Developer: Scientifically Proven
Publisher: Midnight City
There’s a lot to be said for a good old-fashioned 2D platformer. It’s been a mainstay of the industry for decades due to its simplicity and accessibility as a genre. But as such the plethora of games has made the genre a little stagnated in that almost everything that can be done has been done to it. The room for innovation is limited, but as such is celebrated when it is executed well. So now Scientifically Proven – an indie developer – have created Blood of the Werewolf, their offering in the world of 2D platforming, currently available on Steam for £7.99, but how does it compare to nearly 30 years of history?
In the game, you take control of Selena, a werewolf, who is on the hunt for her missing child, Nickoli, who is one of the last surviving werewolves. Her journey will take her through a variety of landscapes and enemies, with tough obstacles to overcome. She’ll face bosses who are literally a who’s who of fantasy horror titles - Dracula, Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll to just three.
The main mechanical focus, when it comes to gameplay, is that you play the game as Selena in either human or wolf form. In human form, she is armed with a crossbow – whose aim is controlled with the mouse – which she uses to combat the enemies she comes across. It can also be used to shoot switches and other objects which can impact the surroundings. As a wolf, Selena grows in size and can use her brute strength to swipe at enemies. Also she inherits that well-known werewolf ability of the double-jump allowing her to reach even higher or further places than in human form. As is probably apparent from those descriptions, the two forms control and play very differently, but the ability to switch between them is preset in the game rather than at the player’s will. Indoor / underground sections where the moon is blocked out will be played as a human, whereas outdoor / windowed areas will be as a wolf. On the face of it feels restrictive, but actually what it allows the game to do is have sections specialised to either form, allowing for tighter level design rather than having to accommodate either form.
As well as being a standard platformer, there are also hidden upgrades which the player is encouraged to hunt for in all the nooks and crannies of each level. Some will provide general upgrades to the power of Selena’s bow or the wolf’s swipe, whereas others will be more specific upgrades such as allowing Selena to fire multiple arrows at once, or unlocking special wolf attacks that do more damage. What you’ll find yourself doing is humping every wall in each level trying to locate the hidden gap that will take you to that unseen or unreachable area where these goodies are hiding. It’s a nice addition to the standard platforming you can usually get, and obviously there are benefits to having more weapons at your disposal against the platforming on offer.
Not least because this game is chuffing hard.
In fact it’s worth stating right now, that if you’re not up for a challenge, then this game really isn’t for you. It’s a game that has that well-coined “old-school difficulty” about it. It’s a game that expects you to die numerous times on a level on your first run-through. The game is not afraid to throw unforgiving combinations of enemies and situations at you, which, through lots of (sometimes frustrating) trial and error will see you progress eventually if you persist. Like most other difficult games it also succeeds in that sense of achievement of overcoming a particularly difficult section is a great feeling, especially if it’s been kicking your ass for the last 10 minutes solidly.
But for me the difficulty level of this game, whilst making it enjoyable in one sense, also presents some balance issues that prevent the game from achieving greatness. For one, the boss fights are incredibly easy in comparison to what you have to experience in getting to them. And whilst this isn’t unique to this game in question, in particularly difficult games, bosses need to present a challenge to keep up the feel of difficulty. Imagine if Dark Souls’ bosses were all easy – the game would feel flat, and that’s exactly what happens in Blood of the Werewolf. It’s a shame, especially given the famous faces on show that you have to overcome.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, certain aspects of the game’s design and mechanics seem to hamper the flow of the game, and make it unnecessarily difficult. For example, there is a “knockback” effect whenever Selena is hit, which can fling you uncontrollably off course to your death, or deliver lots more damage, or fall back 5 minutes-worth of a level. Also it’s very unclear in-game whenever you’re near spikes / certain ceilings and floors, what proximity constitutes instant death and what is OK. Both of these issues counter the very precise and fast-paced platforming design the game excels at, which is a shame because when it clicks it all works very well. Some will argue this is the game’s charm; that this is inherent in the challenge of the game, and that such challenges are purposefully designed for the player to overcome. From my perspective, I’d posit that a game shouldn’t become more difficult due to design flaws, rather than being difficult by well executed design. But unfortunately there are sections that will frustrate in Blood of the Werewolf because of this.
Outside of these issues, the controls actually feel quite tight. I would 100% recommend playing this game with a gamepad as it will greatly improve the control of your character. I would also recommend you map your controls so that you don’t have to press an additional button to use ladders with Selena, as this can otherwise be quite fiddly. If you do these things, you’ll find Selena a very wieldy character to navigate the levels, with pressure sensitive jumping and mid-air controls that feel intuitive and responsive. But the game understands the fluid controls it has given you and boy does it make you use them. You’ll definitely be needing different jump heights and mid-air manoeuvres to overcome the complex challenges on offer – again getting through which can feel oh so good.
One area I didn’t expect to be commenting on in a platforming game is the story. Normally reserved for paper-thin stories of princess-rescuing plumbers or do-gooder hedgehogs, Blood of the Werewolf bucks the trend by providing a narrative storyline between each level to add to the sense of purpose in rescuing Nickoli. Monologues from Selena form the majority of these as well as conversations with bosses, and to be honest in the main they are quite emotive, and even pose moral questions on occasions about the meaning of freedom, good parenting and will. It’s nothing revolutionary, and certainly won’t drive you to play the game more, but it certainly adds a nice atmospheric touch to the game.
Speaking of which, there are some other nice aspects to the game as well, with references to horror classics done in a nicely stylised way. I’m particularly fond of the intro to each stage being displayed like an old horror movie title, complete with musical accompaniment. There are also some rather pleasing horror references to be found for the eagle-eyed gamer. For example I spotted a few levels in, an advert on a billboard for a company known as “Belmont”, and that was just one of many. It’s clear the developers have a passion for the horror genre and want to make this a horror experience, which succeeds and fits with the game design and feel.
In terms of length, you’re pitted against 10 regular levels and 5 boss fights – which will last you around 7-8 hours on your first playthrough, depending on how badly the difficulty stings you. The game has a level select feature to allow you to revisit levels and pick up any collectibles and hidden items you may have missed. The biggest draw though – especially for you achievement hunters out there – will be trying to beat your time for each level. The timer keeps running even if you die, so there’s real pressure to perfect those puzzles and not die so that you can clear in the quickest time, and improve your time – and rank. This will undoubtedly add play time on for those willing to put the effort in.
So where does Blood of the Werewolf place in terms of 2D platformers of days gone by? Well, the answer is actually quite well. Its tight controls and nice touches in its design present some addictive platforming and some devious challenges to boot. Its classic horror vibe is present throughout and backed up by a story with a surprising bit of depth, even if the situation of having your baby kidnapped by Frankenstein is almost laughable. For £7.99 you will find a nice refreshing challenge, but unfortunately at times you may also find a section that will frustrate because the game makes things unnecessarily difficult or confusing on occasion. It can be off-putting and stops this game from being considered one of the best platformers around, but it certainly wasn’t enough to stop me wanting to complete the game, and revisiting certain levels afterwards too. If you’re not all “horrored-out” after Halloween, then Blood of the Werewolf presents an enjoyable experience with enough varied gameplay to keep you hooked.
- Tight controls
- Good level design – specific to both human and wolf form
- Horror touches
- Difficulty level provides a real sense of achievement...
- ... but it can frustrate when it feels cheap and down to poor design
- Simple boss fights
The Short Version: Blood of the Werewolf is a solid horror platformer, with a high difficulty level and a werewolf dynamic that adds variety to the levels on offer. Hidden extras and a well-executed narrative theme add to the enjoyable experience. If you can look past some of the design niggles, and are up for a challenge, you will find a game that harks back to the hard-as-nails platformers of yesteryear, and provides good value for money.