Just as the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night offers a modern throwback to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon dials the retro clock back even further. This precursor title, created as a stretch goal for the Kickstarted Ritual of the Night, draws inspiration from the 8-bit era of Konami’s classic franchise. The result is an enjoyable celebration of gaming’s past.
Curse of the Moon fills the required quota of a vintage Castlevania experience. Responsive yet stiff controls? Check. Annoying knock-back upon taking damage? Check. Items hidden behind walls? Big ol’ check. All manner of ghouls oppose the player, some of which mirror the behavior of Castlevania foes such as the floating medusa head. For better or worse, Castlevania’s tropes live on in Curse of the Moon and I respect it’s faithfulness.
If you’d rather not relive the series’ hardcore past, a much-welcomed Casual option exists. It grants unlimited lives and eliminates knock-back (!). Best of all, the description plainly states there’s no penalty for selecting it. That means only your ego is on the line. Since I’m a 30 year-old man with little to prove anymore, I switched to Casual after completing Stage 1 on Veteran difficulty (which has a 3-life limit). I didn’t find the game too tough. I simply realized I’d rather not to deal with that old-school stress. Playing Casual rocks because it doesn’t alter the game’s design. It merely provides more chances and eliminates an antiquated annoyance.
Instead of controlling a single character, players swap through a party of four. Zangestu, the protagonist, attacks with a sword and appears balanced all around. Miriam wields a long whip, jumps highest, and performs a ground slide, making her my instant favorite. Conversely, the alchemist Alfred’s reliance on (mostly) long-ranged spells makes him the trickiest and, thus far, least fun to use. Finally, the demonic Gebel throws a spread shot of energy blasts and transforms into a bat to freely fly around.
Characters are swapped on the fly using the shoulder buttons. They possess their own health bars, as dying while in control of someone makes that hero unavailable until everyone else gets wiped out. I like this, as it adds an air of tension and forced me to alter my approach when someone I leaned on got knocked out. Do I reserve my girl Miriam for the big boss fight? Should I sacrifice Alfred as a human shield during challenging segments? The answer to that latter question is always “yes”.
Additionally, each hero possesses traversal abilities the others don’t have. For example, Miram’s slide can access narrow spaces the others can’t. They also have their own specific sub-weapons, with the exception of Gebel. He’s stuck with his bat form, but given how universally helpful that is, it feels like a fair trade off.
Levels feature branching paths but are relatively simple otherwise–again, much like the Castlevania of old. Boss battles thus far have ranged from easy, straight-forward affairs to mildly challenging tests. The most creative bout was against a demonic, pimp-looking guy inside a Scrooge McDuck-style treasure pit. To target his head, I had to quickly ascend mountains of coins being pushed across the screen by the boss. Later, a lighting-based boss battle atop a ship’s mast gave me my first real run for my money.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is just plain neat, both as a fun little throwback and as a decent holdover until Ritual of the Night arrives. Whether or not you enjoy it frankly depends on how much you like classic Castlevania. That endorsement may sound like a cop-out, but Curse of the Moon so closely imitates that franchise that I often have to stop myself from calling it Castlevania. Uninitiated players may have a harder time, as it takes a nostalgic appreciation to tolerate the game’s legacy drawbacks. Beyond its few differences, its tough to imagine fans of the original source material having much issue with this lovingly crafted homage.