I haven’t had much experience with the Castlevania series past playing some of Dracula X and Symphony of the Night on the PSP Dracula X Chronicles. I don’t remember much of the former, but I could at least recognize why Symphony of the Night is still hailed as one of the best, and why it recently received a PlayStation 4 rerelease alongside Rondo of Blood.
Bloodstained isn’t Castlevania in name, due to creator Koji Igarashi having parted ways with Konami, but it follows the same trend as games like Mighty Gunvolt and Vestaria Saga, being different in name and having new characters but having the exact same gameplay of the series it’s based on. When Bloodstained Curse of the Moon came out back in May, I wasn’t that interested and was much more interested in the upcoming Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which takes more inspiration from Symphony. Since we’re in the spooky season, I decided I might as well try Curse of the Moon, and as it turns out, it was never a horrible night when playing it.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon has three difficulty modes, Casual, Veteran, and Nightmare, the last of which has to be unlocked by finishing the game on Veteran. Casual mode gives the player infinite lives and doesn’t have them get knocked back when getting hit by enemies or falling objects. Because of this, casual mode is the best for those who have never really played a classic Castlevania game before, while Veteran is better for slightly more experience players, and Nightmare is for those most familiar with the series.
In Curse of the Moon, players can instantaneously switch between four characters — even while in mid jump. These four characters are the starting character Zangetsu, the upcoming Ritual of the Night protagonist, Miriam, Alfred the alchemist, and Gebel the half demon. Besides Zangetsu, each character is unlocked after completing one of the first four levels.
Each character has their own unique abilities which are useful for different situations. Zangetsu can dash , Miriam has a longer jump, and Gebel can turn into a bat to fly through small crevices and into secret areas. Besides these specific abilities, all four characters also have different basic attacks and sub weapons they can use. For example, Zangetsu’s basic attack is a short range sword but his sub weapons include an angled whip, energy balls, and a swarm of bats , Miriam uses a more long range whip and has throwing knives and sickles as sub weapons, Alfred uses a small staff that isn’t very useful, but his subweapons include a protective ring of fire, a projected double, an ice projectile, and a lightning ball, and Gebel summons bats. Using subweapons or flying as Gebel all use up a shared weapon meter, which can be refilled by destroying objects and defeating enemies.
If one character dies then you will no longer be able to use that character until all the others die as well and you lose a life — if playing in Veteran or Nightmare mode. This can make getting through some areas much trickier and sometimes even impossible when you no longer have access to the proper character for the situation, meaning you’ll probably have to start the level over.
Getting through each level the first time around can be tricky, but becomes easier as you progress and already know what to expect and learn how to deal with different types on enemies. Some enemies need to be dealt with as soon as possible, or else they become a nuisance until they eventually kill a character you’re playing as. For example, there are these frog enemies that jump down from higher platforms that are best dealt with mid jump before they hit the ground, otherwise they jump back an forth in a way which makes them harder to hit.
Of course the best enemies in Curse of the Moon are the bosses. Boss fights are always the highlight of each level, and it feels almost like a reward for being able to get through the rest of the level. All of the designs are interesting in some way, and visually each boss stands out on their own. As for difficulty, once you understand their attack pattern and how to avoid them they aren’t too much trouble, although with later bosses it can take awhile to learn. Usually it seems that the areas immediately before bosses are more difficult to manage than the bosses themselves, making the path leading up to boss fights more of an ordeal.
While Curse of the Moon is a great starting point for new fans, it does have a miserable little pile of retro flaws holding it back. To jump forward, you have to already be walking forward before you jump, which can feel awkward even once you become accustomed to it. Since Miriam has her long jump ability, I typically find myself switching to her in any area jumping is needed. The other three characters can jump fine, but will often just miss the mark and fall to their death, making Miriam the better choice. The walking speed of characters could also be improved, since there are multiple chase sequences in the later levels that seem near impossible to complete without a slight speed boost.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a great title for classic Castlevania fans and those looking to get into the series. It has a few elements holding it back, but everything else feels just as it should. Curse of the Moon is the perfect appetizer to try while waiting for the main course of Ritual of the Night.