Ritual of the Night is on its way so in the meantime, here's a retro prequel to whet fans' appetites. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon feels like an authentic NES Castlevania game so give your cartridge a blow and let's slay some monsters.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon stars Zangetsu, a sword-wielding man who has been cursed by demons. So, he takes it upon himself to dispatch each dastardly creature who cursed him. He controls a lot like a Belmont in one of their 8-bit adventures as he can slash his blade, jump, and use a sub-weapon that depletes your weapon points. Along his journey, he'll meet three allies that you can then switch to on the fly with the shoulder buttons. In this sense, it plays a lot like Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. Each character is unique and plays completely differently as Miriam can whip, jump high, and slide, Alfred can use powerful spells as sub-weapons, and Gebel can transform into a bat. Each individual also has their own main weapon and array of sub-weapons so switching them up to take advantage of your current situation is a big part of the fun.
Curse of the Moon not only plays like a NES Castlevania; it looks like one, too. The visuals are spot-on and capture the spirit of the classic series perfectly complete with a variety of memorable monsters. Its soundtrack borrows heavily from the NES trilogy without sounding too much like it. In fact, there's a great deal of influence from the Mega Man series as well which makes the music an interesting combination of the two franchises. Anyway, it looks and sounds absolutely perfect for a NES game. For the record, I was obsessed with the NES Castlevania series as a kid and playing Curse of the Moon definitely brought back some awesome memories.
The campaign of Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon contains 8 stages. This may not sound like much but each one is intricately designed with plenty of branching paths and hidden goodies. If you play right, you'll even uncover a bunch of permanent upgrades such as armour, maximum health enhancements, and weapon meter extensions. If you happen to miss a particular item, you can replay a stage via the pause menu's "Curse of the Moon" option although you have to play through the rest of the game from the point that you select. Anyway, the bosses are very clever and fun to fight. They don't feel like Castlevania bosses but they are enjoyable to figure out how to take down. Once you complete the game, you can play again in Nightmare mode which lets you play as the three additional characters without Zangetsu. This actually opens up a lot of routes early on that you couldn't explore previously.
Even with its rewarding collectible upgrades and branching paths, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon certainly isn't a very long game. My first playthrough took me just over an hour. Also, after completing Normal and Nightmare mode, there really isn't much left to do. You could try and master Boss Rush mode or aim for high scores but that sort of replay value definitely doesn't have wide appeal.
My only other complaint is that some parts require memorization to work past. One section has a swarm of fast-paced insect-like things rushing through the stage and you have to move out of the way or else you'll perish. When you first come across these, there's no way of knowing where they'll go or how they'll behave so you're bound to bite the dust at least once by surprise. Finally, the bosses all do that annoying last attack thing after you kill them which is borrowed from some of the classic Castlevania games. Perishing from one of these attacks is nothing short of infuriating so don't say that I didn't warn you! Hopefully, you can switch characters fast enough.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon brings back the essence of the 8-bit Castlevania games in a masterful way. Even though it's short and has its frustrating moments, long-time fans of the series will find a lot to love here.
- + Classic NES Castlevania gameplay with four unique-playing characters
- + Spot-on visuals and music
- + Fantastic intricate stage designs
- - Quite short and lacks replay value after you master the two campaigns
- - Some parts require memorization