Bloodstained Curse of the Moon
Post Game Review
(CAUTION MODERATE SPOILERS)
What a terrible night to have an 8-bit prequel! Actually its a great night and a great prequel for anyone looking for classic Castlevania action or just great retro platforming. Bloodstained Curse of the Moon is the intro into what is being called “Igavania” after longtime Castlevania designer Koji Igarashi has picked up the mantle of Castlevania and vowed to bring the nostalgia laced series back into the fold. As a gamer of the oldest generations and a huge Castlevania fan, I couldn’t help but contain my glee as I saw the release. As with many kick-starters and fan funded games, release dates tend to be pushed and obscure at the best of times, so it has become a common practice of mine to not follow up on them and to just be pleasantly surprised when one finally sees the light of day. I scrambled as soon as I saw the announcement however, and I was not disappointed.
Overview: A Touch of Nostalgia
Bloodstained Curse of the Moon follows the story of Zangetsu as he leads an adventure that will immediately remind any long time fans of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Zangetsu, will encounter allies; namely Miriam, a whip wielding Belmont-esque vampire hunter with a high-jump; Alfred, a sorcerer who is limited in health and combat but whose spells can drop many enemies with ease; and Gebel, who is no doubt the Alucard of the group with his bat-themed attacks and transformations. As Zangetsu progresses through the game, he can either choose to befriend and ally himself with the other protagonists or kill them, which grants him enhanced abilities. Whichever path the player chooses alters the in stage routes and thus directly affects the difficulty via exposure to different parts of the level. For example, killing Miriam will disable the slide ability for the players arsenal, effectively blocking off routes that require it. Enemies encountered are most definitely inspired by the classic series and a few will even send some players into a flashback rage or two.
One beautiful aspect about this 8-bit love letter is that it does not mask its intentions. This plays, sounds, and looks like an 8-bit Castlevania title with very little to distinguish it from its ancestry. Progression is linear in each mode as outlined in between stages with a familiar progress map. As previously mentioned, in-stage routes differ depending on your ally related choices and can affect path and the enemies and challenges you will face. Sub weapons play a big role in what each ally can do and some stage routes require specific weapons to access. At the end of each stage a Castlevania inspired boss-and I’m certain a few mega man ones-awaits which can be taken down by any of your heroes, but that boss will often be susceptible to one or more of each allies abilities and sub-weapons. This can make some fights frustrating or an outright joke depending on your setup and acumen for these types of games.
In terms of difficulty, the game initially offers player’s a choice between casual and veteran. Veteran of course resembles a classic retro challenge and any long term players of the series will want to select this. Even on veteran the game will not cause a hardcore player too many retries as the whole game itself clocks in at just a handful of hours to complete and most “veterans” will complete the first run in under two.
Once the game is finished however, more modes are accessible, which is where the replayability of the game comes in. Nightmare mode leaves a full party sans one member to assault the castle yet again on a similar route which only changes towards the end. Bosses this time around however are enhanced and require a bit more forethought and strategy to defeat. Two more modes including a boss rush mode also await dedicated players.
Curse of the Moon controls similarly to its 8-bit counterparts with all the nuances and pains that come with it. It definitely takes the form out of platforming as newcomers will notice the absolute lack of jump controls. This isn’t a horrible thing however, and if anything it’s a sign of the retro times and a great reminder of how far platforming has evolved. Older players are still going to die a few times to mistimed jumps but none of the stages are too brutal a-la Clocktower in my opinion. Attacks and abilities are also influenced by 8 bit styled controls and each character has their own attack speed and recovery time. The transition between characters however is smooth and you can even perform cross character actions with good timing. For instance you can cast a barrier with Alfred, switch to Gebel to fly upwards, attack as a bat, then switch to Miriam and whip an enemy on the way down to the ground all with your damage shield still intact. The inputs themselves are not difficult and there are even in-game options to restore classic sub-weapon controls as well.
Both the stages and characters are beautifully derendered in glorious 8-bit quite effectively. This is a game that could easily have been published in 1989 and no one would be able to tell the difference. The only thing really missing is sprite glitching and scan lines. That being said, some abilities had more animations and were very smooth compared to more traditional titles which isn’t a complaint, just an observation.
The associated sounds and effects are reminiscent of the targeted era and leave little to be desired. Midi influenced curdles and screams are only complimented by the score which was well done and made you feel right at home for a title of this influence. As the music is one of the dearest attributes of the Castlevania series, choosing long time Castlevania music composer Michiru Yamane was only right. One of the best parts of this for me will be waiting for the video game music arrangement community to come out with some apt metal covers in the future.
Overall, this is simply a beautiful ode to Castlevania that shouldn’t be ignored by die hard fans or lovers of retro era platformers. Even with intense replaying, I doubt the average person is going to get more that 15 to 20 hours out of the game, but at a cheap purchase price it makes it hard to pass up. Anyone who has backed Ritual of the Night will obviously want to play this first as it is a prequel to the highly anticipated upcoming Igavania title. However, if you are not into the retro scene or old school platformers then this title is probably not for you, and you should probably “Die monster! Because you don’t belong in this world!”