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Backlog Review | Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

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Is Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon just trying to pull at our nostalgia heart strings or does it go beyond just our gothic 8-bit fantasies?

It’s all about second chances!

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I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I get excited about sparkly new video games. Whether it’s watching press conferences or reveal trailers during E3 or browsing Ebay to find that one game I’ve been looking for for months. But there are a few game series that I will always clear my schedule for, get hyped about and inevitably buy regardless or how good or bad the previous game/s in the series were. Those series include Mega Man, Castlevania, Final Fantasy and Resident Evil.

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It’s equally as devastating when you find out that one of your favorite franchises may never have a proper sequel again or the people behind them left for greener pastures. It was true of Capcom with Keiji Inafune of Mega Man fame and Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame leaving their employ. And although both have attempted to launch their own development studios and franchises to bring back what we loved about those classic series, neither were exactly the blow out successes of their predecessors. To varying degrees of course.

In recent years Capcom really has stepped up to the plate by delivering on all of those classic titles fans have been yearning and clambering for for years! So in reality, I’m not really concerned about never again being able to bask in the glory of the blue bomber or boulder punching S.T.A.R.S. officer.

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And then there’s Konami… with their recent debacle with Hideo Kojima, an apparent shift from video game publisher to Pachinko connoisseurs and the fact that Koji Igarashi (a.k.a. The Father of Castlevania) is no longer working for them, Castlevania seemed doomed to never see the light of day again. Well, maybe it’ll see the twilight haze of limbo like Metal Gear Solid has post Kojima. But then, like his peers, Igarashi-san launched a Kickstarter campaign for a game called Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. A spiritual successor to my beloved Castlevania.

I was hesitant at first, I was burned by Inafune’s attempt to revive Mega Man with Mighty No. 9 and then again with the mediocre yet still fun Evil Within by Mikami. Regardless, I had high hopes, and a few years to wait before my dreams were dashed. But then out of the blue, mostly because I wasn’t paying attention, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was released. A precursor to Ritual of the Night, but in glorious 8-bit style graphics harkening back to the NES days of Castlevania.

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Needless to say it was an insta-buy and a perfect reason to pick up and play on my shiny new Nintendo Switch. So I plunked down in front of my TV and within two short sittings it was finished, like a flash in the pan. This is my story of the nostalgia hype-train known as Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.

Story, S’mory… Give me Action!

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Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon opens up by introducing you to Zangetsu, the man who was cursed by demons with the Curse of the Moon! Needless to say he wasn’t too happy about this, so he set it upon himself to scour hell and earth seeking out the demon that cursed him. He also made it a point to kill any other creature of darkness he came across with reckless abandon.

After sensing a great presence, and with blatant disregard for his own safety apparently, Zangetsu thrusts himself headlong into danger and the opening scene of the game.

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Certainly an interesting premise, if not a little straight forward and a tad troup-ish. Still, considering the type of game Inti Creates is trying to replicate (an 8-bit Castlevania-like) then it’s to be expected. And when it comes to action platformers of that era, you’re not really looking for story anyways. That’s what the primary game Ritual of Blood is for. Though this game does do a good job of setting up it’s successor and makes me super excited for it’s release. Let’s not kid ourselves though, what we’re really here for is the gameplay, and as long as it’s top notch with tight controls and super fun, then I’m one happy camper!

It’s all in the delivery

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Well, let me tell you, Curse of the Moon swept me off my feet, carried me to some creepy and decrepit gothic castle and sucked all the doubt I may have had for it’s quality right out of my fancy new neck holes (vampire jokes amirite?). It does everything you would want and expect from an action platformer let alone a Castlevania. With just enough modern design sensibilities and gameplay mechanics to keep the game feeling fresh and exciting. The controls are solid, the action is precise and satisfying and not once did I ever feel cheated by the game.

The core gameplay mechanic in Curse of the Moon is the ability to switch between different characters on the fly once you’ve acquired them during the regular progression of the game. Each character has unique abilities, strengths and weakness that will either help or hinder you as you play. That’s when the whole, knowing how and when to use those specific characters to be successful comes into play. It’s a great feature that adds a lot of variety to the game. It also gives Curse of the Moon a slightly Metroid-lite feel, where you’ll find parts of the stage that are inaccessible until you attain the proper character with the proper abilities to traverse it.

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Unfortunately, you’ll see sections of the beginning stages that are like this, but there is no way to get back to them with your new characters until you’ve beaten the game at least once. However, if you did happen to miss something in a prior stage you can use the “Curse of the Moon” feature which lets you reset your progress to any previously completed stage. That way you can try and get that ever elusive item. It still doesn’t solve the problem of not having the right character ability if you hadn’t yet met them since this does remove any characters or items you may have collected in subsequent stages. And you’ll have to re-fight the bosses of those areas, but at least you can get that cool 100% completion I know you’re all striving for… sorta!

And speaking of bosses, the ones found here are the crème de la crème and all exciting to fight. Each boss found at the end of a stage felt unique, interesting and each had their own attack patterns you needed to learn to be successful. And boy did they make me learn them! Of course they all had super cool effects to oogle over!! The end level bosses offered a nice balance of challenge and spectacle which is what I most look forward to in these types of games. Sure the level design was intuitive and the enemies were varied, colorful and challenging in their own ways, but give me a gut wrenching boss battle any day of the week!

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My only complaint is that once you learn their patterns, the bosses become a breeze and predictable, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but lessens it’s replayability. Now, there is a, “new game plus” of sorts once you beat the game which supposedly bumps up the challenge a bit, but I haven’t gotten around to playing that yet. Who knows, maybe the patterns will all change and I’ll be eating my words by this time next week!

8-bit of Nostalgia

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To many out there the whole indie developed, 8-bit aesthetic thing has become tired, overdone and blah blah blah… I just can’t agree!! There’s just something about colorful pixels jumping around, hacking and slashing that pulls at my heartstrings! Especially when a developer attempts to not only replicate the look and feel of games of that era, but also their quirks and limitations. Like Capcom did with Mega Man 9 and 10 and Yacht Club Games with Shovel Knight (check their excellent blog post about the process here: Breaking the NES for Shovel Knight), Inti Creates hits the nostalgias right in the feels.

Everything from the limited color palette, to the parallax scrolling backgrounds, to the tile based levels, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon feels like it would be right at home on the NES. Of course, the devs probably fudged some of the fancier effects that I’m sure wouldn’t have been possible on the NES, but that’s ok. It’s all about the experience now and making the game feel like how we remember it did when we were kids, not how it really was. Remember I was of a generation that thought the red, white and yellow composite video cables were too complex to even bother with. RF signals or go home! It was a blurry static-y mess but we played those games and loved it dang it! Who needed definition anyways.

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Aesthetics aside, the art direction is superb. All the character, enemy, boss and environmental designs feel consistent and interesting. And dang that concept art is beautiful. Dark, colorful and intricate. Now all I need is a nice hardbound art book that I can drool over when I’m not drooling all over my Switch JoyCons while playing it.

So, the ultimate question is, would I recommend Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon? Absolutely yes, especially if you are a fan of classic NES action-platformers. And doubly especially if you are a fan of Castlevania and Koji Igarashi. Also, if the quality of this game is any sign of what Igarashi’s primary project Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night has in store for us then we all have something to look forward to.

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What are some of your favorite action-platformers, NES or otherwise? Are you a fan of the Castlevania series of games?