Follow the bouncing… well, guess.
BloodRayne is known for a handful of traits; the blades that normally lay flat against her forearms; being a ginger daywalker; rubber-looking bodysuit tight as a blood pressure wristband. Oh, and her oddly-proportioned, early-Lara Croft "assets." But the blades are what do the most damage (in the game). Decapitations are prevalent, slashing guts is prominent, and just a lot of good ol' fashion curb stomping. Honestly, the stomping disturbs me a little… the rest is fine, but… damn.
This time, BloodRayne is roaming the land in 2D sprite form. It's a classic hack-and-slash side-scroller, which is nice because the fancy-shmancy moves Rayne is known for in 3D are easier to pull off with a more limited scope. Drawn up like a well-oiled cartoon/Flash game, Rayne runs through fighting zombies, blade-armed demons, walking blobs and electrical frog-looking things to find her dad and figure out just what the hell's going on.
Warning: this game gives you an infinite number of lives. Why might that be, you ask… it's because it's flipping' hard. I try not to swear in most of my reviews (and I think I'm about all swear-ed out from yelling at my TV), but this is one goddamn difficult experience. It also seems more than a little unfair; some check-points are close together and abundant, but there are those spots where you have to traverse half the level before you find a blood fountain to hook you up with some refilled life (as it's not available throughout the stages otherwise). There really needs to be a balance between "yank your hair out" and "dude you gotta see this" difficulty in games like this, and sadly this is a bit lacking.
The design of each stage is consistent in a Castlevania-ish sort of way, which I guess is what Wayforward was going for; sadly, the actual difficulty in each stage is hit-or-miss. There isn't much exploring – just moving to the left, right or up – and many of the "hidden" paths or items are in plain sight. Fighting is a mash-fest (especially after you learn you can hop on enemy's heads and avoid gunplay/blade fighting altogether very, very often) which is balanced only by adding more strong baddies to an area. Littered throughout are fixed points where many enemies spawn and attack in unison, and are generally regulated to their small area instead of being strewn about an environment. (that lead me to yank our more hair than anything I've played before.)
The fights themselves are more than a little lopsided; half the time you might not get the chance to get up before you're attacked again, instead losing life without the possibility of defense or fighting out of it. Her gun is ever-present, though with very limited ammunition, and you only pick up one other weapon throughout (and it's limited to certain stages to open doors; using it for battle is suicidal), meaning the options of attack and defense are limited. You can beef yourself up, either in health or ammo capacity, by collecting the red skulls scattered throughout the stages, but they're the only means of powering up (and they're completely optional, meaning minimal effect in the long run). The controls are even a little skittish at times – Rayne skids a bit more than I'd like when on moving at all on a tiny platform or over a hovering baddie, and it's hard to discern where she even is in a fight – which when combined with a number of questionable level design choices will either leave you angry or joyful that they're finally over. It looks to have been built from the ground up to look pretty, and that it does, but suffers from some serious polish on the play side of things.
It's because of play issues like those that makes this definitely a game I would rather watch than play. Events like a giant werewolf being stabbed in the head by Rayne's coffin are pretty kick-ass, and a lot of care has been put into the small details. The backgrounds are really pretty, and it's a good thing they are; they tend to stay around for a while (beyond the forest starting stage, anyway). It's a trait shared with greats like Metal Slug, only less appealing to pick up and try again. Some segments however, like turning into a raven and flying through a stage like a surgeon playing Operation, are both a good skill test and fun to watch. Lots of spikes are around though, dripping with the blood of flyers before you (and if you've died enough times, your old blood) which is another nice touch; you can almost see the tetanus on their rusty tips.
But, if you realize this is more style than substance, you might still find some amusement. The character sketches unlocked after beating the game is just a lump of paperwork with more than a few small gems sprinkled throughout. It doesn't change the fact that the experience turned me from a lover of side-scrollers and enjoyer of difficult, classic-style challenge into my buddy Ted with the reputation of chucking a controller so hard he damaged his walls in high school. No amount of zen can keep a player from dying so many times and feeling so helpless that they punch through a poster for a band they actually like. If you appreciate an abusive relationship however, this is the way to go.