Diving into BloodRayne Betrayal: Fresh Bites was something of a rollercoaster for me. Knowing next to nothing going into it, it wasn’t until after beating the game that I find out that BloodRayne was an old franchise from the early 2000’s. While the “Fresh Bites” moniker implies this is something of a re-release, it also didn’t entirely dawn on me that this was kind of a remaster. A remaster of a game originally developed by WayForward themselves, no less! All of these circumstances gave life to an intriguing curiosity that, unfortunately, the game itself provided little of.
A bloody affair indeed, BloodRayne Betrayal: Fresh Bites has something of a niche coating to its dark and brooding aesthetic. Having plenty of experience with WayForward’s Shantae series, there was a similar expectation that this would end up an amusing, if not ironic, spectacle. And not playing the original 2011 BloodRayne Betrayal doesn’t give me much insight on what all, specifically, was spruced up a decade later. Thus, take this as a perspective that’s just as fresh as the “Bites” promised in the title.
Story – Family Fun
Lightly coated in most chapters (stages), the story of this game is conveyed mostly in dialogue and destructive events. Some of this is done in-between real-time gameplay, while others are more dedicated cutscenes. Try as it may to fill players in with thinly-veiled exposition, a lot of the context of the situation is better left to synopses provided outside the game. Rayne is a half-vampire tasked by The Brimstone Society to deal with the evil activities of her father, Kagan. As she progresses, she’ll meet with other entities and stand toe-to-toe with a lot of demonic beasts. It does not try to be complex in the slightest.
A very straightforward narrative; even calling it a “narrative” is somewhat misleading. It’s more of a collection of events that transpire that the player may or may not care about at all. Characters appear for a minute, say or do something, then leave. What they do say doesn’t end up particularly riveting or witty, either. I did catch a “way forward” said in passing, which I imagine is a wink to the developer’s… self. Unfortunately, anyone wishing for a grand opera in terms of writing will be left further hungering.
Gameplay – It Hurts
The foundation of a good hack n’ slash game is the variety of ways in which you can do just that. Dynasty Warriors as a franchise would not be as popular as it is if all you were doing was smashing one button for twenty hours straight. How you smash others is the key to success—slicing or dicing or smashing or bashing. All the different ways in which you can combat adversaries ensures it never feels too repetitive. But before we get to how this title works with this, let’s go over some new things.
Fresh Bites is a reworked version of the original BloodRayne Betrayal by WayForward from a decade ago. What the company states as new includes “. . .voice acting by Laura Bailey and Troy Baker, sharpened visuals, and rebalanced gameplay.” What’s important here is “rebalanced gameplay,” which, from what I can tell, is code for “accessibility measures.”
Before entering any stage, the player can choose between two difficulties: Standard—the new “rebalanced” version, or Classic—the old “super difficult” version. My first playthrough was played on Standard, which still had some tough aspects due to the game’s mechanics (more on this later). Afterwards, I played a few stages on the Classic difficulty, which, frankly, didn’t seem too much harder. One or two fewer checkpoints, maybe; the enemies hit a tad harder, specific challenges are slightly more brutal. Though its relatively miniscule bump in severity may have been due to how I had just completed the game and was more adjusted to what it expected of me.
Nevertheless, even with the rebalanced maneuvers, one will inevitably run into some difficulty spikes. Most are just random, though also further along in the game’s stage list. They tend to spring up at random points in stages, within those “specific challenges” mentioned before. Maybe a platforming section that requires near-pixel-perfect accuracy. Or a gauntlet of enemy evisceration while simultaneously avoiding falling to your death. These are fine in theory, and shouldn’t break the flow too much. What ends up thwarting this is, well, Rayne herself.
Slice, Dice, and Restarting Thrice
One’s primary goal in BloodRayne Betrayal: Fresh Bites is to get to the end of a stage, killing everything while doing so. With only this in mind, it’s a fairly solid experience. Rayne has a large arsenal of different acrobatic moves and abilities she can take advantage of. Spinning and launching and kicking and cutting; a blistering buffet of baddie beating. And she has a gun (with limited ammo). Simply blazing through levels and ravaging anything that moves remains a constant source of entertainment. A plentiful variety of options—albeit haphazardly elaborated on—keep the combat engaging.
Platforming, however, is a mighty chore. This is not aided whatsoever by some very finnicky controls and bizarrely implemented maneuvers. Among the biggest offenders of this is this backwards somersault that grants Rayne tremendous air, occasionally required to progress through stages. This is not done through a combination of button-presses; that would be too simple. One needs to run in a certain direction for about a half a second, then quickly reverse course and hit the jump button. For tight spaces, and trying to maintain a flow in general, this is a nightmare. I also just like using it to try and bypass various sections or collect goodies. It doesn’t feel necessary to make its implementation so loose.
Such can be said of the controls in general, which often feel a little overwhelming with what one can do. Rayne is privy to all sorts of things, and early on, I found that pressing up-attack can launch her upwards just a tad more for extra airtime. Sometimes, however, the game will register I actually did side-attack, which doesn’t add much, leading to quite a few easy deaths (during platforming sections; go figure). Later on, you can switch between two weapons and transform into a bird, among all the other things you can do, which aren’t explicitly told until necessary. Hence, they only come to mind in those situational moments, lacking encouragement in using them in actual battle.
Playing through each stage, one accumulates points based on health lost and time taken, as well as other (not explained) specifications during combat itself. By the end, one is given a ranking between F and C… er, well, F and S. I just never got beyond C, and rarely got above F, honestly. These rankings don’t seem to symbolize much outside of just testing one’s proficiency. Although, they undeniably fuel replayability to see just how high one can get the score, given it holds no punches even for beginners.
Probably my favorite part of going through stages included bashing hidden treasures to increase my score and finding these red skulls in out-of-reach places. These red skulls serve as currency for permanent upgrades towards Rayne’s overall health and ammo limit. Every five red skulls, a screen will pop up asking what the player desires between the two: more health or more bullets (both have a maximum). Very Donkey Kong Country--like, though more basic in their placement (just check for places offscreen, generally). These were always rewarding to try and get to, even if some stipulations seemed incredibly demanding or arbitrary.
Though to put it all into perspective, this is a fairly standard 2011 game being reappropriated for a 2021 audience. However they may have “rebalanced” the gameplay, it still feels distinctly like a spinoff title from the era it was originally created. Some moderately chaotic control and brutal level design still persist, with an undeniable fixation on appealing to those “hardcore” players. I don’t see much of the point of recommending a slightly easier version of this game when other measures of accessibility have been more effective in bringing in a new audience.
Graphics & Audio – Bloody Hell
Also part of that “Fresh Bites” revamp was the promise of two things: voice acting by Laura Bailey and Troy Baker, and “sharpened” visuals. Let’s discuss the latter first.
I watched some gameplay footage of the original BloodRayne Betrayal before writing this review to compare to how it looks with Fresh Bites. While some things certainly stick out as “new,” I’d argue it still looks moderately similar. Rayne herself, most glaringly, looks right out of a Newgrounds Flash game from the late 2000’s. Seeing as one will be looking at her more often than not, it does kind of leave an old taste in the retina. Other aspects of the visual design, like enemies and environments, largely are retained from the original form of the game.
This only adds to the intriguing nature of how “definitive” this version really is. Some minor visual updates here and there, along with only a minimally less difficult trek throughout, it begs the question of how warranted this was in the long run. The advances seem more like a sizeable patch than a refreshed game experience.
Still, my grievances with Rayne aside, a lot of Fresh Bites looks fairly good. A cartoon aesthetic mixed with a dab of Eastern-styled animation. Enemies and bosses, specifically, have a meaty presence to them, making them distinguishable in real time while also aesthetically immersive. The vampire theme of the game carries forward quite a ways, particularly with the Gothic environments of castles and fancy mansions. And all of the blood, well, that’s a given. Splattered like confetti at a popular kid’s birthday party, an appropriate level of violence and carnage carry the cathartic cuts from beginning to end.
Now, the voice acting. While notable indeed to have names like Troy Baker (380 credits per imdb) and Laura Bailey (491 credits), as alluded to in the story section, there isn’t much for them to work with. Rayne has, I don’t know exactly, 20 lines throughout the entire game? And while her father, Kagan, has more flexibility, Baker hams it up a lot, to the point where it’s borderline unfitting. Both are clearly talented actors, though I think the issue here comes down to both direction and lack of material. Kagan sounds like a Saturday morning cartoon, while Rayne barely says anything at all.
Fresh Bites‘ overall soundtrack is also rather standard, which is especially unfortunate given composer Jake Kaufman’s track record. Some tracks stir a little better than others, particularly the more anthemic boss battle themes. Stages, individually, while thematically coherent, lack a certain bite (ha) that keeps the blood flowing. This is better done through the sound effects, which, again, come through most effectively with boss fights. Occasionally, Rayne’s rocket-powered coffin will come through and slam down onto the heads of bosses to finish them off, complete with chainsaw-like buzzing and cries of agony—blood (or otherwise) raining down everywhere. These moments are incredibly gnarly.
BloodRayne Betrayal: Fresh Bites was reviewed on PC via Steam. A review key was provided by ÜberStrategist.