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‘Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon’ — A Companion Piece that Stands on its Own

Curse of the Moon is a Bloodstained tie-in spinoff that is more than just a quick Kickstarter promise.

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Curse of the Moon

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a classic Castlevania clone, and that’s not a bad thing.

Conceived as a campaign stretch goal for the more-than-successfully Kickstarter funded and highly anticipated Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, this is as close as we will get to an actual classic Castlevania sequel.

Though Ritual of the Night, helmed by longtime Castlevania writer and producer IGAis meant to be a spiritual successor to 1997’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night — the starting point for the genre now known as “Metroidvania” — its companion piece, Curse of the Moon, instead continues the original Vampire Killer movement started back when Simon Belmont first faced Dracula on the NES.

If you’ve been itching for a return to that very specific genre, this is meant for you.

Curse of the Moon

Zangetsuto, the primary player character, uses a quick short-range blade and sub-weapons such as a ball-and-chain seen here. (“Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon”, 2018)

Presentation

Curse of the Moon is more than an obvious love letter to the 8-bit era of Castlevania games on the NES, and it has no intentions of hiding that. Not only is the cheesy haunted house aesthetic recreated to pleasing effect, many of the ghouls, monsters and other such creatures that you fight along your trek are lovingly “lifted” from Castlevania, and work really well within Curse of the Moon’s setting.

Expect to fight this game’s equivalents of Medusa Heads, Bone Pillars, Fish Men and more, all of whom look well-established within this new setting. Boss designs, however, stick out, looking a bit too “anime” compared to the everything else. This is perhaps a consequence of the game being a spinoff/tie-in to Ritual of the Night, which adopts a heavy anime aesthetic. It might not look out of place for Ritual of the Night, but it does here.

Beyond the expected dilapidated mansions, castles, and graveyards, your journey takes your fight to moving trains, icy cavernous landscapes, ruined underground sewers, and a host of other set pieces. You won’t be starved for variety when it comes to your backdrops, all of which are very vividly drawn and colored.

Miriam is the Belmont of the game, equipped with a whip and a powerful, flexing walk cycle to go with it. She can also jump really high, and uses Belmont-y sub-weapons like daggers and whatnot. (“Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon”, 2018)

While the game draws direct inspirations from 8-bit Castlevania, Curse of the Moon’s color palette is far more vibrant. The darker, more serious colors from Castlevania are replaced with more 80s “Ecto Cooler”-inspired, at times goopy, splashes. If early Castlevania took its aesthetic inspirations from Universal and Hammer horror movies, Curse of the Moon takes those same inspirations and mixes them with Troma.

Musically, it’s a bit of a hit and miss. There’s clear effort put into the tunes, making them sound like homages to Castlevania, such as the amazing, flowing, mysterious score for Stage 5. While some of these attempts get a bit lost in their identity crisis, most stage themes do have good things going for them and succeed in standing on their own, beyond homage. Maybe as I play the game more and more, some of it will grow on me. It does feel like that kind of OST.

Gameplay

Unlike a lot of “fake-bit” games, where it seems more effort is put into nostalgia crafting via visuals than meaningful gameplay, Curse of the Moon is actually a pretty fun time. If you’re a fan of NES-era Belmont-esque vampire whipping, you’ll feel comfortably at home.

Much like Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse, you can take control of multiple characters, but here you have the ability to switch them at will with the press of a button. This is a major element of how you play the game; switching through characters, making use of their specific attributes and sub-weapons. It’s pretty fun and adds a new layer of strategy to what would’ve otherwise been a straightforward “clone” of a game.

While characters can die, their death doesn’t mean end for the rest of the party; the player can simply move on without that character, until the next stage or until everyone else dies. This, again, adds a bit of strategizing to which character can be risked when, as certain areas can vary greatly in difficulty depending on which character is used.

Curse of the Moon

Alfred is your resident alchemist, offering little in the way of physical attack and movement, but useful sub-weapon magic. (“Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon”, 2018)

Jumping and attacking works almost exactly like you would expect it to, combining an odd mix of stiffness and responsiveness this style of game has come to be known for. You even have the classic “jump back when you get hit” dynamic, though the easy difficulty setting turns this off.  I prefer it on, as it makes for a more “full” experience, in my opinion.

Speaking of which, the game has two difficulty settings to start with: “Casual” and “Veteran”. Casual, in addition to preventing the player from being knocked back, also makes everything easier and gives you unlimited lives. “Veteran” is the game’s default setting, but if you truly are a Castlevania veteran, you’ll find the game a bit of a cakewalk (albeit enjoyable at that) until the last couple of levels, which still aren’t as difficult as the games they take inspiration from. I can see someone perhaps turned off by the game’s very forgiving auto-save checkpoint system, but at the same time, the lack of it is not a challenge the game ever promises to offer.

But fret not, as there is a second, more challenging “Nightmare” mode to the game (which has its own “Casual” and “Veteran” difficulty settings), which while can technically be called optional, is very much a part of completing the game. It’s more of a “Part 2” than a “New Game+”, changing things up and expanding upon each stage, its enemies and bosses as you wade through it all a second time. This drudge is rather rewarding, and the kind of “wait, there’s more” content that works really well. If you’re looking for a real, thrilling challenge, this is where Curse of the Moon shines.

Plus, there’s a third mode, as well, though this one is a bit of a secret, unlocked when certain requirements are met in the “Normal” mode. It’s pretty creative, but we’ll keep it a secret!

Curse of the Moon

Alucard, ahem, I mean Gebel is a dhampir kinda guy who can shoot floating dark energy orbs, useful for attacking enemies above you. He can also turn into a bat. (“Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon”, 2018)

But what is a “Curse of the Moon”?

There is a vague story to the game’s narrative that is not worth all that much looking into, true to the spirit of 8-bit side-scrolling games. Sure, one could look into the story and delve into it if compelled, but things are kept pretty simple on the front-end of things. Yeah, band together, defeat evil, here’s a samurai guy, here’s a demon girl with a whip. Dunno. Go kill.

There’s a charm in that simplicity. As a result, what is supposed to be a spinoff to the more narrative-driven Ritual of the Night stands strongly on its own. It’s a reflection of Curse of the Moon’s tight, no-frills gameplay and makes me wish there was more.

While this package was never meant to more than just an offshoot, I’m hoping for its success, and a success that leads to a creation of a Bloodstained series of games that gives us more stuff just like this. Considering that the Castlevania series is more or less dead now, owing to how Konami operates these days, it’s our best hope for a prosperous continuation.


Pros:

  • Solid, 8-bit era Castlevania gameplay with great level design
  • Interesting, varied stages with compelling atmosphere and loads of charm
  • The character switching mechanic adds a welcome layer of strategy. All characters are unique and useful.
  • “Nightmare” mode is more than just a simple “New Game+”, expanding on existing stages and offering a more challenging game. There’s a hidden third mode as well.

Cons:

  • Auto-save/checkpoint system makes the game a little too easy at times in “Normal” mode
  • Some people might find the shorter length off-putting

Immensely fascinated by the arts and interactive media, Maxwell N's views and opinions are backed by a vast knowledge of and passion for film, music, literature and video game history. His other endeavors and hobbies include fiction writing, creating experimental soundscapes, and photography. A Los Angeles, CA local, he currently lives with his wife and two pet potatoes/parrots in Austin, TX. He can mostly be found hanging around Twitter as @maxn_

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Maxwell N

    May 26, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Note: I am aware that the original Castlevania, “Vampire Killer”, started on MSX2 but I find that Curse of the Moon takes bigger inspiration from the NES games. There are elements from the MSX2 game present though.

  2. NitPicker

    May 28, 2018 at 7:05 am

    Super Metroid came out 1994 and should probably actually get the title of starting point of ‘Metoridvinas’.

    • Maxwell N

      May 28, 2018 at 1:34 pm

      That makes no sense. Ignoring the gameplay distinctions that coined the genre, How would it be “vania” without Symphony of the Night?

    • Juiced

      May 28, 2018 at 4:13 pm

      Have you considered that Super Metroid is very sparse on story, while SotN is driven by it? The “vania” of Metroidvania usually refers to the game’s narrative. Just sayin.

    • Forb.Jok

      January 14, 2019 at 5:09 am

      If Super Metroid was the first metroid game (which it is not, though it was and still remains the best one), it would still only have been the starting point of the Metroid series. The term “metroidvania” was originally created to describe the Metroid-like Castlevanias, which started with Symphony of the Night. Retroactively sticking the “-vania” on the Metroid series itself doesn’t really make any sense, and also the Metroid series does not have the RPG elements that most games considered “metroidvanias” do. That particular combination of a Metroid-style open world and RPG elements was first done – or at the very least popularized by SotN. (the latter because it could be argued that Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was a poorly executed attempt at the same style of game design)

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

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AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.

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Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

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