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What a horrible night to have a curse…

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    Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    What a horrible night to have a curse…

    Anytime I hear the word "Metroidvania" I immediately perk up. So when "Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night" was announced on Kickstarter, created by famous Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi, it didn’t take long for me to become one of the thousands of backers.

    In the process of funding the game however, one of the stretch-goals of the game was for Iga and his team to produce a "Prequel Mini-Game". Well… that’s exactly what "Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon" is. While we’re all still patiently awaiting the main course, let’s dig in and see if this appetizer is any good! Why am I hungry all of a sudden?

    That man Zangetsu!

    Let’s start off with a quick overview of what this game is. Curse of the Moon is an 8-bit title, similar to the old-school NES Castlevania games. In particular, Castlevania III due to the party-member switching mechanic but the point I wanted to make right away is that this game is definitely old-school so if that’s not for you, you’re not going to enjoy this game at all.

    Still with me? Oh, good! The story here is focused on katana-wielding swordsman Zangetsu as he has "the moon’s curse" and is fated to hunt down and destroy demons (as demons were the ones that cursed him). The game starts with Zangetsu sensing a particularly strong demon and setting out to stop it.

    The game’s story, much like the early titles that inspired it, is very minimalist. After the beginning story explanation (which sprawls out much like early Castlevania titles… a nice touch) you really aren’t given anything else. As Zangetsu defeats particular bosses, you will unlock party members who have their own reasons for joining you (and abilities that Zangetsu may find suspect), but these conversations are still very short. In the end, the "story" here functions well enough to give us an excuse to go on a demon-slaying adventure, but does little else.

    Partners or hated enemy?!
    (Game Play)

    Onto the good stuff now: the game play! Despite being a very retro-game, Curse of the Moon actually surprised me with its depth. Let’s cover the basics first! This title is definitely very similar to the NES Castlevania titles that inspired it. You’ll control Zangetsu as he moves left to right (or vice versa) and kills enemies. You’ll use your trusty katana as well as various sub-weapons to defeat enemies until you reach the boss at the end of each level and defeat them. Pretty standard stuff, really, but with more modern controls than you’ll remember from back in the day.

    Here’s where things get interesting though: as you play through the game (and defeat the bosses near the beginning of the game), you can recruit more party members! Namely, Miriam (the "Ritual of the Night" protaganist), Alfred the Sorcerer and Gebel the Shardbreaker. This is where the comparisons to Castlevania III are the most pronounced, as Alfred can use magic like Sypha and Gebel can literally turn into a bat like Alucard. Game play wise though, you can switch between any of these characters on the fly (which givs the game a bit of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" flavor) and each member has their own attack type, abilities and sub-weapons.

    Once you start getting more members in your little party, you’ll then have the ability to "choose your own path" through the stages you are playing. For example, only Miriam can slide, and certain routes require her to traverse. This can be the difference between gathering an out-of-the-way power up and, well… not being able to. This may be a nod to the graphics (and design) of the game as a whole, but each level has multiple routes that your choice of character selection can take advantage of.

    When I say "your choice of character", I’m actually alluding to the thing that surprised me the most about this game: you don’t have to take along any party members. Instead, you can also choose to just leave them, or stay a bit truer to Zangetsu’s motives and kill them. If you do this, Zangetsu himself will gain additional abilities that really turn him into a beast (such as being able to double-jump, sprint and giving him a special jump attack). Choosing who to take along (or who not to take along) also affects the game’s endings significantly.

    All in all though, the game play is just plain fun. There’s some mechanics to balance things out here, For example, having a party member die means you can’t use them until you get to a "continue", which seems fair and will definitely make you change your route. But the branching paths, multiple party members and the variety they bring to the game play is just fantastic. It definitely helps that the controls feel tight and responsive while still retaining that "retro" feel as well. I had a blast playing this game and was surprised by how much depth the optional party-member system brought to the game.

    Thins are looking Nostalgic up in here!

    If you grew up with the NES (or love retro games), you’ll instantly know what I mean by "8-bit graphics", but if not just give this game’s graphics a look. These graphics are definitely old-school, but look fantastic as well (there’s some really good pixel art here). The bosses in particular are extremely impressive with fantastic pixel art and animations.

    This is just retro-goodness, honestly. The stages are designed with a lot of care, given that there’s multiple paths (they are definitely designed with each character in mind). The backgrounds are usually fairly simple, but with good detail here and there. There’s even an over-world map that’s very reminiscent of the world maps from Castlevania. All in all, they did a great job giving these graphics that nostalgic feel.

    That determined feeling…

    Another thing I really enjoyed about this title was the rocking synthesized soundtrack. As you can imagine, being a retro-style title, the developers limited themselves to the sound style of the era (with much better equipment, I assume). While all of these tracks are solid, there’s definitely some standouts here that I have no doubt would be classic tunes if they came from the NES era. My personal favorites are the "Stage 2" track "Frigid Hell" and the Stage 4 track "Blasphemy Unto Heaven (which I just can’t stop listening to).

    As you can imagine, there’s no voice acting here so we are relegated to "blips and bleeps" with dialog texts (it would be weird otherwise…). The sound effects throughout the game are solid and fit well. All in all, the audio in this title is excellent all around, with great retro tracks that fans of that sound will love.

    One more time, Zangetsu!

    We covered this up above, but thanks to the game’s party-member system there’s some very obvious re-playability here. The game actually has an impressive amount of endings based on this system acutally, many of which are tied to the game’s trophies (although I was personally disappointed that the game didn’t have a platinum trophy). The game itself consists of eight stages that are fairly lengthy (especially the last couple), but you can still beat this game fairly fast if you try.

    Another big plus for the game’s re-playability is the fact that each stage has multiple paths you can choose, even if they require certain party members to reach. You can definitely use this fact to provide some variety to subsquent runs, should you choose to play through the game multiple times like I did. I should also mention that upon beating the game you’ll unlock a boss-rush mode and "Nightmare" mode which is a new game mode that alters the story itself.

    Overall: 8/10

    I’ve always been rather hit-or-miss on Inti Creates games, to be honest, but this one is a definite hit for me. Other than the story, this game is really hitting on all cylinders when it comes to emulating those early Nintendo Castlevania titles, and throws in its own game play spin to boot!

    Despite this being a "prequel game" to the Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night campaign, this title honestly stands on its own as a slice of retro action goodness. If you’re a fan of old-school platforming, you should definitely take a look at this title in the future! Have fun and keep playing!

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