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It’s about time Classicvania is back.

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    Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    It’s about time Classicvania is back.

    Yeah, I know, this game isn’t technically called "Castlevania". Not the point. Indie developer Indi Creates clearly wanted to make a Castlevania game in the NES style, so they took the gothic theme, switched some names, and made a Castlevania game. It’s a damn good game, too, so if you’re a fan of retro 2D platforming or the Castlevania series you absolutely must check out Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. This is supposed to be a prequel to a full game coming later, but you could have fooled me. I had so much fun playing this that I just got done getting all the endings. We haven’t had a classic Castlevania game since the early 90s, and with the way Symphony of the Night changed that series for good plus Konami being abject trash who worries more about pachinko machines than video games, this is probably the only return to classic form that series will ever get. Yeah, we’re relying on not-Konami to make Castlevania better than they can anymore. Isn’t that sad?

    You begin the game as Zangetsu, a samurai who doubles as an absolute badass savage. What, were you expecting a barbarian with a whip? Nope. This dude does not like demons, but instead of running from them he decides to set out and chop them all to bits for fun. Again, dude is a savage. Right off the bat, this game plays exactly like the NES Castlevania games, complete with rigid jumps that you can’t control once you commit, items popping out of candles, sub weapons, stairs, bottomless pits, and lots of old standbys. What you’ll quickly find out is that this game does a lot of interesting things you might not expect.

    One, Zangetsu is not the only character. After you play the game a bit, you’ll meet three allies for a total party of four people, all of which have different play styles but work together for a common goal. The first and main character is Zangetsu, who has the highest health, a sword, and he deals the most damage. His sub weapons are essentially holy water from the Castlevania games, a whip that fires up, and a power boost. His main weakness is a lack of range on his melee weapon and no sub weapon that can attack directly up or in front of him.

    Next is Miriam, who literally gets to use a Castlevania whip and attack most enemies from well outside of their attack range. She also gets to use a dagger, some knives, some boomerang that might as well be Death’s sickle, and a gigantic great axe for absolutely no reason because why not? Let’s have the chick use the game’s heaviest weapon. That’s the kind of fun this game has with itself. She also gets to slide Mega Man style and she gets the highest jump. Her down side is a lack of health and the level/enemy design not being at all designed for her high jump. You’re going to learn very quickly that as good as Miriam’s weaponry is, her high jump is a liability. There is a lot of strict timing in the level design and the boss fights, and that extra time spent jumping gets her killed. A lot. Miriam is one of the characters that allows you to reach places others cannot, which leads to powerups and shortcuts. More on those in a minute.

    Alfred is the game’s magicia– errrrr, alchemist. He has no health, but so long as you have weapon points available he completely trivializes any enemy in the entire game, including all of the bosses. He gets a flame shield that renders him immune to pretty much every projectile in the game, he gets an ice spell to freeze and OHKO any enemy that actually gives him trouble, he gets a lightning spell that melts bosses, and he gets a terrible decoy spell for when you’re bored with the game and want to do a attack-only Alfred run. If you decide to go for the multiple endings, Alfred is the character that just murders the bosses. It’s basically cheating.

    Last on the roster is Gebel. Every game needs a cool-looking dark character that all the 13 year olds want to be like. Gebel is your guy. He does his best stereotype of a vampire bat, right down to actually turning into a bat and flying everywhere. Gebel excels at anti-air combat. His base attack spreads out above him, and with enemies on the ground he can’t attack, he can just turn into Batman and fly over them. Gebel, along with Miriam, will be the characters you use to get to hidden areas, items, and shortcuts. There’s a couple of bosses Gebel can practically bypass, because his attack renders their gimmick pointless.

    The variety in characters is great, and the best part is the game allowing you to switch whenever you want. This isn’t Mario 2 where if you pick Luigi for a level, you’re stuck with him for the entire level. In this game, you can swap whenever you want, which leads to some really fun gameplay. The best is when you finally figure out you can activate Alfred’s busted flame shield, then swap characters and notice the shield is still active. Playing this game is a lot of fun, which is what gaming should be. It’s why those old retro style games are such a blast and it’s what gaming is missing now — fun above all else.

    Beyond characters, Curse of the Moon does two things exceptionally well — level design and bosses. Even with the rigid jumping, these levels are designed in a great, varied way with lots of different textures to give off different environmental feels. The most important thing here, and for me this is the game’s main selling point, is shortcuts will never get you stuck. Say you use Gebel to fly to some far-off place and open a door. You won’t then see an area that only Gebel can access, and even if that happens there’s always a staircase to take the long way. I leads to very fluid movement and level structure, where everything feels connected. This is very difficult to explain and hard to implement in an old style game like this, but when you play it you’ll see exactly what I mean. The levels are all essentially designed around these various shortcuts. Miriam and Gebel dead, even after you took 3 shortcuts? It’s cool, just take the normal way. You’ll always have access to it. This is awesome, and it kept the game fresh even after I was getting multiple endings and all the trophies.

    The boss fights are all very well designed, and they get even better on the harder difficulties where they all go nuts with new attacks and faster patterns. The bosses are hard enough, but very fair. They look gorgeous, too, which is quite a feat given this game was made to look like an NES title. This entire game looks stunning given what the goal in making this was, especially when you stop and notice all the small things going on. Pay attention to the background as you play through this game instead of being a passive viewer. There’s a neat theme going on back there that I won’t spoil in a review. They even went all out retro with the sound effects and music. That old NES style is back in all its glory, and playing this game really brought me back to my childhood. Those of you who love the Mega Man games are going to recognize a bunch of this game’s sound effects.

    Overall, Curse of the Moon is a phenomenal game, and it’s pretty much the version of an NES Castlevania I’ve always wanted. Those games aren’t bad, far from it, but this game takes the formula and nearly perfects it. The one thing that shouldn’t be here are the dumb rigid jumps, but I can deal with it for the honor of playing this. It was clearly made with a lot of love in mind, which is all I’ve ever asked for. Hopefully Ritual of the Night has that same effort put in, because I’m really looking forward to it.

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