Played on Windows.
Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch.
Disclosure (Kickstarter) at the end.
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night came to the public’s attention in May 2015 with Koji Igarashi (also known as IGA) announcing a new Kickstarter. The programmer and director of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (worth checking out) asked for half a million dollars to make another Castlevania-like game. Fans went crazy and easily topped that, giving over 5 million dollars to the team to develop Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
At 4.5 million, a promise of a retro style prequel game was made. Now on May 24th, 2018, we have received the prequel game name Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, with the actual Bloodstained Ritual of the Night coming hopefully this year. However, the prequel Bloodstained Curse of the Moon is being offered for 10 bucks, and that means it deserves its own review. I’m here to give that.
Now I have quite a bit to say on the topic of Kickstarter, but I’ll save that for an article, something I’ve been thinking of adding to the site for a while. However, I was given my copy of Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon from that and started to play it as soon as I could.
Curse of the Moon feels exactly like what was offered. It’s an NES style game, complete with NES style graphics and story, though it’s not limited by those rules. I know for a fact this game wouldn’t fit on an NES cartridge or fit into the memory of the original NES. It’s the style and the sensibilities of the NES on a modern game. Even the controller uses 5 face buttons, not counting the pause button,
I feel like that’s exactly where any retro game should be, a throwback in style, but not limited by outdated hardware. It’s what makes some “retro style” game stand out, such as Sonic Mania, which can take the sensibilities of the Genesis and make it that much better.
There is one oddity though. I feel like the classic NES Simon Belmont was quite detailed and the sprites in this game should have higher fidelity. I think the character sprites in this game might look worse than Castlevania games for the NES.
Still the enemies look outstanding.
It’s odd because everything else in Curse of the Moon looks amazing. The bosses look far better than anything for the NES System. The levels are detailed and the graphics are perfect for that “retro feel”. It’s just the characters stand out as being a bit too 8-bit while everything else is done better. Otherwise, the game looks fantastic, as I bet all my screenshots show just how outstanding Curse of the Moon looks.
The story in Curse of the Moon feels intentionally weak. There’s a lot more story than most NES games had in the day. In fact, most NES games with this much story would put most of it in the manual. Since there’s no manual, Curse of the Moon’s story needs to be part of the game, and Curse of the Moon does this through a text crawl that works but definitely is a relic of the NES era. There’s only two text crawls, one at the beginning and one at the end, there are readable signposts in the game, and as well as ones when you recruit friends, but really the story is mostly left to the side.
The story though doesn’t really stand out, though it does seem to prepare the player for the next game. You play as a “cursed man” Zangetsu who can gain the moon’s curse by demons and now vows vengeance, and from there, you go off to fight against an army of evil.
While there are a few endings in here, and a few different modes, and I’m not sure which one is going to be the true ending with this being a prequel, but overall the story is only acceptable at best, but I feel like it’s more of a stylistic choice than a lack of effort as to make this a story-rich game would lose the NES feel that it’s going for.
The game starts with fog pulling back exposing Zangetsu kneeling and facing the background in a scene that’s completely reminiscent of the original Castlevania for the NES. It’s a great opening and callback, and thankfully the only one that feels completely lifted from that game.
It’s not that this game isn’t reminiscent of Castlevania, but it also doesn’t rely solely on the nostalgic values for it. There’s all new levels, monsters, bosses, and gameplay. Zangetsu actually uses a sword, his special items are a diagonal whip attack, a thrown attack that burns (similar to holy water), and an ability that doubles damage for a short time.
The controls are also really tight. While there’s a little stiffness due to it trying to emulate the original NES controls, the player gets a lot more finesse. There’s the ability to change directions to attack behind you in mid-air. Jumping and ducking work from what I’ve seen. The special item attacks are instantaneous, and even classic moves from the SNES return, such as the ability to jump and land on stairs. The controls are extremely tight and that’s useful when the game throws the same type of level design and enemies at you.
Of course, there is also a wonderful feature lifted from Castlevania 3, namely the allies in the game. There are three allies. A woman named Miriam who has a higher jump, and a whip attack, and her own special items, mostly knife and ax based. Then there’s an Alchemist (really a spell caster) named Alfred, who has a weak short-range attack but can summon fire, freeze enemies and use a homing attack. Finally, there’s Gebel who… well alright, he’s Alucard, bat based attack, can turn into a bat, and all.
Still, the game gives you the ability to switch between the four characters at will rather than forcing you to choose only one ally as it did in Castlevania 3. It’s a fantastic use of the system. There are also collectibles to power up your characters, which usually requires one of the allies to collect them.
All four allies also have their own life bar, and if one of them runs out, that ally is dead until all of them perish, and a “life” is used to restore everyone. What’s interesting is the ability to have four different life bars is very useful as it gives you more life to fight a boss or an encounter when everyone is alive. In addition, each character has a different attack style and range. Gebel, for instance, has a great multi-attack that’s worth keeping around, Miriam has the range, so keeping your characters healthy is important. Alfred .. well he has the weak short attack.
From there, level design is pretty good, though there is one stand out level. The first level is incredible, you fight through a castle looking place. And then you reach the end and you get on a moving train fighting your way through that. The only problem with that level is while it is amazing in its design, no other level even tries to get this creative or interesting. Every other level is just a castle or corridors, or mines. I appreciate seeing the transition to the train, but it’s the only level that really makes any real transition.
Most levels are solid. I personally hate the third level as it introduces my least favorite idea from the original games, bottomless pits. Yet I still enjoyed it on the second and third playthroughs I’ve had of the game. With eight levels in Curse of the Moon, some will be weaker than others, but quite a few are visually interesting as you move through them.
In fact, those allies I mentioned above are critical, every level has multiple paths through the level themselves. The game doesn’t have different levels or exits, so you’ll always have the same level selection and same beginning and ending, the path through those levels have a lot of changes. There are a ton of shortcuts and hidden areas that require a special ability to reach. Being able to cut out part of the level because a certain character is alive is a great addition to Curse of the Moon.
The enemies in this game have a similar style to Castlevania as well. There are classic enemies, knights with axes, spears, and shields, as well as the Medusa heads. Medusa enemies have always been my least favorite enemy in this series, and yet, I never cursed their existence in this game, as they never are combined with anything as annoying as the clock towers in Castlevania. I really appreciate that.
However there’s a ton of new enemies, and they are all really great looking. In fact, it’s the reason I mentioned the graphics of the main character. The playable characters don’t look as good as the enemies, and the enemies always look great and stylized.
Though if the enemies look good, the bosses are incredible. The first boss is the back of a train engine with a clear mask, and an arm that shovels coal. It looks great and the fight is intense. Every boss has this epic feeling with interesting attacks. Most feel like completely fair fights, though a few can get annoying (particularly the second one).
This looks incredible and is a great fight as well.
However, there’s one quirk of the boss system that annoyed me. There’s a “final attack” of the bosses when they die. Almost every boss has one. The only thing is that they can’t kill the player, and as such it makes no sense why it’s in the game. Why have a final attack that doesn’t fatally harm the player?
Well, there is also a boss rush in Curse of the Moon, and in that mode, it might not kill but it will definitely harm the player a lot. As such you need to avoid it there. But it’s strange to have that feature in the main game when it’s only used in a bonus mode that many players won’t reach, or choose not to undertake.
The game is also a bit hard. I was able to go through the first playthrough normally and didn’t have many problems I did die about once a level. However, the game also has what is termed “nightmare mode” which is the second playthrough. I won’t give away much about it but it’s a bit harder. There are more enemies and the bosses get a change, usually making it a little harder. That’s where I hit the skill wall. I wasn’t able to beat the fourth boss in the Nightmare mode.
That’s where I really looked at the difficulty settings. At the beginning of the game, you can choose Veteran or Casual, the game claims it is a choice between three lives and normal play, or infinite lives and no knockback. It also stresses the fact that there’s no penalty for Casual, and there doesn’t appear to be. In fact, Casual is easier as it should be. I believe the levels are easier too, with fewer enemies and enemies attack in different patterns.
It’s great to see though because without Casual I might have been stuck for quite a while on my Nightmare playthrough or forced to give up. Instead, I was able to replay the Nightmare and easily beat it. Unfortunately I had to replay the entire game in the easier mode as you can’t switch between Veteran and Casual. But I appreciate the mode being an option in the game as otherwise some players wouldn’t be able to experience the whole game.
There are a few more oddities with Curse of the Moon. I don’t feel that it was rushed, but the start of the game had me map my buttons to the controller. I suppose this is done to support a keyboard or player’s desires to remap the controller, but it just is a strange experience that I can’t think of another game that does this. In addition, there was a patch at launch adding a full-screen mode to the game, though it appears to be letterboxed. Instead, I used Borderless Gaming to get a better experience out of it.
So how is the entire pack of Curse of the Moon? Well, I like it a lot, but I also admittedly got it “for free” as it was part of the Kickstarter. Currently, Inti Creates is asking for 10 bucks for the game. I try not to review games based on price, due to the fact that most games go on sale and everyone’s dollar is worth a different amount to them, but 10 bucks is a lot of money for an NES game.
Yet, Curse of the Moon is really good. If you’re a die-hard fan of the NES Castlevanias, this should be an instant purchase. It’s trying to be a retro game with that style and succeeds. At the same time, if you aren’t a fan of NES Castlevanias, or never played them, this is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s an enjoyable game, but a single playthrough of the game is only about two hours long and has a great style to it, but it’s partially intended as a prequel to a game that isn’t out yet, and partially a thank you to backers of the Kickstarter.
I recommend it with those caveats, and while I am that die-hard fan I also find I have to take those issues with me into the score and end up giving it a…
Final thoughts: The perfect game that harkens back to classic days of the NES Castlevanias, with the same feel and style. It has some issues and is clearly made for the already built fan base, it’s still a lot of fun.
Stats: 9.2 hours 11/15 achievements. 3.5 Playthroughs
Disclosure: I backed Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night early into its Kickstarter. In that way, I am part of the “investors” if you want to see it that way. I am in no way connected to the company, not actually earning anything other than the game that I am entitled to at my reward tier. I mentioned I didn’t realize that there was a prequel game until recently. I wasn’t planning to play it but I looked at it through the view of someone who paid money for the game, rather than a free add-on or a free game.
Though I did meet IGA once at E3, probably not important for disclosure but it was an exciting moment for me.