I’ve been a huge fan of Japanese game developer IntiCreates for years. Since Mega Man Zero’s release in 2002, to be exact. And while I do have an appreciation for their more modern games (aside from the fairly gross Gal*Gun series), I feel like their true calling is in the retraux scene. Note my love for the recent(ish) Blaster Master Zero and Mighty Gunvolt Burst.
Mighty Gunvolt Burst, in particular, was nice because it was an impeccable stand-in for a new Mega Man game in a time when it seemed like there wouldn’t be any more new Mega Man games. And then, seemingly out of nowhere (because I’m terrible at paying attention), they come out with this brand-spanking-new game that looks exactly like an NES Castlevania. There’s something I never knew that I wanted so badly.
I backed the Kickstarter campaign for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, so I should have been fully aware that the “teaser” retro throwback game, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, was coming. But I mostly just shuffle any emails from Kickstarter into archive folders these days, unless they obviously contain a download code of some description. So Curse of the Moon came as a delectable little surprise to me, and I could not be any more pleased with it. It is exactly what I want from a 2D platformer that wears its inspiration on its sleeve.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon takes place in an alternate timeline from that of the “main” Bloodstained game. And by that, I mean a world where Castlevania stopped evolving from its NES roots and remained a tough-as-nails stage-based platformer. If you look at Curse’s graphics and compare them side-to-side with, say, Castlevania III, you’d be hard pressed to find any evidence that they’re different games. Oh, sure, the art style varies a little, but on the whole, there’s no mistaking where Inti Creates took inspiration from.
The gameplay is also very much in line with Castlevania III, sending you through a number of spooky stages to vanquish demons, all the while recruiting a team of friends, allowing you to swap between characters on the fly. Each party member in Curse has the requisite unique abilities and attacks, but all of them maintain the age-old Castlevania crutch of not being able to change direction mid-jump.
One of the things that makes Curse unique is the way it handles replays. First of all, you’re given access to an ability to go back to previous stages at any time. This allows you to search out any power-ups you missed, or maybe make different choices, as it also undoes any recruitments that you’d made. There are also a handful of different endings based on those choices, and two unlockable alternate game modes which serve as New Game +es to a couple of those endings. So there’s really quite a lot of reasons to play through multiple times. And there’s a Boss Rush mode as well, for those who have the stomach for such things.
Another thing that separates Curse from its inspiration is its level of difficulty. On the normal mode (Veteran), it’s exactly like a less sadistic version of Castlevania III. Tough, but fair. And never makes you want to chuck a controller across the room. I cleared the “hard path” on Veteran without any Game Overs, so hooray for me. The Casual mode takes it one step further by eliminating the knockback you take when you get hit, and also giving you infinite lives. Veteran mode refills your stock of lives on every stage, too, so it’s not like Game Overs are going to be much of a problem either way. Personally, I felt that the game was even a little too easy, but having recently played through Castlevania III for the first time (and nearly lost my mind doing it), I’m definitely not going to complain about it.
The last thing that really makes Curse stand out are the bosses. While it will otherwise hew very close to NES standards, the amount of colours and spectacular effects on display in the boss fights would likely make an actual NES explode. They are beautiful and fantastic, and generally very fun, with clever gimmicks. The only thing I don’t like is that every boss has a final desperation move that they execute just before death, and these are very difficult to anticipate and dodge. I mean, it’s an awesome touch, but kind of a cheap way to screw you over if you only won by the skin of your teeth. (Note: Upon further investigation, the bosses’ final attacks only seem to do one pip of damage; not especially dangerous.)
At the end of the day, I’m going to tell you “Hell yes play this game!” Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a fantastic throwback to the good ol’ days of Castlevania, but without that nigh-impossible level of difficulty. It’s made so that you can reminisce but not have to worry about getting frustrated to the point of a rage-quit. While it’s going to be a very different kind of game, I’m now more hyped than ever for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.