Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (2018) REVIEW

 

Bloodstained is Koji Igarashi‘s crowd-funded spiritual reclamation of the Castlevania series he helped modernize back in the mid-90’s with right-hand man involvement in the classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and producer of each main entry afterwards from 2001 until 2011. With the Kickstarter campaign for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night receiving incredible support from fans and a rare positive endorsement from the cynical, bland annuls of popular video game journalism Igarashi‘s team were able to get increasingly ambitious with their rewards with posters painted by Yoshitaka Amano (Vampire Hunter D, Final Fantasy series), a rogue-like dungeon mode, and full voice acting. One of the later additions was a ‘mini-game’ in the 8-bit style which turned out to be Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.

First time through took 1:20:25. Nightmare mode took longer because it is more difficult.

I did not back the Kickstarter and didn’t follow the extras as a result so the sudden appearance of Curse of the Moon came relatively out of the blue. Remarks about the game were all pretty uniform, it is a homage to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and emulates the same 8-bit (but more detailed and capable) look of an NES game a la Shovel Knight. While I was a very active NES player as a pre-teen the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis Castlevania games were far more important in my adolescence. So, what I’m getting at is that I’ve never actually beaten Dracula’s Curse and have no specific or strong nostalgia at all for it outside of enjoying the soundtrack. Most all of the graphical, musical, structural, and thematic references made fall upon a blind eye and a deaf ear for me. With no special attachment to this roughly 1-2 hour game I found it mildly worth the $9.99 asking price.

So, look… Castlevania was anime starting back in 1993. Relax tough guy.

You begin the game as Zangetsu a cursed sword-fighting demon hunter and as you defeat bosses as you work towards castle drac… er, the demon’s castle… you’ll have the choice of recruiting three characters that you can swap between instantly a la Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin and (more directly) Dracula’s Curse. This system is the most interesting aspect of the game but the non-linear nature of the game means you’ll never really be forced to implement their various abilities. Having four characters with separate health bars and strengths/weaknesses means the tail end of the game is quite easy and this is compounded by the final handful of bosses being incredibly weak against Alfred‘s magic spells. Gebel, who is identical to Alucard, can turn into a bat and fly past most later challenging platforming sections. The only character that gives no distinct advantage in any case is Miriam, the protagonist for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

Although I said the game only takes 1-2 hours to beat you’re really just getting the bad ending. You don’t have to recruit the demons you defeat into your party you can actually choose to kill them and absorb their powers (you’re a demon-sharder, don’t ask what that means). The rewards for doing this not only give special powers like a double jump, air dash, etc. but depending on how many you kill/don’t kill you’ll get a different ending and unlock a different mode. The first playthrough unlocks Nightmare Mode, which is NewGame+ with all four allies, and this is the only way to play the final level and fight the true final boss of the game. The game does not explain this! I didn’t care about Ultimate Mod or Boss Rush mode so I stopped after beating Nightmare Mode. And yes, I played with the ‘casual’ mode that gives infinite continues. I don’t care enough about perfecting my skills with this (or honestly any other) game to bang my head against the wall over it.

This is the ‘bad ending’ (minus the words) and basically Zangetsu seems to meet the same fate as Richter Belmont. I’m assuming he will be the Dracula of ‘Ritual of the Night’.

The gameplay is exactly that of the pre-Rondo of Blood era of Castlevania with a floaty jump that doesn’t allow for re-direction. The challenge lies in predicting enemy movement, choosing the right attack type, and avoiding pitfalls. My general rule for platformers is that they got a lot better when pitfalls were abolished. Mega Man X, Mario 64, Symphony of the Night all of them tested your reflexes and skill without locking you into animations and those physics (emulated or perceived) applied jump modulation helped the vacuous platforming genre stay alive for a decade longer than it should have. The movement here has a flow of control but not any real incentive for momentum. It is a joy to play but the same way that I hated returning to Mega Man in Mega Man 9 and 10 with NO slide and NO mega buster, I hate to return to the restricted movement of Castlevania III. Alfred can freeze giant enemies so that they die in one hit, Gebel can fly past anything, Miriam slides through holes in the wall and once you’ve got them all your mobility is greatly improved. Alternately, once you kill them all Zangetsu’s mobility is greatly improved. Because of this I really can’t complain about the retro controls.

The best thing we get with this 8-bit monstrosity’s existence is it’s glorious chip-tune soundtrack that sounds like a punched up mix of Sega Genesis and Game Boy Advance sound chips with some light modulation giving way to funky fresh moments and the ringing SNES-like sound of the GBA. “Tragedy of Slaughter” is pure Genesis circa 1992 whereas “Sunder the Night” seems to appear directly from Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance. “Fallen Moon’s Requiem” sounds like an outtake from Alien Soldier or an early Thunder Force game. There are shades of Mega Man X and the history of Castlevania throughout thanks to compositions by Michiru Yamane, Ippo Yamada, Aoi Takeda, Takumi Sato, Hiroaki Sano, and Ryo Kawakami. I understand those names might not mean much, but if you search their resumes it is an impressive cast if you love video game music.

The first ‘final’ boss looks like an anime goth clown vampire.

Though I only spent about 4-5 hours total with Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon it served it’s purpose and argued it’s value well enough. The NES style graphics and gameplay, complete with hidden final boss/stage, amounted to no great nostalgia for me outside of a general love for Castlevania. It is a great primer for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and a reasonably fun diversion. If I had to truly crap on any on part of the game it’d be Stage 8 and the Mega Man 2-esque “Quick Man” chases through the level that lead to many deaths. This level was the reason I switched to ‘casual’ mode because the stage is entirely trial and error from the start. I’m actually more hyped for Ritual of the Night because of Curse of the Moon and I figure that is a job well done for ten bucks.

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Title: Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
Genre 2D Action Platformer
Released May 24, 2018 | Inti Creates
Platform(s) Playstation 4 Pro [Digital]
Score 3.75/5.0

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