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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

‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still as Difficult, Demanding and Amazing to This Day

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Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country: 25 Years Later

Back in 1994, Nintendo was struggling with their 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which wasn’t selling as well as they’d hoped it would. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation on the horizon, the Super Nintendo needed a visually impressive and original title to reinforce its market dominance. After three years of intense competition and heated rivalries, Nintendo desperately needed a hit that could prove the Super NES could output graphics on the same level as the forthcoming 32-bit consoles. They teamed up with Rare to produce Donkey Kong Country, a Mario-style platformer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Donkey Kong Country is a game held in high regard and with reason. Monumental! Monstrous! Magnificent! Use any term you want, there’s no denying how important this game was for Nintendo and Rare. The graphics for the time were above and beyond anything anyone would imagine possible for the 16-bit system. For a two-dimensional side-scroller, Donkey Kong Country conveys a three-dimensional sense of dept. The characters are fluidly animated and the rich tropical environments make use of every visual effect in the Super NES’s armory. Each stage has its own theme, forcing players to swim underwater, navigate through a misty swamp, swing from vines, or transport DK using a set of barrels (cannons) to advance. And let’s not forget the mine cart stages where you ride on rails and use your quick reflexes to successfully reach the end. Every level has little nooks and crannies too, hiding secret areas and passageways that lead to bonus games where you can earn bananas and balloons, which you can trade in for additional lives. And in Donkey Kong Country, you’re not alone; your simian sidekick Diddy tags along for the adventure. You control one character at a time, and each has his own unique strengths. Donkey Kong can dispatch larger enemies with his giant fists, while Diddy can jump a little higher than his bulky cousin. It isn’t the most original platforming feature, but it works. The two heroes can also rely on various animal friends to help guide them through their adventure. Predating Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island, Diddy and DK can also ride on the backs of Rambi the Rhino, Winky the Frog, Enguarde the Swordfish and more!

What’s really impressive about Donkey Kong Country is how it has withstood the passage of time. In 1994, Donkey Kong Country’s visuals were spectacular with its rendered 3D models, lively character animations, detailed backgrounds, and a lush jungle setting, and while some would argue the game is dated, in my eyes it still looks great to this day. Kong has heart, and he’s willing to show it in a game made with wit, excitement and moments of visionary beauty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by David Wise is guaranteed to win listener’s over. Practically every piece on the soundtrack exudes a certain lyricism that has become a staple of Rare’s games – from its upbeat tropical introduction to the unforgettable climax which secures its place as one of the Super Nintendo’s most memorable boss fights. The result is an apt accompaniment to the colorful characters, tropical landscape, and tomfoolery that proceeds.

What really stands out the most about Donkey Kong Country after all of these years is just how challenging this game is.

But what really stands out the most after all of these years is just how challenging this game is. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you can only finish through persistence and with a lot of patience. Right from the start, you’re in for one hell of a ride. In fact, some of the hardest levels come early on. There are constant pitfalls and Donkey Kong can only take a single hit before he loses a life. If your companion Diddy is following you he will take over but then if he takes a single hit you lose a life and it’s back to the start of a level. Needless to say, the game is unforgiving and requires quick reflexes and precise pattern memorization to continue. This game requires so much fine precision that it will definitely appeal to hardcore platforming veterans looking for a challenge and those that do are in for one hundred eighty minutes of mesmerization, astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills. The only real downfall of Donkey Kong Country is the boss battles. Yes, Donkey Kong Country gave us some memorable villains such as Dumb Drum (a giant Oil Drum that spawns enemies after it hits the floor), and The Kremling King (who is responsible for stealing Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard), but these enemies have very basic attack patterns and far too easy to defeat.

It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

Donkey Kong Country

Along with its two SNES sequels, Donkey Kong Country is one of the defining platformers for the SNES. The game looks great and sounds great and the platforming, while incredibly difficult, is still very fun. Rare did the unexpected by recasting a classic Nintendo villain as the titular hero and it paid off in spades. It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

The beauty of the original is that there’s more to it than the oversized gorilla. Donkey Kong Country is truly amazing!

– Ricky D

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Game Reviews

‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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Game Reviews

‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy

Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.

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With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego GamesWoven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.

Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.

Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.

However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.

But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.

Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.

But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.

And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.

Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.

Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.

‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).

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