Review: BloodRayne: Betrayal

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While most publishers and developers are all too eager to leave 2D gaming behind for 3D imagery and virtual reality / motion control gimmicks, WayForward is on the front lines leading the charge to keep vintage 2D gaming alive and kicking. WayForward has worked wonders with numerous DS and Wii games in recent years, but the studio’s latest title, BloodRayne: Betrayal, is its first modern console game for PSN and XBLA. It was worth waiting for.

Taking its cues from legendary side-scrolling action games like Castlevania, Mega Man X, and Strider, Betrayal is a 2D hack ‘n slash emphasizing tough, gory combat and tricky, timing-based platforming. Rayne, the series’ sexy dhampir heroine, has been called back into action by the Brimstone Society to hunt down a vampire lord shacked up in a castle teeming with hordes of thirsty blood suckers, spinning saw blade traps, and other hazards. Don’t expect more story depth than what I just outlined, because you won’t find it in this game.

Rayne’s final mission (not really) sees her traversing 15 chapters, slicing, dicing, dashing, and leaping from left to right through one arduous stage after another. Majesco’s half human, half vampire femme fatale has an array of melee combos at her disposal, and using her dual arm blades she viciously yet gracefully minces enemies into bloody morsels. Rayne is also armed with a powerful sidearm, with limited ammo to be used only in dire circumstances, as well as a beam gun that fires a ray of light to hit switches and incinerate her vampiric prey.

She can leap and slide on walls, dash along the ground and through the air for a short distance (an important move to master, as it doubles as an evasion technique and a platforming maneuver), and grab hold of damaged enemies to suck their blood or infect them with a combustible plague that can be detonated at any time, setting off a glorious chain reaction of flying body parts and gooey vampire juices. Later on, she even gains the ability to transform into a Raven, enabling her to soar across long drop-offs and squeeze through narrow openings.

At times, Rayne can be a touch too, well, touchy to handle. The slightest mis-nudge of the analog stick will send her leaping into the air or darting off in an undesired and unpredictable direction, and in a tight spot – of which there are many — any error in control spells certain doom. It also doesn’t help that the controls aren’t very well explained. There is a complete list of controls in the ‘How to Play’ manual and early on certain actions are taught through pop-up hint guides, but in general it is up to the player to learn the ropes through trial and error. There are times when you will get stuck dying and retrying a tough platform sequence or wave battle, only to stumble upon a basic maneuver that allows you to proceed with relative ease.

Once you learn the controls and master the timing, there is a fluidity and elegance to the 2D combat and platforming that is second to none. The look of the game helps in this regard, as the cel-shaded graphics spring to life like animated pieces of concept artwork. Rayne’s animations are unbelievably smooth and graceful to behold, and the way her foes move and explode into gory bits is morbidly mesmerizing. The sloshy sound of gushing blood couldn’t be any more satisfying either, and the frenetic goth rock playing in the background suitably compliments the macabre presentation. Amazingly, this game somehow eked out a ‘Teen’ ESRB rating, even though it’s overflowing with violence.

Like its retro sources of inspiration, Betrayal is a challenging game, but it’s not nearly as cheap or frustrating as I’ve heard some wimpy folks making it out to be. Overall, the level of difficulty is very reasonable and very forgiving. Checkpoints are provided regularly, lives are unlimited so you can keep retrying from the latest checkpoint until you succeed, and the blood sucking mechanic turns all smaller enemies into walking health packs for Rayne to feast on.

The balance is only thrown off by a few steep difficulty spikes that will drive many players absolutely bonkers. In particular, levels 8 and 13 and one early boss battle are downright brutal and not particularly fun. But the rest of the game, including a surprisingly tame final boss (it only took me two or three attempts), is perfectly fair and more than manageable for even the average gamer. Make no mistake, this game will beat you up, and you will die a lot. However, you never have to restart a stage from the very beginning or worry about a game over screen stopping you in your tracks, so it’s not punishingly difficult. I struggled numerous times, but the more I played the more I discovered that my own impatience was the cause of the majority of my failures, not the design of the game.

How much replay value the game has to offer will largely vary from player to player. Speed run whizzes can probably clear the game within an hour, and I’m sure folks on YouTube have already uploaded such accomplishments. But the average player can expect the 15 levels to eat up four or five hours of their life. After that, motivation to replay is provided via a rating system that grades your performance in each stage, from ‘Worm Chow’ to ‘Dhampir’, and posts your scores to an online leaderboard. Collectible skulls are deviously hidden throughout each stage as well, and for every five you find you get to choose either a health or ammo upgrade for Rayne. The game’s trophies/achievements will also require every ounce of blood, sweat and tears you have to give.

There isn’t an overwhelming amount of content here, and a demo is available if the finicky controls and taxing difficulty are a concern. But what you do get for your $15 is an exciting throwback experience faithfully emulating 2D action games of old, and the sense of accomplishment to be gained by surviving the old school onslaught will more than justify the purchase. If you have a lust for pain and blood, BloodRayne: Betrayal is sure to please.

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Pros:
+ Fast and graceful 2D action platforming
+ Satisfying, gory combat
+ Beautiful gothic art style
+ Ranking system, hidden skulls and tough trophies provide solid replay motivation

Cons:
– A few maddening difficulty spikes
– Touchy controls take getting used to
– Controls could have been more clearly explained
– Slight on story and content

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Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN, also available on Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Majesco Games
Developer: WayForward
Release Date: PSN – 9/6/2011, XBLA – 9/7/2011
Genre: 2D Action Platformer
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!