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 IGA, is 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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
- 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.
- 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