Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
We’ve seen some impressive Kickstarter stretch goals over the years, but the promise of an entirely new 8-bit style platform game probably takes the cake. The fact that this was promised by Koji Igarashi, whose name is synonymous with the Castlevania franchise, made it even better. Of course, the real draw for most people was Bloodstained – Ritual of the Night, but to overlook Curse of the Moon would be a big mistake as it is so much more than just an 8-bit novelty.
Curse of the Moon was created to tie-in with Ritual of the Night, but development duties went to Inti Creates, who are known for their Gunvolt series. This allowed ArtPlay to focus all their attention on the main game, which makes sense. This probably also meant that Koji Igarashi didn’t have that much involvement with Curse of the Moon, which might be one of the reasons why expectations were not very high for it. However, Inti Creates have proved a lot of people wrong by creating what is probably as close as one can get to an 8-bit Castlevania game without provoking the lawyers over at Konami. In fact, we are surprised by just how much of the classic Castlevania series they were able to capture in this game.
Curse of the Moon appears to be set in the same world as Ritual of the Night, but it looks like the story was intentionally kept a bit vague in order to not spoil anything for the main game. Instead, we are introduced to Zangetsu, a master swordsman who has been cursed by a demon. This has caused Zangetsu to pledge his whole life to tracking down the demon and kill any other servants of darkness along the way. Along the way Zangetsu will run into three other characters who can aid him in his quest, provided he accepts their health. First is the whip-wielding Mirriam, followed by the Alchemist Alfred, and finally there is Gebel, who is a vampire in all but name. Once unlocked, you can switch between these characters on the fly and they all have something useful to contribute to the team. Not only do they all have their own health bars, which means you have a better shot at defeating bosses by swapping out critically wounded characters, but everyone has their own attack styles and special abilities as well.
The abilities of the different characters are also woven into the level design of Curse of the Moon. Castlevania 3 fans will remember that players could choose their path after each level, but Curse of the Moon features different paths during levels. For example, Miriam can jump higher and slide underneath gaps while Gebel can turn into a bat and fly over gaps. Then there’s Alfred, who can shield himself from damage and pass certain enemies that block everyone else. The downside is obviously that if a particular character is killed, then whatever shortcut would have been available to you is off limits unless the entire team dies and everyone returns when you continue. Fortunately, there is usually still a way to continue the level with the remaining members of the team, provided you don’t mind taking a slightly longer route.
Curse of the Moon shares a lot of similarities with Castlevania 3, but thankfully the difficulty level is not one of them. Instead, the game offers players a choice between “Casual” and “Veteran” difficulties. Casual eliminates the knock-back effect when enemies hit your characters, which is something that always generates a lot of swearing if it happens over a chasm. In addition, it gives players unlimited lives with which to complete the game. Regardless of what difficulty you complete the game with, you’ll then unlock “Nightmare” mode, which features more of a challenge as well as a brand new final level, complete with the “real” final boss. Of course, this means that to experience all of the enemies in Curse of the Moon players have to complete the game multiple times, but seeing as each run can be done in less than two hours, it’s not really an issue. The fact that the game only has eight levels feels a bit limited in this day and age, but there are numerous endings to unlock, which boosts the replay value a bit.
One thing that Inti Creates has nailed perfectly is the visuals for Curse of the Moon. The 8-bit style of the game looks very authentic, but pulls off effects that would have brought a real NES to its knees. The bosses in particular look extremely impressive and there are some creative designs as well, such as the demon possessed ghost train on level one and the Countess Elizabeth Báthory inspired boss who pops up late in the game. One thing that we missed compared to Castlevania 3 is some type of health indicator for the bosses. This is quite important as all of them tend to have a final all out attack just before they die, which can catch players unaware if they are not careful. The game uses the same limited color palette of the NES, but ditches the slowdown, so everything looks and plays much smoother than anything from the 8-bit era. The audio for the game could also very easily be mistaken for a Castlevania title, so it almost feels weird not to hear any familiar riffs. However, this is probably a good thing, seeing as how close the game already skirts to the Konami license.
Anyone who has ever played a classic Castlevania title, before the series went the Metroidvania route will feel instantly at home with Curse of the Moon. You have eight levels to conquer, each with a huge boss waiting for you at the end. Along the way, you will have to make your way up and down stairs while destroying lamps to reveal the goodies that they hide. These goodies can range from hearts to replenish your health to potions that replenish your weapon points. These weapon points are used to activate the sub weapons that each of the characters can wield. The sub weapons can also be collected the same way, although each character can only hold one at a time and picking up a new one replaces the old one. Sub weapons range from the diagonally hitting ball and chain of Zangetsu to throwing daggers, rapiers and sickles for Myriam and all kinds of magical attacks for Alfred. Gebel is the exception as he can’t use any sub weapons, but instead can burn through weapon points to transform into a bat and fly around. These sub weapons play a big role in how challenging the game is as some bosses and enemies are much easier to deal with depending on what you have to attack them with.
Since Curse of the Moon is designed to play like a classic Castlevania title, we strongly recommend using a controller to play. Even then it can take a while to get used to the controls as they can initially feel a little stiff. This is especially noticeable with jumps as you can’t change direction once you have committed to one. The game does feature a couple of cheap deaths here and there, especially when playing on Veteran mode, but overall it is a much more forgiving title compared to the series that inspired it.
At the end of the day we were very impressed with Curse of the Moon and it is clear that a lot of love and effort has gone into creating a very authentic Castlevania style experience. It’s a pity that most players will just dismiss it as an appetizer for the “real” game as it definitely holds up on its own. We like the fact that the game gives players the freedom to join up with allies, kill them to gain new powers or simply ignore them and then feature different endings depending on what choice was made. Curse of the Moon could easily have ended up as just a “promotional” game without any depth, but thankfully it didn’t and Castlevania fans and anyone with a love for the 8-bit platform genre should not hesitate to add it to their collections.
- OS: Windows XP, 7, 8.1, 10
- Processor: 2Ghz or faster processer
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Graphics: 512MB VRAM (NVIDIA GeForce)
- DirectX: Version 9.0c
- Storage: 500 MB available space