Blood of the Werewolf is a tough-as-nails action platformer that marries core genre conventions with modern mechanics and ideas. If you took the "try, die, repeat" appeal of Super Meat Boy, the gothic themes of Castlevania, and combat elements similar to those in Final Exam, you’d have a reasonable idea of what to expect here. It's a world designed around werewolves, vampires, and other classic monsters from the Golden Age of Hollywood. While those not of pure blood probably won't be converted, platforming diehards should definitely consider Blood of the Werewolf a worthy descendent of its genre lineage, despite a few abnormalities.
The story is one of vengeance. When the werewolf species is hunted and wiped from existence, Selena and her family are all that remain. After her husband is murdered and her infant child is kidnapped, Selena sets forth to recover her kin and slaughter anyone standing in her way. The plot developments are delivered between stages, with voice acting that overlays still-images. There are a couple cinematics, too, but they aren't very animated. If you believe that platformers don't need much, if any, narrative, Blood of the Werewolf likely won't change your opinion on the matter. That said, we do see how this concept could be expanded upon and grown into something genuinely interesting in the future. What's interesting now, though, is how the game plays.
Considering the transformative abilities of Selena’s exotic species, play is divided between two styles: human and werewolf. In human form Selena is equipped with a trusty crossbow that can be aimed with the right joystick and fired with the right trigger – this can be used at all times, even while platforming, and it doesn’t slow you down any. But when you reach the area of a stage exposed to moonlight, Selena will turn into a werewolf, and her abilities will instead be a double-jump and close-range swipe attack. There isn’t a drastic or jarring difference between the two, but there is a difference, and it will alter the manner in which you play.
The difficulty is balanced evenly between platforming and combat, which, at the hardest times, coexist to present a punishing landscape to conquer. The various enemies inhabiting sewers, castles, graveyards, etc, all adhere to their own patterns and attacks, and learning these is a key ingredient to success. When environmental hazards – fireballs, crumbling platforms, shifting winds – become a factor, the stakes are raised substantially, almost always introducing fresh and interesting ideas with each subsequent stage. While the level design isn't near the top of its class — there are moments where enemy placements and layouts can feel archaic and unfairly prepared — it almost always succeeds at being exciting, challenging, and most importantly, satisfying.
Something we know the older gamers will appreciate is the attention to rhythm and timing when it comes to dodging attacks while platforming. Where the gameplay is certainly modernized in some respects, the fundamentals that originally defined the genre back in the mid-80s remain intact at the core of the experience. One minute things are reflexive and frantic, and the next, you'll need to calculate your moves. There was the rare situation where a button/directional prompt was unresponsive, but other than that, the controls are tight, precise, and up to the challenge. Even aiming with the right joystick while moving becomes second nature in a matter of minutes, and we were shooting up gators, gargoyles, and ghouls with ease. We would've appreciated the option to relocate the jump button to the left trigger — that way aiming wouldn't have to be interrupted when you need to jump — though it's not a crippling oversight.
Besides making it from A to B, there are perilously-placed gold and silver insignias to be collected, hidden areas occasionally containing upgrades, and, if you have a care about scoring high marks upon completion of a stage, a timer to consider. None of these need attention if you're only interested in playing through the game, but the luxuries they bestow can enhance and greatly assist you on your quest. For example, instead of only shooting standard arrows, there are pickups that will unlock fire rounds and three-way bursts. Same goes for werewolf form, which has its own distinct special attacks that can be acquired. Unearthing these power-ups, as well as growing your meters and raising your damage output by collecting insignias, helps to invest you in your role and better appreciate the world around you.
After every two stages, Selena will come across a classic monster that she'll need to slay to advance. These boss battles are pattern-based, and it's imperative that you adapt and function within the attack patterns, or you'll quickly be wiped out. You might think that this strictness is too primitive of a design choice this day and age, but to the contrary, it's actually invigorating. Upon reaching the first boss, we went at him hard, with a entirely overzealous attitude that resulted in our death. From there on out we switched our approach to disciplined and conservative, and earning each monstrous kill was the best kind of rewarding. Of the five bosses there are a couple that do underwhelm a bit, but there aren't any that are offensively bad — well, not unless you consider how hideous these beastly adversaries are.
Beyond the standard quest — which took us about five hours to complete — there are also Endless Challenge and Score Rush modes. Endless Challenge randomly sequences various prepared sections of map, testing your skills to see how long you can survive. Score Rush offers a full selection of standard stages that can be revisited, where a clock will count down and you'll have X amount of time to collect items and defeat enemies for a high score. Then of course to give it all purpose, there are leaderboards attached. Upon completing the story, we expected to give the additional modes a quick peek and move on, but we ended up sinking our teeth deeply into these diversions and imagine many others will enjoy doing the same.
That doesn't mean that the entire experience is without any headaches, though: the presentation is sometimes very unremarkable, the occasional case of questionable level design can irritate, and there are instances of clumsy collisions. Also, background and foreground distinction issues will interfere with your agenda at times — but since deaths don't mean all that much, it's a minor inconvenience. The game might appear average on the surface, and it won't turn anyone onto the genre, but the fact remains that it's clearly packaged for platforming enthusiasts that want to put their skills to the test. In that regard it's a success, and one that's surely worth the attention of its targeted audience. Blood of the Werewolf is set up for a sequel, and we can't wait to see where the developer, Scientifically Proven, takes things next. With a little refinement, an expansion upon the formula, and a more cohesive presentation, they might have a really big winner on their hands.
If platformers are your main fix, and the proposition of a steep challenge doesn't promptly induce a wince, Blood of the Werewolf is for you. Fundamentally, it's a product of the 8- and 16-bit eras, but with some modern play mechanics and features, it avoids feeling stale or relying too heavily on the past. This isn't a perfectly-designed game, nor does it advance the genre in any way, but what it does is provide side-scrolling veterans and retro lovers with the pure type of action they thrive on. When you take into account the shockingly low price tag, it's a monstrous value that's hard to resist. So in summary, if you're even semi-interested, don't hesitate to take a big ol' bite.
Blood of the Werewolf will put hair on your chest...and your back. All over, really.