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Blood of the Werewolf: A Review
About the Author
John Roberts is a video game critic on HubPages and YouTube, reviewing that he sees worthy of the former, whilst reviewing Playstation One games on the latter channel. When he isn't worrying about the pettiest of things, he likes to go big game hunting in the Cabela's series of games, Far Cry 3 and Fallout while calling out "I'M JOHN 'EMMINWAY!"
The last time John transformed into a werewolf was when he was part of the civil war in Gilneas. After the years long conflict between patriots and rebels as well as a battle against the undead, Roberts left for Ironforge to write the song "Werewolves in Gilneas".
Bark at the Moon
Being as old fashioned and eccentric as I am, indie games didn't appeal to me when they were first introduced to Xbox Live and despite their reputation growing, I still consider them a blight. It's not all Indie games' fault though but rather the lack of quality control on Steam, pushing down titles worthy of a place by clogging the inventory up with Let's Player bait that will be consumed within an hour and forgotten about completely there after. Games like Amnesia, Outlast, Papers Please and The Wolf Among Us are the exception not the rule, and it's a painful fact that mars the reputation of Indie games. Now don't get me wrong, I want to love the Indie game scene and review its titles especially after the streak - or skidmark - that is next gen Triple A games. Or as I'm going to refer to it until it gets its arse in gear, "Tripe-l A".
I didn't need much incentive to buy this game and as someone is desperate for something new to play all I needed was the mere mention of its name and some screenshots. Seriously, just seeing the words "going back to the classic platformer" and "werewolf" were enough to get me interested not because I'm fanatical about both but because the current industry produces so much filth. Developed and published by Scientifically Proven, according to an in-game hint consisting of only eleven people, Blood of the Werewolf started out on Steam as a Greenlight game which I'm so glad has made it to the Xbox Live Arcade. It's also getting a huge update delivering more content on Steam, so if you're interested in supporting it you can find out more details on this page here.
What makes Blood of the Werewolf more than "Just another Indie game" besides not having 8-bit visuals and pretending to be from an era the developers weren't born in is that it dares to be a classic game. It's not afraid to have sprawling maps giving quality over quantity as while there are fifteen, they're some of the best platforming levels I've seen in a side-scroller. Whether SP deny it or not it's quite clear Castlevania had some influence not just on the challenge, but the complex level design, monster abilities and perhaps even the story. It's greatly inspired by early 1900s horror films, film noire and perhaps a little bit of Bioshock. Players assume the role of the not oversexualised female protagonist Selena whose husband is killed, her village sacked and her child taken from her. But she's also a werewolf and takes advantage of her powers when in the gaze of a full moon to rescue and avenge.
The first problem I encountered with the story is that while it's a good one, and I like how Selena gives a monologue after each level, she doesn't say exactly what happened. I want to say its keeping a mystery but the game doesn't so much as hint at who the main antagonist is, how you got your powers and what exactly happened to cause all this.
For the most part you'll play as Selena who at first may seem weak, but this only enhances the experience of playing in her werewolf form. In terms of mobility she's not the greatest character in a platformer, but she can still run, make rather large jumps and crouch to get away from danger. Armed with a crossbow she can aim with the right stick and shoot with the right trigger, as well as use special bolts that will cost her ammunition, a resource that is fairly easy to find. I find that the crossbow removes a lot of joy from the game as it's unlimited ammo makes combat feel less risky, and even if I do expend some of my valuable fire arrows or multi-arrows, do I care? No, because I can top up fairly easily. Having the crossbow use limited ammo, and giving a standard melee weapon would work better in my opinion and allow for some more interesting enemies as opposed to most of them just dashing or projecting globs of goo.
This isn't to say Selena is entirely boring but she feels a bit stiff on a controller, and I can only imagine that being worse on PC. It also doesn't help when combat is fairly slow and while it wants you to be challenged, most enemies don't put up much resistance. It's almost like it's self aware and has become apathetic about its own challenge. What makes her stand out amongst the crowd is her ability to transform into a werewolf which is instant but can only be done outdoors at midnight. As a werewolf your character is more melee-oriented and I find this to be how the game should have been made. When in your lycanthromorph form your health bar is increased but your resource of blood is far more limited, meaning that things like dashing, headbutting and more are going to be done far less. Biting and clawing your enemies is so satisfying especially when there's buckets of blood being spilt with each kill as the wolf. The werewolf can also jump greater distances and has access to a double jump, adding far more depth to the platforming side than if the game were just about Selena.
Unfortunately BotW is not without problems and it's a shame that in the werewolf form they become the most present. Being knocked back is a pain and while it is a nice throwback (excuse the pun) to the Ninja Gaiden/Castlevania games of old, it's irritating when you're such a large target. Its not as though I get to choose to play the werewolf so being able to swap out forms would be a lot more convenient, but then I remembered this game tries to be hard. Most of the challenge is fair from environmental hazards; liquids slowly drain your health and spikes instantly kill the player, but most monsters can be ran past without a care in the world. If you die there's no need to worry because of the checkpoint system which is simply too generous in a game like this, and infinite lives makes me question what there is to lose if I die. The moment you figure out that the game can be beaten that's when it becomes quite the drag, and I realised this before the first boss three or four levels in. There is some challenge to be found but this is mostly due to trial and error issues like not knowing when the platform is going to fall, or if it's going to go up into a load of spikes. The only improvements I could suggest are removing the health bar and doing something like Crash Bandicoot or Spyro, where you have only a few hits but you see the health as an object near you and not as a bar. That and hugely increase enemy movement and projectile speed so combat doesn't feel like a boring task.
Blood of the Werewolf has some redeeming factors though and that's RPG elements. You can unlock new abilities and upgrades to your weapons of choice by exploring the levels and finding ways to get them. This isn't like Wolfenstein: The New Order where you'll always get them, but at the end of the game you will have a few. What's great about this system is that they can be seen put to use, like I can feel the Werewolf's basic attack damage increase, or the crossbow's rate of fire become a lot faster. It's an interesting idea and certainly gives the combat reason to be more than just running and jumping, but that doesn't save it from being a slog half of the time.
The most puzzling thing about the game is its graphics design; at first it wants to be a Gothic horror tale taking place in America, then it suddenly goes into levels with machines we've not even come up with yet in the real world. Granted it makes for some great new ideas for platform puzzles, but I have to ask "why"? Was the game not good enough as a 18th or so century tale, especially when the main antagonist (no spoiler, it's on the Steam page) is Frankenstein? It's also weird that whie a lot of the character models look great in 3D and some of the environments nice, the style changes completely with 2D details to the environment and projectiles. It might have seemed like a good idea in development but it makes the game look like it's not just what it's trying to be, and being a hybrid it makes it hard to appreciate one style or the other. One last note is that the UI design has caused me problems in the past, such as the timer in the bottom left corner covering up ladders, crumbling platforms to lead down and secrets. It doesn't serve much purpose in the campaign so removing it would be a great help.
The soundtrack was good the first few times listening to it but you quickly realise how limited the songs are. For an Indie game I won't expect too much, but hearing the same track for multiple levels at a time is almost torture. The voice work is fine but only applies to Selena, the voice actor of whom is hidden behind loading screen hints (and I've died so many times to try find out), but she does a good job nonetheless. I still feel that - like most things in this game - it was there for the sake of being there.
Like most Indie games Blood of the Werewolf is the exception and not the rule for platform games of this new style game developer. It's evident from their Tweets, their site (which more often than not I cannot get to load) and praise that they've had a lot of fun developing this. It's no Sunset Overdrive in terms of how much love was pooled into this, but the game definitely seems like one of the closest things to the original goal I've seen in this kind of market. Many come close or do things they think are better, but I believe the developers did exactly what they wanted to. Unfortunately its not everything I want it to be.
This is a damn fine platform game and deserves to stand out among the masses of games that make people wary of this kind of development. It'd be amazing that only eleven people made a far better game than entire studios with huge development cycles and larger budgets if it weren't so darned shocking. While it's by no means perfect, and werewolves in Indie games are starting to stink up the industry, I'd still recommend you buy it for PC or Xbox Live Arcade. At the very least, try out the demo: you won't be disappointed.
Thanks for reading, have a pleasant day and be sure to comment and follow me on Twitter for more updates on upcoming reviews!