Blood of the Werewolf Review (PC)

Blood of the Werewolf is an indie platformer that hearkens back to an age where playing games was not simply a relaxing past-time where we were able to sleepwalk our way through, hand gently held by benevolent developers. Another way of saying that is that Blood of the Werewolf is a bastard-hard old-school platformer, where death is frequent – success and satisfaction are hard-earned.

Drawing on the spirit of games like Ghouls and Goblins or the older linear side-scrolling Castlevania games, Blood of the Werewolfputs you in the shoes of Selena. Selena is a mother, a crossbow wielder and as one might deduce from the game's title - a Werewolf. The story finds Selena in a dark place - a recent immigrant to the United States her husband has been murdered and her child - the last of the Werewolves - abducted. While the story is fairly rote - save the child and get bloody revenge - the between level cut-scenes are acted with conviction and it's refreshing to see a strong, non-sexualised female protagonist. If Blood of the Werewolf had gone with a typical brooding muscle-bound male hero, you feel it would have lost some of its appeal

Werewolf Selena showcasing her talents

The game also features lovely hand-drawn sprites representing the characters and monsters throughout. While the animations are fairly basic and the environments a little repetitive, the detailed sprites for Selena and her progressively bloodier werewolf form lend a certain amount of savage charm to Blood of the Werewolf.

Levels in Blood of the Werewolf take place in fairly traditional platform/horror movie locales, from to sewers to science laboratories (of the kind we imagine are operated solely by madmen) via graveyards and spooky towns. Furthering the ties to old-fashioned horror movies are the boss battles, which see Selena face off against silver-screen favourites such as Dracula, the Mummy and Mr Hyde.

The game eases you in from the start with a tutorial level that showcases basic platforming and combat techniques, as well as ably demonstrating the werewolf form. When Selena is outside and touched by moonlight (the game is set over the course of one evening) she transforms into a bloodthirsty Werewolf who powers up her special moves by eating defeated enemies' hearts, which is fitting, if a little macabre. In human form Selena uses her rather pathetic basic crossbow to do battle with the various monsters, through it can be powered up with special abilities that are picked up throughout the levels (some of which are rather well hidden indeed).

The first level turns out to be something of a red herring, with an ample health bar, Selena is barely affected by the rather pathetic foes that populate the sewers. By the second level you're introduced to one of developer Scientifically Proven's favourite tricks – the instant death, crushing machine. It's a jarring difficulty spike, but it sets the tone for the rest of the game, which veers between simple satisfying platforming and jaw gnashingly frustrating sections.

Boss fights can become battles of attrition, with their giant health bars

It may simply be that I'm no platforming expert (in fact that's definitely a part of it), but on completion of the second level, the leaderboard showed that I had died 30 times. Gazing down at the fates of others I spotted a poor chap who had copped it a whopping 86 times. I'm hesitant to criticize games for being 'too difficult' (mainly because it makes me look a bit rubbish!), but the check pointing system could certainly be kinder – there's nothing so frustrating as reaching the very end of a tricky section, dying at the final hurdle and being sent right back to the start.

Despite the difficulty, the platforming sections are mostly well constructed, introducing you to a new kind of trick, trap or enemy, before complicating things by adding further elements. For instance the Laboratory level has electrical sensor traps. To pass them you need to time your movement perfectly, or they'll send out a homing laser beam to attack you. This becomes a more challenging obstacle when combined with conveyor belts that try to pull you in one direction and mad scientist foes, chucking their poisonous potions at you. What was a simple timing challenge becomes one of precision and reflex too. Blood of the Werewolf excels at ramping up simple puzzles into more difficult combinations, which is perhaps why the games reliance on simpler instant-death sections can be a little frustrating.

Sections where you play as a werewolf swap Selena's crossbow for some rather sharp claws and her graceful leap for a slightly smaller jump – compensated for by being able to use it to double jump. For the most part, Selena's challenges are the more intricate and difficult, whereas the werewolf is an opportunity to unleash any frustrations in the traditional manner of erm... ripping foes apart and eating their hearts. It adds some welcome variety to the game as it switches between two slightly different control schemes and sets of abilities.

The death screen - you'll be seeing a lot of this

Boss battles are mostly a case of learning enemy attack patterns and avoiding their abilities while waiting for an opportunity to strike back. Like much of the game, these can vary between feeling just about right in terms of difficulty, to being that little bit too hard. Overcoming some bosses takes a certain stubbornness in the face of what can feel like a cruel challenge, but there is a real sense of relief/satisfaction to be earned in doing so.

Blood of the Werewolf is a game that does almost exactly what it says on the box (though obviously being a digital release, the box is in this case metaphorical). It's an old school platformer, in a macabre horror world populated with tricks, traps and freakish foes. The difficulty of the game veers between perfectly pitched and pretty damn frustrating, marring the experience somewhat for those of us lacking the heightened reflexes of a supernatural monstrosity. Despite that, it's a finely crafted package worth experiencing for fans of the genre and those craving a challenge.

Top Game Moment: Becoming the Werewolf moments after a particularly gruelling platforming section and tearing through your foes in an act of bloody retribution.

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