Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is an action-platformer most similar to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse (Nintendo Entertainment System, 1990), in which you encounter three additional playable characters who can help you advance through ghostly enemies and deadly traps. Curse of the Moon improves on the classic formula by offering not only the ability to switch between all four characters at once (as opposed to only two in Dracula’s Curse) but an opportunity to reject what should be the most enticing offering of the game, for something equally great in return, by meeting certain conditions during any normal game.
Curse of the Moon is the result of a four and a half million dollar stretch goal achieved by backers of the 2015 Kickstarter campaign for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, a project put forth by famed Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi (Ritual of the Night is currently scheduled for release later in 2018). This “prequel mini-game” was all but forgotten by most backers and followers of the campaign until it was demonstrated at the annual Bit Summit indie game festival on May 12th, 2018, just two weeks before its release. Fans expressed their concern that this game would be too short and that the entire game may have been revealed at Bit Summit, but after unlocking all modes in the game, I can say that this is not the case. Curse of the Moon is not a side dish; it’s a full meal for just $10.
In this game, you play as Zangetsu, a swordsman cursed by demons, who is also hell-bent on destroying them. You slash your way through a variety of enemies who constantly threaten to reduce your life bar to zero, or knock you into one of many pits, which instantly kill you. Zangetsu can carry one of three sub-weapons: A ball-and-chain which can be used to attack diagonally with great reach, magic charms which can be used to set a trap for enemies, or a demon essence which temporarily increases his attack power. While playing, I found the ball-and-chain especially useful for boss battles, where reach is important.
Early in the game, you can also recruit up to three playable characters (allies) that you can switch between at any time with the press of a button: Miriam, Alfred, and Gebel. Miriam has a whip (where have we seen that before?), which can reach further than Zangetsu’s sword. She’s also able to jump higher, slide through narrow passages, and use four of her own sub weapons; each varying in speed, strength, and direction of attack. Alfred has the smallest health bar and the shortest reach, but he can use four of his own sub weapons to cast powerful spells, including one which allows you to freeze enemies and use them as platforms to reach higher places. Gebel attacks with a trio of upward projectiles, and can turn into a bat to fly across difficult areas or attack enemies in hard-to-reach places. I found this ability especially useful during boss battles as well, where it was sometimes difficult to reach a safe position to deal damage.
The ability to switch between the four characters is central to much of the game. Primarily, the variable direction and nature of their attacks make it necessary to consider which character to use when confronted by many different enemies. For example, Zangetsu’s magic charms (think Holy Water from the Castlevania series) are especially useful for larger enemies on lower platforms who don’t move but are dangerous to approach (one or two magic charms can deal constant damage to a proximal enemy until it is defeated).
The paths you can take in each level also depend on which characters you use. Because Miriam can jump high and slide through narrow passages, and Gebel can turn into a bat, they make it possible to reach areas that cannot be accessed by Zangetsu or Alfred alone. Because each character has their own health bar, when health is running low, you can switch them out with another character. If a character is defeated, however, you are returned to a previous checkpoint with one less character to use for the remainder of the level. The penalty, besides having one fewer character (and health bar), is that you may have to take a longer, more dangerous routes in order to advance. The game is littered with multiple pathways to explore, making the levels fun to replay.
This aspect of the game, the ability to switch between the four characters, is complemented further, upon meeting certain conditions, as early as the end of the first level in normal mode. Zangetsu can obtain up to three unique skills, which push the game out of the realm of the traditional Castlevania experience, and offer something that is a balance of both Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden. Expect a challenge!
Curse of the Moon is a full game. There are several endings, depending on how it’s played. There are also several modes, which each offer something very different. Players can choose between “veteran” and “casual” play styles (I explain below), which you can change before playing, or before continuing after a game over. There are several paths to be taken through each level. There are also permanent power-ups to find throughout the game. Although it was only promised to be a mini-game, Curse of the Moon is longer than players might expect.
Designed to look and sound like an 8-bit classic, Curse of the Moon offers larger bosses, which would not have been possible in games of that era. One of the bosses is a three-headed, fire-breathing demon, which takes up most of the screen. Some of them even pop out of the playable screen and into the top menu area, which is pretty cool. The backgrounds are also more detailed, and move in ways that, likewise, would not have been possible. In the first level, there are trees and clouds passing in the background as you advance through a moving train. I think most players will welcome these improvements. The music is outstanding, and players will recognize the style of composer Michiru Yamane, who has worked on Castlevania titles previously, including the acclaimed Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PlayStation, 1997).
There are only a few problems with the game. Newer players may despise being knocked into pits by small, fast-moving enemies; something veteran players also despise, but expect from this sort of game. Players can choose, however, between this style of play, and a casual style, where lives are unlimited and enemies are unable to knock you back. Casual style, however, may prove too easy for many. There’s also an issue in which veteran players may think to use sub weapons while crouched (as in early Castlevania titles) only to find themselves immediately standing, and taking a hit from an enemy. With few exceptions, however, Curse of the Moon is excellent. We don’t get too many of these classic Castlevania homages (Metroidvania seems to get all of the attention these days), so to have one available on the Switch is great in and of itself, but when it’s this high quality it’s even better. Don’t skip this one.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.
Adam “McSNES” Martinez, gaming drop-out and FuncoLand ghost, has spent his entire life training to review games for YOU, the loyal readers of Nintendo Times. Adam is permanently banned from Final Fantasy XI: Online, his favorite game.