My fandom for Castlevania is a relatively recent phenomenon. Despite having played a few games in the series over the course of my lifetime, none of them really clicked with me until I spent an extended period of time with the original game on the NES Classic. While this epiphany occurred well after the Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Kickstarter ended, I jumped in just in time for Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon.
Unlike the upcoming Ritual of the Night, Curse of the Moon does not leverage a modern 3D art style. Instead, this game is presented with a quasi-8-bit aesthetic. Wearing its Castlevania influence on its sleeve, the game certainly looks the part in the way that the sprites are drawn, the colour-palettes used, and the haunting chiptunes that underscore the action. Similar to Shovel Knight, this game adds in a few extra bells and whistles that wouldn’t have been possible on the original hardware as a means of spicing up its presentation for modern times. Overall, the game certainly looks and sounds like the games its trying to ape.
Positioned as a prequel, you start this game as Zamasu. He’s a sword-wielding demon hunter that has taken it upon himself to dispatch of a strong demonic force. Along the way, he recruits new allies that will fight alongside him, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. This includes a whip-wielding Miriam, Alfred the alchemist, and Gebel, whom they don’t explicitly say is a vampire, but come on now, he’s a vampire.
Mechanically, if you’ve played any Castlevania game before, you already know what to expect. You’re going to whip candles off of the walls for items, attack every demonic creature in sight, toggle between secondary weapons, and get knocked off of platforms by flying demon heads. This game does incredibly well. What sets it apart is the way in which the game leverages its roster.
As you progress through the first three levels, you will recruit a new ally that possesses unique talents. Miriam is great at striking down foes from long-range with her whip, while her ability to slide into tight spaces allows her to access hidden areas. Alfred is horrible at hand-to-hand combat, but he possesses insanely powerful secondary magic attacks. As for Gebel, he can turn into a bat, allowing him to fly around certain obstacles.
The game gives you a lot of reasons to switch between characters throughout each level. Some enemies are easier to kill with certain characters, while you’ll need their unique abilities to access secret paths. On top of that, if one character is low on health, simply swap to a healthy one and continue the fight. Best of all, you don’t actually lose any lives until all of your characters are dead. This, combined with lives resetting after each completed level, and I never saw a game over screen during my initial play on Veteran difficulty.
Having said that, this game isn’t a cakewalk. You’re still going to have to contend with enemies flying at you from weird angles, tough bosses that will require pattern-memorization to beat, and struggle through tough moments that would have been easier had you not gotten certain characters killed earlier in the level. For the masochists, even harder difficulty levels unlock on repeat plays, as well as the opportunity to access new areas in older levels with the recruits you would have picked up later on.
I like the game a great deal, as it does a tremendous job of recreating the Castlevania vibe for modern times. However, for its budget price point, you’re also getting a proportionally short game. I beat it in my first playthrough in just under two hours. The game gives you incentives to play it again, and I think the game is enjoyable enough to play through more than once. I still think its worth the asking price even if you play through it once, but if you’re not interested beyond that first pass, this thrill ride may be over sooner than you would hope. It reminds me a lot of old NES games like Contra or Castlevania in how much I still replay those games after the fact.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon may have been conceived as an appetizer, but the game stands on its own as a quality title for players itching for a retro follow-up to first few Castlevania games on the NES. It captures the essence of what made those games great while adding just enough of a modern touch to work well today, such as an extra level of aesthetic polish, multiple difficulty settings, and even the ability to disable knock-back if so choose. It may be short, but it’s undeniably sweet.