Saturday, May 26, 2018

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon Review

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is the Kickstarter stretch goal game funded by backers of the main Bloodstained game, Ritual of the Night. It’s an 8-bit retro game in the style of classic 8-bit and 16-bit Castlevania games and takes a lot of inspiration from Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and Castlevania: Rondo of Blood in particular. It was developed by Inti Creates, makers of Mega Man 9 & 10, Mega Man Zero 1-4, and Blaster Master Zero. Its release has been a pretty big mess, with console and handheld Kickstarter backers still not having their codes and the game being delayed on 3DS in Europe and on Xbox One worldwide, but it is available for $9.99 on NS, 3DS, PS4, PSV, and PC right now.

Not knowing the story of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, it’s hard to tell when this game takes place, but it was originally pitched as a prequel to Ritual of the Night. They’ve since changed their wording to say that it’s a spinoff of the main game. You play as the Demon Hunter, Zangetsu. He was cursed by demons (with the Curse of the Moon, I guess) and now he wants revenge on all demons. One night, he sensed a great demon in the general direction of a big castle and heads that way. That’s pretty much how they explain it in the game, too. Similarly to a lot of NES games, there’s not a lot of story here. This is mostly an introduction to the characters we’ll see more of in Ritual of the Night.

Curse of the Moon plays a lot like the NES Castlevanias, but faster. Running speed feels more like Ninja Gaiden than old-school Castlevanias. That speed also applies to going up stairs, by the way. Jumping feels a bit floatier, but not quite like in SotN, and you don’t get any air control. You still break candles to get items and subweapons, and a lot of the items do the same thing as items in Castlevania, but they look different. Hearts give you HP instead of weapon points and vases give you weapon points instead of making you invisible. Switching characters is instant, rather than a long animation, like in Castlevania III, and you get to keep all 4 characters you recruit, unlike in Castlevania III. “Veteran” mode still has lives, continues, and knockback when you get hit by enemies, but there is also a “Casual” mode which removes knockback and gives you infinite lives. There is no punishment for playing in Casual instead of Veteran, as far as I can tell, so play however you want.

Curse of the Moon is not a Metroidvania, like Ritual of the Night will be. It has a linear level-by-level structure, just like most of the 8-bit and 16-bit Castlevanias. The levels have branching paths, which you’ll need specific characters to get to sometimes, but it’s not like you end up in a completely different level, or fight a different boss at the end, like you do in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. All paths lead to the same bosses and levels. Branching paths are limited to within the levels themselves, so it’s not like Castlevania III either. The level design plays it pretty safe. There aren’t a lot of crazy traps, and it doesn’t make you do a lot more than jump over pits and fight enemies, but it’s not bad at all. And yes, there are breakable walls and wall hearts. No wall turkeys, though.

The 4 playable characters are Zangetsu, Miriam, Alfred, and Gebel. They each have different attacks, stats, subweapons, and abilities. Zangetsu is a sort of sword wielding Samurai Demon Hunter. He’s the Mario of the game. He’s well rounded and pretty good in any situation. His subweapons include a Vampire Killer-like ball and chain that does an upwards diagonal attack, a very holy water-like magic charm attack, and a spell that infuses his sword with demonic energy. Zangetsu feels a lot like Ryu Hayabusa from NES Ninja Gaiden. He’s the only one of the playable characters that doesn’t feel like a Castlevania III character. His counterpart would have to be Grant, but he is definitely not like Grant.

Miriam is the main character of Ritual of the Night and the first character Zangetsu meets in the game. She is the Belmont of the game. Actually, she feels more like an 8-bit Nathan Graves from Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. Her whip attack is slow, like a Belmont’s, but it has a long reach, her HP and AP are almost as high as Zangetsu’s, she has the highest jump, and she can slide. Her subweapons are the dagger, a big heavy axe, a boomerang sickle, and a diagonal 3 sword attack.

The second character Zangetsu meets is Alfred, who is not a butler. Alfred is an Alchemist in search of the Liber Logaeth. Whatever that is. He is basically Sypha from Castlevania III. Maybe he’s her grandfather or something. He has very low health and he uses a staff as his main weapon, which has a very short range. Alfred’s strength is his subweapons. All his subweapons are very powerful magic spells, and every time he kills enemies with magic, they drop weapon point vases, so you can use his magic more than other character’s subweapons. Alfred’s magic spells include an ice sword attack that freezes enemies and creates platforms, a damaging fire wheel shield, a magical clone of himself, and a super strong electric ray attack.

Gebel is the final character you’ll meet. He’s supposed to be the villain of Ritual of the Night. He was implanted with magic shards, like Miriam, and hates alchemists and humans. He is basically Alucard from Castlevania III, but he is not a Vampire, as far as I know. For his main attack, he flicks his cape and shoots 3 bats out of it. This attack has a medium range and covers a large diagonal cone in front of and above him, so it’s good for hitting enemies on top of stairs. Gebel can’t use any subweapons, but he can use his weapon points to turn into a bat and fly around, just like Alucard. While in bat form, he can do and upwards dash and a forwards dash, which can damage enemies and break candles in the way.

Zangetsu meets the other 3 characters after killing the first 3 bosses in the game. How you interact with these characters will determine how difficult the game becomes as you play it, what ending you get, and what you unlock after you beat it. You have 3 options; you can talk to them and recruit them, kill them, or just ignore them. Recruiting the others will result in a much easier game, with more checkpoints, and what basically amounts to 4 lives per life, since each character has its own health bar, and losing a character only means you can’t use them until everyone dies and you restart on the next life. If you kill the others, Zangetsu will gain new powers, like a crescent air slash, a double jump, and a short dash that helps you make long jumps. If you ignore the other characters, you just keep playing as regular Zangetsu with no extra abilities. Solo Zangetsu games are the hardest and most NES Castlevania-like ways to play the game, since you don’t get the others’ abilities or 4 lives per life. You also restart at the beginning of the level after dying.

The graphics look pretty nice for an 8-bit style game. They capture the look of an NES game, but could never be done on a real NES. It looks good, but not as good as something like Shovel Knight. The framerate is stays smooth throughout the whole game, even during the most hectic boss fights. The backgrounds are varied, colorful, and fairly detailed. They have multiple parallax scrolling layers and a some cool looking animated elements, but nothing too crazy. The character sprites look very simple and don’t use a lot of colors, so they kind of look like they’re from a GBC game. The most impressive graphical showpiece is probably the bosses, some of are which are huge and fill the whole screen. They also have flashy attacks, including Rondo of Blood style desperation moves.

I loved the music in CotM. It is 8-bit chiptune music, but it is very well done. Not every song is amazing, just most of them. Michiru Yamane, who worked on a lot of Castlevania soundtracks and is working on RotN’s soundtrack, also worked on this one, and it shows. It wouldn't sound out of place in a Castlevania game. If they still made 8-bit Castlevanias, that is. This soundtrack sounds a bit too modern for the NES, but it’s not quite Castlevania Rave music. I can’t wait to hear the orchestrated versions of these songs in RotN.

This is a great game! I love how you can play it in many different ways and be rewarded for it. It has nice graphics, great music, and fun Classicvania gameplay. I think both new and old Castlevania fans will enjoy it. It’s definitely worth $10. I’m glad that Inti Creates is keeping this style of game alive, and I hope we get a sequel in the same style someday. I would love to see a game like this with graphics like Azure Striker Gunvolt.