Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC, 3DS, Vita) Review

Wednesday night at SuperPhillip Central sees us coming down with a curse! But thankfully for us, this is the good kind of curse, an excellent game from Koji Igarashi of Castlevania's Metroidvania entries, and Inti Creates of Mega Man Zero and Azure Striker Gunvolt fame. When these two creators collide, what we get is an excellent homage to Konami's classic franchise with Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. Here's my review.

What a wonderful night to have a curse

Koji Igarashi's Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a spiritual successor to his directed Castlevania games, successfully saw itself reach its funding goal on Kickstarter. One of the sub-goals for the game was an 8-bit prelude to Ritual of the Night that would play like the classic NES Castlevania games--whereas Ritual will be in the Metroidvania style. This game, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, has since launched on all major platforms, and while it comes off a greatly more than just an homage, fans of retro gaming and old school difficulty alike will find something to love about it.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon finds the main character, Zangetsu, cursed by a demon. In a tried and true formula, he sets out to strike down the demon which bestowed the curse to him. Along the way, he quickly gathers three other comrades, each with different abilities to assist in getting through the game's eight levels.

It might not be the Vampire Killer, but Zangetsu still whips it, whips it good.
Zangetsu is the standard, all-around character with great attack strength and sizable enough health. Meanwhile, the other trio of characters each possess something unique to serve their uses. For instance, Miriam has a long whip that can easily cut through foes several spaces ahead of her. Her ability to perform a high jump means she can access areas that Zangetsu cannot. She also has a slide move to get through tight spaces. Then, there's the magician Alfred who is limited in his abilities due to low health and a lack of melee moves allowed to him, but his spells deal plenty of damage. Finally, there is Gebel, who might as well be Alucard. He slings bats at enemies to attack them, and can even turn into a furry, flying rodent himself to cross over gaps. Of the four characters, he's the only one who cannot gain access to or change special attacks.

Alucard--I mean--Gebel unleashes bats from inside his cape to take down enemies.
The levels of Curse of the Moon take place in all kinds of interesting places--from a rain-drenched ghost ship to a sand-showered pyramid. These are linear affairs, but the replay value is beefed up through the notion of alternate paths, which there are plenty of in each level. Most can only be accessed by one of the character's unique abilities, and some paths are harder or easier than others. Occasionally, having a certain character for a path is mandatory if you wish to reach areas otherwise inaccessible to the other characters, usually housing goodies in them like health, magic, or defense upgrade.

Without Miriam and her ability to slide, this magic upgrade would remain untouched.
Character management is important, too, as once a character loses all of their health, falls down a pit, or otherwise perishes, they're unavailable to you until the next level or when you lose every other character--whichever comes first. Thankfully, you can switch between characters on the fly with the shoulder buttons, so if one character is low on health, you can swap them out for another whose meter is better filled.

Each level concludes with an engaging and enjoyable boss battle that pits your team of demon-slayers against a powerful foe, where pattern-memorization, careful planning, adept dodging, and precise timing are all key to survive and escape with your life towards the next level. Most bosses employ some sort of desperation move after their health has emptied, using their last breath to try to take you out with them. While most of these attacks are thankfully not one-hit death deals, it can be a little unfair to not know what kind of health-deteriorating attack a boss is going to hit you with, sometimes resulting in you dying at the very conclusion of battle only because you couldn't have possibly foreseen what was coming. A small gripe, but a gripe all the same.

The first boss is one feisty furnace that Zangetsu is about to send to the repairman.
Curse of the Moon doesn't quite reach "NES Hard" levels like the classic Castlevania games, but it is challenging nevertheless. You can make the game as hard or as easy as you'd like by virtue of two main difficulties. There is Veteran, the standard difficulty that limits the amount of lives you start with (though you can find 1-Ups hidden in levels) and causes your character to get knocked back upon taking damage. Then, there is Casual, which is a much easier difficulty that gives you unlimited lives (though characters can still die and not be able to come back until you start the level over and complete it) and no knock-back from enemies and hazards whatsoever. I strayed towards Casual mode to give myself a more relaxing, less strenuous time, since my Castlevania-styled skills don't hold up like they did for me as a kid (nor as someone with much less time and patience), but even then, Curse of the Moon holds a pretty stiff challenge, nonetheless.

Even still, simply beating the game once won't give you the full story. There are multiple modes that unlock upon reaching the initial credits, such as one that follows directly after the events of first completing the story. Then, there's a mode where you can play through the game solely as Zangetsu, killing each character you'd normally team up with in the story to take their special power and attempt to beat the game that way. Other than that, there is also a Boss Rush mode which is one boss after another until the final showdown.

Whereas this particular boss is one gold rush away from a serious and total beat-down.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a satisfying appetizer to the upcoming main course that is Ritual of the Night, that succeeds in delivering a classic Castlevania game in all but name. Perhaps the game strays a little too closely to Konami's NES trilogy, but it's a wonderful, awesome homage all the same. Some might find the controls a little too unforgiving, with how the game forces you to dedicate yourself to your characters' jumps (i.e. no midair course correction), but for everyone else yearning for a retro-inspired Castlevania in new franchise clothing, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is the game for you. It's by no means cursed to mediocrity. In reality, it's far from it.

[SPC Says: A-]

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