occasionally, one of a handful of others will be thrown in, but can usually be taken down in one hit as long as you're close. As the game progresses, you encounter a few new types of enemies, but even they get repeated again and again. The combat system is fun enough that it isn't too frustrating to repeatedly fight the same guys, but some diversity would have been welcome. The boss fights are awesome. Each boss is a screen-filling monstrosity that is an absolute delight to battle, and the skirmishes require skill and strategy. They're few and far between but represent some of the game's best moments. With that said, it's a letdown that you fight the first boss twice — and consecutively. I'd rather have faced another boss instead to break up the tedium.
While BloodRayne: Betrayal doesn't have a lot in the way of enemy variety, it makes up for it by having a bunch of different backdrops. Pretty much every other battle takes place in an arena with a different gimmick. You may be fight above a volatile pool of acid, while lasers shoot at you, fight in darkness with only enemy silhouettes to guide you, or fight entirely in mid-air over a bottomless pit. The fights are fast, frantic and interesting despite the limited variation in enemies because you have to learn how to best utilize the arena. You get more points for knocking enemies into traps or environmental hazards than you do by just stabbing them.
These hazards also play heavily into the platforming. When you're not busy stabbing evil in the face, you'll be tasked with using Rayne's agility to dodge obstacles. She can dash on the ground and in the air to cover large distances. She can also wall-hop to reach greater heights. Perhaps the most important and tough skill to master is the backflip jump. By jumping just as you tap in the opposite direction, you'll perform a super-backflip jump that takes you roughly twice as high as a regular jump. This is tough to do on command but nearly essential to surviving the hazards.
For the most part, the platforming is fair and fun. It's difficult but never feels cheap. You have to be fast and precise to make it across the acid pools, spike traps and bottomless pits that line the castle. It's reminiscent of a more smoothly controlled Castlevania game. There are times when it can feel more frustrating than fun, and even at the best of times, the game expects a lot from the players. If your reflexes are even a tad slow, expect to fall into pits or be decapitated by rotating buzz saws with surprisingly regularity. The game is pretty lenient when it comes to death, so you'll simply respawn at the last blood fountain that you passed. There are quite a few of these fountains, so it's not often that you'll need to replay a long game segment.
What is the punishment for death? BloodRayne: Betrayal is all about earning a high score, so finishing the stage by forcing your way through is sure to earn you a depressing F ranking. If you want to get a better score, you've got to figure out how to finish the stage while staying alive and killing enemies in stylish ways. It's more akin to Bayonetta or Devil May Cry than it is to a more traditional platformer. You have to focus on stylish combos and awesome action instead of treating enemies as mere obstacles in your path. What is likely to sour BloodRayne for a lot of players is that the game can be very tough. Death can be fast and frequent, and there are sections that require precision-perfect timing. Even if you don't care about getting an F ranking, you're almost certain to suffer many deaths along the way.
There is another style of gameplay, but it only appears briefly. At a certain point in the game, Rayne gets the ability to transform into a raven. In raven form, she can fly freely, knock enemies around with a supersonic caw and get through small passages. These areas focus on flying and dodging deadly obstacles. While these segments are fun, they feel a little forced and out of place, as they don't mesh with the rest of the gameplay. Areas where you use the raven form are basically worthless for her human form, and areas where her human form shines tend to have traps that disable the raven form. Compared to similar transformations in games like Castlevania, it feels too divorced from the main gameplay to feel natural.
BloodRayne: Betrayal is an absolutely fantastic-looking game. WayForward's usual high-quality sprites are present, and every bit of animation is stunning. Rayne's movements are fluid, and she attacks with a fantastic grace. The enemies are large, disgusting and have a surprising amount of detail. Some of the environments are used in extremely clever ways. There are a few really cool sequences that take place in total darkness, using the light of the moon or a small fire to turn the on-screen characters into silhouettes. The music is quite good, with fast pulse-pounding tunes setting the tone of the levels. One really cool element is that the music changes as your health gets low. When Rayne is at minimal health, it changes to a soft, melancholy song. There is no voice acting in the game, as it uses comic book-style word bubbles instead. This mostly works well, although there are a few segments where voice acting is noticeably missing.
BloodRayne: Betrayal is one of the most enjoyable platformers I've played in a long time. Even if you didn't enjoy the previous BloodRayne titles, there is a lot to like here, $15 price tag and all. There are a few minor complaints, but the high quality of the rest of the game more than compensates for it. The high difficulty level and relative lack of replay value prevent this title from being a must-have. It plays smoothly, looks fantastic and offers enough challenge for the most seasoned gamer, but it's still forgiving enough that casual players can muddle through it.
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