Don’t let your opinion of the subpar third-person games and bad movies fool you: Bloodrayne: Betrayal is an old-school platformer that will kick your ass while putting a smile on your face.
Sidescrollers have enjoyed something of a resurgence in the past few years. Trine, Shadow Complex, Outland, the DS Castlevania titles, Aliens: Infestation, New Super Mario Bros, Prinny: Can I Really Be The Hero?…the list goes on and on. Bloodrayne: Betrayal continues this resurgence by offering up gorgeous graphics, intense action, and a high level of difficulty.
First up, the visuals. As you can see, Betrayal employs a cartoony cel-inspired look that packs in a ton of detail. The various monsters you encounter look fantastic, while also providing Rayne with an air of lethality. As good as the game looks in pictures, it looks even better in motion. Check out this video:
I know, right??? The animations are incredibly fluid, and help provide the meager variety of enemies a real sense of personality.
Of course, the most important aspect of any sidescroller is how it controls. I hardly ever say this about a platformer, but I recommend you play Betrayal using the analog stick; it’s quite clear that the designers intended it to be done this way, as using the d-pad will only result in frustration. I know this might be a bit of an adjustment for some of you, but you’ll get used to it fairly quickly. As for how Rayne “feels”, I never felt like I died because of the controls…every one of her deaths could be directly attributed to something that I did, rather than something I wasn’t able to accomplish due to the controls. The jumping feels tight, and she has a real weight to her, providing you with solid cues (both visual and visceral) as to where you should put her next. The wall jumping mechanic makes it easy to traverse the vertical portions of the environment, and the high jump is easy to execute (just change directions real quick while simultaneously pressing the jump button.)
My only complaint about the control scheme is that it sometimes feels a bit tough to judge how high up you’ll go. While a light tap of the jump button will perform a partial jump (as has been the platforming standard for decades), there doesn’t seem to be a solid variety of jump heights. You’re either going to jump a little bit, or as high as Rayne will go. Luckily, the level designers seem to have taken this into account, but there are still a few jumps that seem like they could have used some distance and height tweaking. Still, like I said, death will be because of something YOU did, rather than the controls getting in the way.
Speaking of which, you’re going to die a LOT in this game. It’s not just a matter of memorization, because frankly, the various timings are easy to figure out on your very first try. No, the problem here is that the levels are genuinely difficult to navigate. Luckily, they hit that perfect sweet spot that encourages you to keep trying. Despite sometimes taking upwards of half an hour just to traverse a single section of a level, I never found myself quitting in frustration. The sense of satisfaction gained from finishing off a level felt fantastic; this is definitely a game that hammers on the “accomplishment” center in your brain.
While there’s only one melee button, combat manages to get intense as enemies gang up on you in ever-increasing numbers. You can use the analog stick at different points in the standard combo to change the type of attack Rayne uses, and you can even launch enemies in the air and send them rocketing across the screen (something that is occasionally required to clear certain obstacles.) While you lose health alarmingly quick, you can chomp down on a stunned enemy to partially recharge your health. This is an absolute necessity: there’s no way you’ll survive if you don’t do it. Alternatively, instead of holding down the “bite” button, you can also just tap it to “infect” an enemy, then make them blow up. This is a great way to clear a lot of enemies at once, and it saved me on many occasions.
You also have a gun whose ammo is replenished by picking up random drops from enemies. However, this pistol (which can be pulled out and fired at any time) is borderline broken: the bullets travel through enemies, and do a TON of damage. If you’re at the edge of a screen, you can take out a whole line of baddies with just a couple of shots. Your capacity is limited, and enemies can simply duck under your fire, so it’s kept somewhat in check, but I think the damage should have been toned down a bit. Certain enemies can be one-shotted, and most enemies can be taken down in two. With that in mind, you can easily get swarmed you if you’re standing there firing off the gun, so you won’t get much of a chance to abuse it. Hint: the gun is your best friend during the game’s insane boss battles.
Bloodrayne: Betrayal is beautiful, challenging, and just plain fun. If you long for the days of soul-crushing sidescrollers and you still maintain some old-school gaming chops, I highly recommend you check it out. Bloodrayne: Betrayal is available on XBLA and PSN.