August 3, 2018 at 6:49 AM #719
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
Rating: 4.0 – Great
Blessing of the Moon
You may have heard of Castlevania. You may have also heard of its metroidvania spiritual successor Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Well, that game isn’t out yet but Inti Creates has blessed us with a classic Castlevania style prequel of sorts. In modernized 8-bit flavor too. So does Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon scratch that old vampire slaying itch, or is this yet another horrible night to have a curse?
Demons prowl the land. Zangetsu, cursed by demons, sets out in a rage to end their existence. Along the way he meets up with Miriam (Ritual of the Night’s protagonist), alchemist Alfred, and Alucard expy Gebel. There is a story intro text, dialog between Zangetsu and whoever he meets along the way. Now, there are two major endings: One is for normally completing the game, and the other for finishing it on Nightmare mode (we’ll get to that). There are other, somewhat secret, epilogues that require a heavier workload. Most won’t bother with those but they are nice desserts for those who want to challenge themselves.
From the small amounts of conversation we can get the idea that Zangetsu is angry, but righteous. We don’t draw much from the other three though aside from their basic roles. True, Zangetsu is technically the main focus but it would have been good if we could have extracted more from his companions, especially Miriam since she will have a game of her own in the future. Probably.
Design and Gameplay
Curse of the Moon plays similarly to the earliest NES Castlevanias, specifically CVIII: Dracula’s Curse. So you can expect the game demanding precise jumping, knockback upon hits, and a limited lives system. The Casual difficulty negates a lot of the burden but also makes the game woefully easy. It’s recommended to always choose Veteran unless your skills are way behind. On the other hand it also offers you the things you loved about those older games: Whipping, a variety of sub-weapons, candle destruction, stair climbing, refreshments hidden within walls, etcetera.
You start off with just Zangetsu but you get to recruit additional heroes post boss fights. Zangetsu uses a simple sword, has decent sub-weapons, and carries the largest health pool. He is mostly unremarkable in regards to gameplay. Alfred is the glass canon; he has the least HP but some very fancy spells. You’ll likely use him the least though. Gebel has no sub-weapons but he makes most of the platforming a breeze with his bat transformation while also being able to refill the party’s ammunition the quickest. His short, yet diagonal basic attack is surprisingly useful. Finally, we have Miriam, who is without question the best character in the game. She not only bears the traditional whip and boomerang but she’s also blessed with the quickest movement as well as the highest jump. Each character has their own health bar and must be replenished individually. Just one getting vanquished sends your entire party back to the last room. But you’re not sent back to the last checkpoint with a lost life till everyone is obliterated. And you don’t get fallen comrades back unless you either restart a level or beat a boss. Everyone also has a unique way of getting through nooks and crannies with their special abilities sans Zan.
The game does provide a fair different ways to get through each stage; some of these paths can’t even be accessed till your secondary playthrough. Sadly, unlike Castlevania III or Rondo of Blood, using alternate routes does not lead you on a completely separate course to the castle. And yes, there is a castle at the end of the journey. Not ending with Dracula, however. At about 8 stages the game feels somewhat short, even for a $10 game. But getting the initial, normal ending lets you play through the game again in Nightmare mode. This is not a simple higher difficulty variation, but some enemies are placed differently, bosses have greater health, and you have access to a few exclusive segments as well as a different final boss. The only downside is that a couple of bosses become complete tedium.
Majority of the enemies are ripped straight out of the Castlevania games. With the exception of the Scissormen and the final blow of some of the bosses, they are fair to fight. A comically relaxed skeleton can often be seen across each stage pointing towards the simplest route to the boss. It mostly exists to remind you of alternate paths during your second run, which is nice. Switching characters can be done with a quick flash and minimal pause, and this does help a lot when you are near death and you would rather sacrifice someone else. The highlights are the boss fights. Despite there being a few duds their neat gameplay elements & demands for quick strategy stimulate the player. Taking one down rekindles the feeling of pushing past bosses in older games.
Finally, the thought that was put into the level design must be praised. It isn’t perfect by any means. However, the way the game eases the player into each new character through enemy placements & stage elements as well as having the right sub-weapon for the right character at the right time has to be commended.
The graphics are somewhere between 8-bit and 16-bit, leaning towards 8-bit. There is more color here, some of it a tad too much. But still, everything is easily identifiable. Nothing melds in. For whatever reason the game doesn’t completely fill a wide screen with the left and the right being slightly blackened out. All the enemies look like they belong on a ’12-bit’ game except the bosses who all seem to have gobbled up the graphical power,in a manner of speaking; the bosses look comparatively detailed. This is not a complaint, mind you.
Before you ask, Michiru Yamane is one of the composers. With that said the music is nowhere near Castlevania quality. Granted, they are good enough and you may hum to a track or two but this aspect of the game is definitely the biggest disappointment. The sound effects come off as being processed through a high powered NES. That is fitting enough, but compare this to Axiom Verge which looked retro, had retro SFX, but with modernized music quality. That might have suited Curse of the Moon better. The ‘boxy’ audio combined with the average compositions don’t make for the best fit. But it is serviceable.
- Surprisingly thought out design
- Gameplay variety
- Quality boss fights
- Music could have been better
- Could have been longer
- Two sections could be thought of as poorly implemented
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is definitely one of the better Castlevania-like experiences. Some might say it’s a rip-off… and they would be correct. With that said, the game, although short, is a strongly constructed experience. It’s one of the simpler titles of the year, yet remarkably manages to invoke a sense of nostalgia and novelty at once. Curse of the Moon is a must have for classic Castlevania fans and it’s a treat to newcomers as well.
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