Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
Does it come to pay Castlevania tribute, or does it merely steal a classic's soul?
Aug 17, 2021 12:04 am
May 30, 2018 8:13 pm
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon treads a thin line between homage and outright theft. Created as a Kickstarter bonus for the upcoming modern-looking Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Curse of the Moon taps into project's attempt to continue Castlevania's metroidvania legacy by setting its sights on that series' older, 8-bit entries. Not only does it succeed at paying the NES Castlevania games tribute, it almost does it a little too accurately for its own good.If this game amounts to an act of plagiarism, though, at least it's self-plagiarism. After all, Bloodstained creative lead Koji Igarashi is best known for directing numerous Castlevania games during his time at Konami. He served more as a supervisor here than director, but you can definitely see his fingerprints on Curse of the Moon; he even appears as a mini-boss. On top of that, the credits list several other long-time Castlevania contributors, such as composer Michiru Yamane. If this game amounts to Castlevania in all but name, that's because Castlevania is what its creators know.
Curse of the Moon conspicuously borrows critical mechanics and concepts specifically from 1990's NES classic, Castlevania III. It allows you to alternate between four different playable characters, each with their own distinct skills and attack styles, as you fight your way through eight linear stages packed with monsters and platform hazards. They're practically spitting images of Castlevania III's playable characters, from Gebel the vampire (who throws fireballs and transforms into a bat, like Castlevania's Alucard) to Arthur the wizard (who swings a puny staff and controls overpowered magic, like Castlevania's Sypha). Curse of the Moon moves a little faster and feels more forgiving than Castlevania III, making it feel more modern than the slow-moving 90s games, but there's absolutely no mistaking the intent.
Curse of the Moon elevates its difficulty by introducing material changes to its play mechanics.
Even before you apply modifiers, there are a lot of ways to tackle Curse of the Moon's eight stages, and each level contain multiple routes to the end. The variety created by these branching paths and play options, and the bone-breaking old-school challenge available in certain formats, give Curse of the Moon far more replayability than its brief, two-hour length would suggest.
Curse of the Moon’s title hints at the exploratory, perfectionist mentality its creators seem to want to encourage.
Developer Inti Creates has done an excellent job of capturing the look and feel of NES games without being slavish to the limitations of the platform. Your characters are a little less stiff than the NES heroes of old, a little faster to react, a little more fluid in motion. And although the widescreen format creates larger rooms to navigate than in the days of 4:3 aspect ratio and 8-bit screen resolution, Curse of the Moon compensates for this by throwing more enemies at you at a time or by making them move faster.
Fans of Shovel Knight will likely be reminded of that game's outstanding approach to recapturing the look and feel of the NES era. Curse of the Moon doesn't quite reach that remarkably high bar; it lacks Shovel Knight's meticulous level design and surprising variants on standard enemies. The basic foes you face here never stray far from the Castlevania mold, relying on familiar concepts like Medusa heads flying in tricky sine patterns and armored knights tossing axes. They look different, sure, but this is the standard Castlevania bestiary with swapped sprites.On the other hand, the bosses feel nothing like Castlevania. In fact, they highlight what might be the biggest flaw in this retro homage: inconsistency. Where Shovel Knight used Mega Man as a jumping-off point to become something truly its own, Curse of the Moon feels less confident in itself. The moment-to-moment action feels mostly like a Castlevania fan game, true. However, the boss encounters (along with a few set pieces, such as the trial-and-error gimmick that dominates the final stage) feel more like they were taken from Inti Creates' work on the likes of Mega Man Zero and Blaster Master Zero. For every boss that amounts to a fun riff on Castlevania favorites, like the tribute to Rondo of Blood's battle with Death atop the mast of a ship, there are several encounters that feel wildly out of keeping with the source material.
Curse of the Moon’s shortcomings aren't limited to quirks of style. Most notably, the death mechanic feels more clever than fun: when one of your team members dies, they're taken out of the action altogether until you complete the current stage or lose the entire team. This mostly serves to punish you for making use of your favorite protagonists, since you're always a single false jump or unlucky knockback away from losing the one you enjoy controlling most. We see lots of devs tinkering with the penalty for failure in retro-style games lately, but this is one of those cases where the idea doesn't work quite as well in practice as it does on paper. Like WayForward's recent The Mummy Demastered, death in Curse of the Moon often punishes you with tedious inconvenience. On the whole, however, these missteps prove to be fairly minor.
The prospect of playing such a lovingly crafted tribute to the vintage heyday of Konami's seemingly abandoned Castlevania series more than makes up for a few out-of-place boss fights and a slightly too punitive death penalty. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon delivers a brief but effective burst of nostalgia, and thanks to its many creative modifiers it contains enough replay value to engage (and challenge) anyone who pines for gaming's bygone days. And this isn't even the "real" Bloodstained! As appetizers go, it's substantial — nearly satisfying enough to be its own main course.
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Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon Review
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a Castlevania III homage that plays dangerously close to its source material, but introduces interesting ideas that make it highly replayable.