Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon (Playstation 4 Review)
Crowd-funded games have gone to staggering heights and plummeting lows in terms of overall success and reception. In the case of Koji Igarashi’s spiritual successor to Castlevania, things are looking well for “Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night” if it’s prequel “Curse Of The Moon” is anything to go by. The latter is a free bonus for those who funded Ritual Of The Night but it’s also purchasable at a cheap price for those that didn’t. Much like Ritual Of The Night’s apparent resemblance to the later 2D Castlevania titles like Symphony Of The Night and Order Of Ecclesia, Curse Of The Moon harkens back to the NES trilogy in many ways. The 8-bit-style graphics and soundtrack are recreated to a tee, along with familiar gameplay features and of course, the merciless difficulty typical of most NES games.
Curse Of The Moon’s story certainly won’t be a selling point, being purposefully straightforward. We initially assume the role of Zangetsu, a swordsman seeking to rid of whatever demonic entities on a revenge quest, while begrudgingly accepting the alliance of other humans who have gradually afflicted themselves with demonic powers. These include the whip-wielder Miriam, the alchemist Alfred, and Gebel; who essentially has become a vampire.
Each character in Curse Of The Moon has a jump, a generic attack and an equipment or spell attack; which cost magic meter and are unique to each character. While the magic meter is shared between all the four characters, they all have separate health bars. By being able to switch from one to other on the fly, you have much to play with despite the simple gameplay expected from an 8-bit style game. You lose a life only when all characters die, so for that and other reasons it’s your best interest to keep them alive for as long as possible.
Zangetsu has stubby reach with his sword and lacks unique mobility options, but has the highest health and can deal some serious damage with the right spell attack. Miriam has a higher jump and can use a slide move to get through small passageways while also boasting a Belmont-style whip and some good far range spells. Alfred has the lowest health of the cast but easily has the best spells on hand; for example a large ice projectile spell that can be used for one touch kills on enemies or using them as platforms. Gebel’s main attack is an upwards projectile that can deal with enemies angled above him and as expected of a vampire, can transform into a bat to fly across large pits and to otherwise unaccessible areas.
The level design in Curse Of The Moon offers variety as well; with branching pathways that can often can only be accessed with a character’s unique ability, offering some extra replay value. This is should you beat Curse Of The Moon of course, as much like the NES trilogy, it doesn’t pull it’s punches with it’s difficulty. Although beating a stage is saved every time before tackling the next one, the few lives you have may often not be enough. The checkpoints are pretty scarce when you lose a life. While Curse Of The Moon doesn’t have the trial and error design of the NES Castlevania games, you are inevitably going to suffer getting knocked back from an enemy into a pit and or get a surprise from the ruthless albeit well-designed boss fights.
Curse Of The Moon has the well-designed difficulty that makes you proud when you beat a stage, and just hungry enough to tackle another one, but it falters in how handles single character deaths. When this happens, you are taken to a not-too distant checkpoint, but with your remaining character(s) still having the same health and magic meter. This is annoying enough when your character falls into a pit but it really shows when you’re fighting bosses, who regain all their health after a single character death. You’ll have likely exhausted your other characters’ health and meter, and have no way of regaining your lost character. Thus, trying to re-do that boss fight is often a waste of time, so you’ll likely just walk your remaining characters into a pit on purpose and restart on a new life. An instant respawn system was needed here, even if a boss’ health had to be increased to balance this.
That being said, if you find you want a less mentally taxing nostalgia trip, Curse Of The Moon has a Casual Mode. This makes your life counter infinite, removes the knock back that has often aggravated those that have played the NES Castlevania games and even reduces enemy damage.
By comparison to the default Veteran Mode, it’s a total breeze. A lot of your enjoyment of Curse Of The Moon might also vary on how much nostalgia you have for the original NES Castlevania games or least titles in a similar vein like Ninja Gaiden.
While it’s not a fantastically realised retro-styled title like Shovel Knight or Sonic Mania, Curse Of The Moon still has plenty of bang for it’s buck and is a must for any fan of old-school Castlevania. If nothing else, it makes the notion that Ritual Of The Night will deliver all the more believable when it eventually gets released.