When I played the original Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, I had an absolute blast with it. As a game that called back to Castlevania III, but without the excruciating difficulty, it was something I was really able to sink my teeth into. A retro-styled game executed perfectly.
Then the sequel came along. CotM2 would obviously be similar to the first game, except probably bigger and flashier, if Inti Creates’ history was anything to go by. And that is not an inaccurate assessment! However, this sequel also ramped the difficulty way, way up.
When I purchased the game, I fought tooth and nail to get to stage seven (out of eight), but the boss of that stage was simply too much. Whereas I was able to clear the entirety of CotM on Veteran mode (“Normal” difficulty), it ended up being way too much for me in the sequel. After spending days trying to get past this incredibly frustrating boss, I resigned myself to defeat and gave up.
Months later, I was going through my downloaded Switch games and saw CoM2 sitting there, all rejected-like. And I thought to myself “maybe I ought to pick this up, change the difficulty to Easy, and just finish it for the sake of finishing it.” So I did just that.
And then I ended up playing through the game three and a half more times.
See, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is still a really excellent game. It’s just very hard. So much so that lowering the difficulty was more akin to going from “insane” to “difficult” than the Veteran and Casual labels suggested. It still softened the game enough that I was able to get back into it and I ended up having a lot of fun playing it. So hooray!
As for the “three and a half more times” thing, well… That’s probably the weirdest thing about CotM2. On your first playthrough, it’s very similar to CotM: You, as Zangetsu the cursed swordsman, progress through X number of stages and acquire three companions along the way, each with their own unique attacks and abilities. The companions in CotM2 are new, of course, and one of them is a little shiba that rides around in a tank themed after a steam engine. Hachi is probably the best video game character of all time.
Once you finish the game, however, you unlock Episode 2. This mode has you play through the whole game again and removes one of your party members. but gives you the other two from the start, so that you can access alternate routes through the earlier stages. All of the bosses are given at least one new attack, and the final boss is a completely different beast from the first time around.
If you fail to collect a few extra tchotchkes in Episode 2, Episode EX unlocks, which is another go-around at Episode 2. This time, however, your CotM2 companions are all gone and you get the crew from the original Curse of the Moon instead. All of their abilities will allow you to find even more alternate paths and shortcuts as you clear the game a third time. The more powerful bosses stick around, but they don’t learn any new moves this time.
Finally, the aptly-named Final Episode is unlocked, where you have a choice in which order to play all the stages, and you gain a different party member for completing each of them. Once you’ve rounded up the entire party of seven characters (and up to sixteen optional power-up items), it’s off to a wacky vertical shooter stage, and then a completely new final stage. Said final stage takes place on the moon, because why not? Also you can just go to the moon right away if you feel so inclined, but that’s basically suicide because obviously that last level is crazy hard.
So does Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 have replay value? Heck yeah, it does! Not only are there tons of paths through every stage, but the fact that there are four different scenarios to play through, each with significant changes, means that you have a lot of incentive to keep playing over and over. Even after you finish the Final Episode, you unlock Zangetsu mode, where you can choose to have a super-powered Zangetsu with a bunch of new abilities (double-jump, dash, charge slash, etc), or you can choose to lock him at minimal strength if you want to really challenge yourself. There’s also a boss rush, but I’ve never been overly fond of boss rushes…
Inti Creates did a stellar job of not only making a fantastic sequel, but making it so that you have a ton of reasons to keep coming back to it again and again and again. I’m still a little sore about how unbelievably difficult it is, but I guess that’s just being faithful to the game’s inspiration. Even at its hardest, though, CotM2 gives players a lot more slack than the older Castlevanias ever did. And I appreciate that, because difficult games are great and all, but fun games are even better.