Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review: 'Blood of the Werewolf' by Scientifically Proven and Midnight City

We're well past Halloween but that doesn't mean it's time to put away the spooky entertainment. I'm not just talking about your survival horror games that seem to be all the rage with the kids these days, or your Slenders, or even one of the plethora of zombie games; sometimes you just need some good ol' fashioned monsters, the likes of which literature and classic cinema have been based on for decades. Blood of the Werewolf, from Scientifically Proven and Midnight City, harkens back to a day of not only nostalgic fiction by featuring all of your favorite monsters but also of tried and true platforming gameplay that will challenge you and, if you stick with it, ultimately reward you in the end.

There's an interesting gameplay hook in Blood of the Werewolf: you split your time as deceptively dainty Selena, a crossbow-toting mother chasing after her kidnapped child, and Selena's werewolf form.  At certain intervals throughout levels you'll find yourself in moonlight, at which point you'll transform automatically.  Becoming a werewolf offers a whole new set of skills and abilities and adds some great variety.  I certainly had more fun playing as the werewolf - simply a personal preference, as I found that more interesting -  but there's a nice balance between the two styles; you'll never go too long in one form before having to play as the other, and unlike some titles with protagonist switches, you won't find yourself bored by either the human or wolf forms. Each form has upgradable abilities and very light RPG-ish elements to keep things interesting as you progress.

Blood of the Werewolf is hair-pullingly difficult in both good and bad ways.  Here are some examples of real life exclamations I made while playing the game:

-"Argh!  I just need to avoid that monster and jump onto that platform, then avoid that guy, shoot that one, and get across the water!"  Blood of the Werewolf has plenty of old-school sequences like that, requiring meticulous planning made over many trial-and-error deaths.  Keeping track of bad guys, moving platforms, environmental hazards, and more while testing the limits of your finger twitching to make jumps and defend yourself.  It's tense, exciting, and frustrating in the best way possible: once you complete certain sections you feel like you've really accomplished something.

-"Oh my God.  Are you kidding me?!?  How?!  What?!? $&#*!!!"  This is the dark side of difficult gameplay: when it seems like things are designed for the sole purpose of being annoying rather than challenging.  Some enemies (I'm looking at you, tiny flying bats) are just aggravating.  The most constant cause of this, though, is the knockback effect.  When you get hit, you'll fly backwards.  Unfortunately, it's a little too liberal, causing you to fly back into another hazard - another enemy, water, lava, etc - and you get stuck in a loop of being frustrated not because of your own failings but because of the game’s design.  I realize this is common in a lot of previous platformers, but the knockback is an old-school flourish I definitely could have lived without.

Aesthetically the game is great; there's a stylized, almost cartoonish design to the characters and levels which works well with its classic monster movie approach. Enemies are varied and levels are detailed, ranging from sewers to factories and more. You'll never find yourself wanting in regards to interesting visuals. Small touches - like your werewolf form getting bloodied as you devour enemies - really help to draw you in. The music also really helps to build the world, setting the right mood for each stage. The story is progressed by static cutscenes featuring a simple portrait and text, but there's some nice voiceover work that just campy enough to be fun and really brings the characters to life. It's an overall pleasant experience and as a player it's always nice when such obvious care is taken to all aspects of a game. How much you'll enjoy Blood of the Werewolf depends greatly on how you end up feeling about its difficulty. Some might not have the patience, but they'll really be missing out. The game feels like a love letter to classic films and games but doesn't rest only on nostalgia; it's determined to build its own world and style, and does so wonderfully. Blood of the Werewolf proves that old school fun is alive and well in modern day gaming and is a must-play for any platforming fan.

Blood of the Werewolf is available now on Steam.

Special thanks to Scientifically Proven/Midnight City for providing a copy of Blood of the Werewolf for review.

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