Thursday, July 30, 2020

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

What a horrible night to have a curse. Really, it is, at least from my point of [re]view. Here's my verdict on Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2, a game that I so wanted to love after adoring the original classic Castlevania-inspired game.

It's always darkest before the dawn

The original Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon delighted in ways I didn't expect. I adored it so much that I gave it the #9 spot on my Games of 2018 list. It possessed just the right amount of difficulty that made for a satisfying experience. It's obvious that others loved the game a lot, too, as what started out as a game created out of Kickstarter goal for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, now sees a sequel. However, while the original Curse of the Moon consisted of a fair level of challenge, unfortunately, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is hard for all the wrong reasons.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 sees the return of Zangetsu, the whip-carrying hero of the original game, and he's on a mission to vanquish the horrors of the night once more. His destination is the top of a terrifying tower, and along the way, he encounters three other heroes who joins his cause. There's Dominique, able to jump higher than any other character in the game, and can use her staff to launch off the heads of enemies a la Scrooge McDuck in DuckTales to reach higher areas. 

Robert is great for long range, but not so much for up close and personal encounters.
There's also Robert, who is the sharpshooter of the bunch, able to pick up enemies from afar with his rifle. While he has a lot of mobility with being able to wall jump as well as lay on the ground and crawl Solid Snake-style, his health is by far the lowest of any other character in the game, making him not the greatest to depend on. Finally, there's the tank character of the game, a corgi piloting a mech suit named Hachi. Hachi is terrific for brute forcing one's way through levels with his invincibility special power, but this drains special energy quite quickly. His hover ability allows him to cross chasms otherwise inaccessible to the other characters, and his ground pound grants him devastating attack power from above, as well as the ability to destroy blocks below him.

Who's a heckin' good pup? Why, Hachi is!
Each character has their own health bar, subweapons, and can switched between effortless with the shoulder buttons. With regard to subweapons, some are better to hold onto for particular segments of levels over others. Dominque's is especially nice, as she can plant a seed that grows into a health-restoring item for any character that needs it, including herself. Different paths in levels house unique items that can increase the party's health, subweapon energy, attack, or defense, so it's often a good idea to go off the beaten path when possible. 

However, most paths in Curse of the Moon 2's seven levels will be off limits to most players in their first run. As new characters are earned, new paths become available on subsequent runs. In fact, to fully "complete" Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2, you need to run through the game no less than three times. That said, each time shakes the experience up considerably. The second run takes away one of your three heroes with the goal of rescuing them from their demonic possession. Then, the third run brings back some goodness from the original Curse of the Moon and ends on a truly crazy note--yes, more insane than having a corgi piloting a mech!

When a character loses all of their health, they are removed from your arsenal of heroes as you are put back at the last checkpoint you reached. The lone positive of this is that if you were facing a boss, the boss will have the same health remaining in their meter from the point you died at the boss. The overwhelming list of negatives is that when one or more characters are eliminated, you might as well take the "L" and lose a life to summon them all back. Checkpoints are often scattered in seriously ill-conceived manners, where many are placed far apart from one another, or worse, several screens away from a level's boss.

Oh, take an antacid already.
Curse of the Moon 2 features two styles of play. One is a classic Castlevania-like experience where damage results in your character getting knocked back, thus ripe for falling into bottomless pits from carelessly received hits in tried and true "NES hard" fashion. This mode has a lives system that takes away a life each time you revive all four heroes at once. The other mode is more to be my taste, but still a considerable step up in challenge when compared to the original game. There's no "knock-back" damage to speak of, but the game is still quite difficult. 

The first run is enjoyable enough, though there is a steep increase in difficulty from stages 4 to 5. By the second run, bosses take off an insane amount of damage, and these encounters are already obnoxious due to each boss's final gambit move. This is generally a last ditch effort attack by the boss that is next to impossible to avoid one's first time encountering it. It perfectly encapsulates Inti Creates' design philosophy with Curse of the Moon 2, unfortunately, and that's to present several "gotcha" moments to the player under the guise of difficulty. Sometimes, this game can just feel unfair, and it's a balance that Inti Creates nailed with Curse of the Moon that the developer failed to do and achieve with this sequel. 

Apart from taking on the hellish nightmares both intended and unintended in Curse of the Moon 2 by your lonesome, you can take on the challenge with a friend via co-op. Though you really need to have two well skilled players to have any semblance of fun here. Newly added via an update is a boss rush mode, but considering my thoughts on bosses in general--and how many require pixel perfect platforming for evading their attacks which Curse of the Moon 2 seldom provides with its stiff movement--it isn't my type of mode to unwind with. 

Co-op is present in Curse of the Moon 2, but it's more of a novelty than anything else.
I won't say that Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is a poor sequel to the original game; it's just a disappointing sequel for me. While I'm most certain many will enjoy the daunting challenge presented by Curse of the Moon 2's lack of proper checkpoint-ing, myriad cheap deaths, aggravating final attacks from bosses, and maddening "gotcha" moments, it's simply not for me anymore. I felt like the game was more of a test of my patience than a test of my skill at times. Your whip mileage most certainly will vary.

[SPC Says: C-]

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