A monster mash

With all the power of PCs and new-gen hardware, it’s easy to get lost in the allure of modern amenities when it comes to videogames. But what really matters, and what keeps us coming back for more, has always been the gameplay itself. So, for me, it’s always a joy when someone decides to buck the trend and bring us a 2D platformer, hearkening back to a genre that served as a cornerstone of the industry for so long. The latest title that wants to remind us of the importance of substance over style? An indie game called Blood of the Werewolf.

Selena is one of the last living werewolves in existence. She and her husband have done their best to hide their bestial natures from the world around them and raise their son, the last hope for the werewolves, in seclusion. Some friends from the old country named Dracula and Dr. Frankenstein aren’t too keen on that idea, however, and they slay Selena’s husband when she’s not home and kidnap their child. Unfortunately for them, they decided to do this on the night of the full moon. Unleashing the monster within, Selena’s now in a race against time to get her son back and taste vengeance for her slain husband.

After playing through only a couple of levels as Selena, you’ll immediately flash back to the “good old days” of platforming where each stage is chock-full of pummeling pistons, crumbling shelves, and some purposefully placed bad guys as you work your way through the game’s 10 stages and five boss fights in the form of classic monsters Mr. Hyde, Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Mummy, and Frankenstein’s Monster.

One instance in particular that screamed “old-school” for me was when I had to jump down a shaft that seemed to go on forever while automated pistons fired just above my head as I fell. If I adjusted the wrong way in mid-air, I was turned into a bloody paste. After what felt like several agonizing minutes (it was probably only a few seconds in reality), and a few heart (and body) crushing deaths later, I successfully made it to the bottom of the chasm and the end of the stage. However, Blood of the Werewolf does adjust a tad for modern audiences. While difficult traps like the one described above are present throughout, there’s no limit on lives, and generous checkpoints are scattered throughout each stage.

Coupled with the tight platforming is some solid action. Since Selena’s a werewolf, you’d be right in thinking she’d have all the powers of one—and then some. The twist here, though, is she can only use her wolf form when she’s directly touched by the moonlight. This means that for a lot of the game’s interior levels, Selena has to use other means, specifically a crossbow, to work her way closer to her lost son.

Each form has its own benefits. Selena’s attack range in human form reaches across the screen with the crossbow. She can also burn opponents when she unlocks fire arrows and when you consider many of her enemies are undead, fire can be a huge boon. Her werewolf form, however, has a double-jump, which has obvious benefits in a platformer. While the range of her claws is very limited, they can often kill most enemies in one hit.

Though I enjoyed the idea of not being in wolf form all the time and appreciate that both the crossbow and wolf forms can be upgraded by finding hidden relics scattered throughout each world, I wish I would’ve had a choice over whether or not I could enact the change in Selena, instead of having it dictated by the a level’s design or motif. The wolf is far more powerful than Selena’s human form—understandably so—and it made me miss those abilities when I was forced to remain as a human for long stretches of the game. A meter of some kind would’ve satisfied my longing for better balance between the two forms.

Speaking of better balance, the stages themselves can be brutally difficult at times, but that makes it feel invigorating when you finish each one. The boss battles, on the other hand, feel more like a break from the rest of the game instead of continuing the pulse-pounding action that builds up to the confrontation with these classic horror characters. Their patterns are easy to recognize and even easier to avoid. That’s a bit of a letdown, even if it’s fun to see each character was reimagined here.

Now, when this game was first released on PC last year, a major issue some folks had was the replayability. While the campaign’s enjoyable enough and lasts about six hours depending upon your skill level, there’s not a lot to bring you back to it. The Xbox 360 version (as well as an upgraded PC release) solves this issue with two additional gameplay options.

The first is Endless mode, which sees how far Selena can go in a single life as she takes on 100 different rooms not seen in the main game. Thankfully, your upgrades from the campaign carry over here, giving you a reason to go back to the story mode and find collectibles you might’ve missed the first time around. The second inclusion is Score Attack mode, which features a timer that counts down to test how fast you can work your way through each non-boss stage, earning points and extra seconds for collecting items and killing enemies. Plus, each mode has a global leaderboard, to help appeal to your competitive side.

Blood of the Werewolf exudes a vintage charm that cannot be denied. With its spot-on controls and interesting premise, there’s more than enough content here to warrant the cheap price of $6.99 on XBLA. Because of this, it begs gamers to test their skills and see just how much they can get done before the full moon sets and the sun rises.

Developer: Scientifically Proven • Publisher: Midnight City • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 06.11.14
Blood of the Werewolf is a solid 2D platformer that hearkens back to a bygone era. Tight controls and decent action make up for somewhat bland aesthetics, while the extra modes seen in this version offer more than enough replayability to garner a look from most gamers.
The Good Crisp platforming and tight controls reminiscent of classics in the genre.
The Bad Needs better balance between wolf form and human form; boss battles are a breeze compared to the levels.
The Ugly How many bodies did Dr. Frankenstein dig up to make a 50-feet-tall monster?
Blood of the Werewolf is available on Xbox 360 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. Review code was provided by Midnight City for the benefit of this review.