Friday, July 24, 2020

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 Review

Developer: Inti Creates
Platforms: XBO, PS4, PC, NS
Version Played: Switch
Price: $15

This came out of nowhere. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 was announced only a month ago at New Game+ Expo, and it was released just a couple of weeks after. I ranked the first Curse of the Moon number 4 in my GOTY 2018 list, so I was pretty hyped about this surprise announcement. COTM2 features a new quest, 3 new characters, 2 player co-op, and a much more clear-cut structure than the first game. Sounds pretty good, but is it actually a better game? I’m not so sure about that.

If you’re not familiar with Curse of the Moon, it’s basically a mix of some of the coolest Classicvania elements. It uses a party system, like the one in Castlevania III, and character specific branching paths, like in Castlevania Bloodlines. Bosses also have finishing moves, like in Castlevania Rondo of Blood. The main character, Zangetsu, plays more like Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden than a Belmont, but that’s okay because Ninja Gaiden (NES) was totally a Castlevania clone with Ninjas, and Miriam is totally like a Belmont in COTM. Of course, COTM also does some original things that Classicvanias never did too, like the power ups.

In COTM1, you had the choice of killing, recruiting, or ignoring the other characters in order to choose how you wanted to play through the game. You could kill them and give their powers to Zangetsu, recruit them and use them on your quest, or ignore them and make the game as challenging as playing NES Castlevania without save states. COTM2 doesn’t have that at all. Instead, you play through Episodes with preset characters, like Nightmare Mode in the first game. You unlock new Episodes by beating the available ones, so it’s not like you can skip around and play the one you want either. I don’t like this structure. It makes it feel like I’m grinding to play how I want. Not a whole lot changes between episodes. It’s just the same game with different characters. Was the first game’s structure really that confusing for people? Maybe if they didn’t treat a major game mechanic like some huge spoiler, people would have kept replaying the game instead of quitting after 1 playthrough.

The 3 other characters from the first game are back, but they are only available in a couple of Episodes. The new characters are pretty cool. For the most part. We get Dominique, Robert, and Hachi. Dominique is the Nun from Ritual of the Night. She uses a spear, has powerful magic, and controls like something between Eric Lecarde and Shovel Knight. Robert is a gunslinger from Zangetsu’s past. He can wall jump, crawl on his stomach, and shoot guns, but his attacks have a long reloading animation after every shot, and he can’t jump very far. I think he sucks. The reloading animation is too long and his jump is just terrible. He’s worse than Alfred. Hachi is a Corgi in a steam engine mech suit. He kind of feels like a mech suit in Mega Man X. He can break walls with his punches and stomps, has a ton of HP, a hover jump, and a special move that makes him invincible. I think he’s pretty awesome. I mean, he’s a dog in a mech!

The level design in COTM2 feels a lot less forgiving than in the first game. I feel like there’s a lot of areas where there isn’t much room for error and you have to memorize the level. This makes playing on Veteran (with knockback and limited lives) feel about as hard as playing solo Zangetsu with no power ups in the first game. I played through the whole first game on Veteran, but after playing COTM2 up to level 7 on Veteran, I switched to Casual. My progress was going way too slow because of the difficulty. Maybe Veteran would be better as an extra challenge to go back to later. Thankfully, there is no penalty for playing on Casual. Just like in the first game.

COTM2 plays a lot like the first game, but I guess due to the way some of the characters control, you’re forced to use more modern controls with subweapons on a separate button. You don’t have the option to press up and attack to use subweapons, like in Castlevania, at all. I get that Dominique has up attacks, but they could have given us the option to use Up + attack with other characters. This bothers me more than you might think. I’m just so used to pressing up + attack for subweapons.

I was hoping that if they ever made a COTM2, they’d go with more SNES-like 16-bit graphics, but COTM keeps the NES-like 8-bit style of the original. And that’s fine, I guess. The game looks pretty nice. There’s a lot more detail and animations in the backgrounds now, and the screen doesn’t cut off on the sides, like the first game, since it didn’t have to be made for 3DS. The new bosses also look much better than in the first game. The characters all still have those ugly GBC-like color schemes, though. Even the new ones. I don’t get that.

I thought the music was alright. It’s still by Ippo Yamada, like the first game, but most of it doesn’t sound like Bloodstained music, or even Castlevania. It sounds more like Mega Man at times. I think more chiptune renditions of Michiru Yamane’s ROTN music would have worked better. It just doesn’t sound very Goth, Metal, or Classical to me. COTM2 still has some pretty good songs here and there, though.

If you were looking for some kind of explanation of COTM’s ending, or the connection between these games and ROTN, forget about it. This game makes even less sense than the last one, doesn’t even try to tie into ROTN, and doesn’t explain anything about anything. This game is really just about the gameplay.

If you’re wondering about the co-op, it’s not online, so I didn’t play it.

Curse of the Moon 2 is a lot of fun, but I think the more defined structure with the Episode format takes a lot of the fun away. I would much rather have the freedom the first game gave me. I also think the difficulty is way too lopsided. Veteran is too hard to start with and Casual isn’t hard enough. The first game got it right. But aside from those 2 things, this game is great. It’s more of that old-school Castlevania-like gameplay I loved from the first one. I’d love to see more entries in this series, but I hope they’re more like the first game.