The result of a crowdfunding promise, Curse of the Moon is a love affair between retro-style gameplay and modern capabilities that is sure to whet the appetite. An accompaniment to the modern Ritual of the Night, CotM fulfills its purpose as a throwback to the fond memories of the late 80s and early 90s. I must confess, my only experience with Castlevania (the source material in which Bloodstained draws inspiration) is as a toddler who lacked the knowledge, experience, and fine motor skills required to navigate Dracula’s castle. I remember looking at the cover art and being blown away by the giant castle and a vampire’s apparition looming overhead. It was one of my first experiences with a NES cartridge and I had wholeheartedly hoped I could progress past the first screen. To no avail as I aimlessly wandered back and forth, not knowing how to climb stairs. Much like my poor, stair-climbing abilities, Curse of the Moon is a game that never really comes off the ground floor. Set atop the foundations laid by Castlevania; from a gameplay standpoint, CotM doesn’t do anything new to help it stand above the NES games and countless clones that have come before.
The game revolves around Zangetsu, a warrior with the moon’s curse cast upon him by demons. This is what fuels his vengeful crusade against any and all demons he may come across in the hour and a half it takes to play through. Zangetsu will encounter a few friends or foes along the way, the likes of which is determined by the player’s choice to interact, attack, or ignore these encounters. There is a total of 6 different possible endings that are contingent on the combinations of choices that can be made. Miriam, Alfred, and Gebel are all playable characters should the player choose to let them tag along and they can be switched in and out on a whim. However, should the player choose to slay these three protagonists, Zangetsu will be the only playable character as the troop’s powers are added to his arsenal. Should you choose to ignore the three of them completely you will be forced to navigate the game alone, while also only having the basic skills Zangetsu starts with. The multiple endings depend on the varied choices that the player can make regarding the main characters.
Each character has their own unique set of skills and methods of attack that keep the game fresh over time. The variation in move-sets allow for a wide array of ways to approach the obstacles that stand between you and the demon Gremory. Different characters’ skills can help the player traverse various sections of the map, which is riddled with alternative passages and shortcuts to discover. The dead guide the way as the skeletal remains of previous adventurers always help point you toward the fastest, and often easiest way around. In order to access these areas, you will likely need the aid of one of the three other protagonists, so it is not recommended to slay them or ignore them on your journey. Like many things in life, it is much harder to go it alone. In this respect, the player is accountable for some level of difficulty through his actions, even after the difficulty has been set at the beginning of the run. This creates a much more interesting, tactical approach to how the player wants to complete the game. As mentioned before, choice does matter, and it goes beyond the parameters of story endings. It is for this reason that I found myself replaying the game a lot. And I mean A LOT. It takes about an hour and a half to complete the game under the easiest of circumstances; now times that by five and adjust according to difficulty and that is how much time I have sunk into the game. And I still feel there is more to be done. Add the varying unlockable difficulties and a completely separate boss mode and this game becomes highly replayable, which is something I find rare in the games I usually invest in.
Graphically, the game does what it intends. It’s a fantastic tribute to an 8-bit era, while pulling several punches to keep the game playable in this century. Scrolling backgrounds are lovely and some boss fights, while oddly out of place, seem to really serve to modernize these visuals. It does not look like the 8-bit games of old, rather updating that nostalgic art to how we remember them. It masterfully finds a balance between a traditional style while using modern capabilities to raise it to the next level. It is both nostalgic and beautiful, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. As far as sound goes, it follows much in line with the visuals. Reminiscent 8-bit melodies really transport the player to a dimension where video games never evolved further than the NES and Master System. It didn’t seem out of place at all, in fact it all came together rather nicely. Auditory and visual senses complimenting each other to recreate gaming in the early 90s.
All around, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon succeeds in what it sets out to be. A warmly welcomed compliment to a much larger, sophisticated game, and a nod to our dust-covered older hardware. Anybody looking to pluck some nostalgic heartstrings will love this addition to their gaming library, as it does everything its inspiration did, but looks way better.
Replay Value: 5/5
Total: 20/25 or 80/100