Castlevania Bloodlines kicks ass. While bloodlines can be a challenging game, it feels euphoric once you finally get through a level or beat a boss that you've been chipping at. The game takes place during world war 1, and you're travelling across Europe in order to stop some english woman from resurrecting Dracula.
Bloodlines lets you choose between two characters at the start of the game. John Morris is your typical belmont-type, whip and all. Eric Lecarde is a spear-wielding vampire hunter, and is my character of choice. John can whip upwards diagonally (while grounded), as well as swing from most ceilings with his whip. Eric can jab his spear upwards diagonally as well, but only when he is in the air. Eric also has a pole-vault type jump that he can do, which launches him upwards. He can also "twirl" his spear if you press the direction opposite of where you are facing after holding the attack button. Both characters can attack downwards while they are in the air. If you hold down the attack button, your weapon can do another frame of damage as it is held out for a longer period of time.
Eric and John are invulnerable during their special moves (the whip-swing and pole-vault). Eric's pole vault is especially helpful for avoiding attacks during boss fights. These special moves can also act as attacks. John kicks his feet forward when he swings, which acts as an attack. Eric can do a bit of damage with his pole-vault, but it's not very useful as an attack unless the enemy is weak. Most of the time you'll deal damage with it, but then you might land back on that enemy and take damage yourself.
The special moves can also provide different paths for the characters to take. With Eric, the pole-vault allows you to take some vertical paths that John can't take. Likewise, John can swing across some gaps that Eric cannot cross. Some of these paths are required, like in level 3 where John has to whip across a gap populated by mummies and Eric as to ascend to the roof while fighting harpies. There are optional shortcuts as well, like the gear-climbing section in level 4. John has to take the long way, but Eric can pole-vault up to some platforms which completely bypasses some sections.
If you collect another weapon upgrade emblem after fully upgrading your whip/spear, your weapon will be upgraded to a legendary status. I'm not sure what the criteria is for level-4 weapon ugprades to appear, but they are very useful. Your character's weapon will have a visual change as well as deal more damage. You will also gain a sub-weapon that is unique to the character. Eric can fire a horde of projectiles in every direction, while John has this energy homing beam thing that I think targets strong enemies. This sounds great, and it is, but you lose the item and the upgrade if you take a hit. If you accidently pick up an axe or something, you lose your item. However, you can regain your special sub weapon if you pick up the same weapon again (assuming you're still level 4). If you set BGM to 05 and SE to 073 in the options menu before starting your playthrough, you will unlock music which will play when you are level 4.
Phew, that took a lot longer to explain than I thought it would.
Basically, the controls are great (you can jump on and off of stairs at will btw), it's a fair challenge, and the graphics and sound are some of the best that the Sega Genesis has to offer. I highly recommend this game. Out of the castlevania games in my collection, this one is my favorite. Albeit Castlevania 3 is not far off from that number one spot. I have beaten this game, but I have yet to beat it on expert mode (which has a special ending).
I bought this game from a fellow collector in my area for a decent price, and it is what kicked off my latest Castlevania obsession. It doesn't have the manual, but it does have a Konami survey/product-registration card which is pretty cool.