How Metroidvania is it? Not a Metroidvania. This is clearly a Classic-vania style game, but it’s related to Bloodstained so it’s something Metroidvania fans may be interested in.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~3 hours
Buy Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon if you like…
- Classic-vania games
- Hard but Fair 2D Platformers
- Catch 8-bit music and style
- Character Switching
- Short and Sweet Games
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INTI CREATES, ever since their debut with games like the Mega Man Zero series, have been killing it with classic game design. They truly understand the principles that turned the most influential retro titles into the masterpieces they are – and even recognize some areas where it could be improved. With Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon they try their hand at Classic-vania, and with the usual display of talent they show once again that there are more great things to be explored with almost forgotten game design.
Tight controls and well telegraphed bosses are a must for an otherwise punishing design. If you’re playing on the normal mode, you have a limit to the number of lives you can carry into a level, and it’s back to the beginning if you fail. The strict but fair physics made the Classic-Vania games great is all here, including the controversial commitment to a jump arc once you leave the ground. Like in Castlevania IV you can jump onto stair cases, but once you’re attached you can’t leave until you reach the top or bottom. Some of these choices may annoy some players, but if you’re already a vet of the oldschool games that inspired this one, you’ll feel right at home. The bosses are especially a highlight, all of them including some creative gimmick to give them a strong personality.
I don’t want to make this whole review about comparing this game to Castlevania III, but I feel like it’s impossible not to mention it. In this game you gather other characters to play – a whip user, a wizard, and a vampire (sound familiar?) One of the critical differences between the two games though is that Castlevania III uses the extra characters as something to add just a little more replay value – something to change the story a bit for a subsequent playthrough. For Curse of the Moon, it’s a core mechanic. Each character brings along its own health bar, so switching at the right moment could extend your life drastically in a boss fight. While Curse of the Moon does have split paths, it’s less of a choice made for gameplay variety, and more of a tool to punish players that lost one of their party members along the way.
Your main character, Zangetsu, has nothing special about him from a movement standpoint – in fact all he brings to the party is the largest hit point pool. The Whip Girl can jump higher, the Wizard can Freeze enemies (and open up paths that way) and the Vampire can turn into a bat and fly – all of these powers can give you a short cut through the level. If any of these characters die, you’re forced to take an alternate path, which at the very least extends the length of the stage if it’s not also a more challenging route. Losing characters can be devastating, but it’s also fun to adapt without them.
Ultimately the game feels a little short for as good as it is, but the variable pathing extends its replay value a lot. This is doubly beneficial because beating the game unlocks a mode where you start with all your extra characters from the beginning, allowing you to take paths you couldn’t before without them. There are also hidden permanent upgrades in each level – items that increase your damage and defense. Playing the game twice is almost required to get full satisfaction out of it, but the design also makes it as fun as possible to do it.
Inevitably someone is going to ask me which is the better game – this or Castlevania III? As a huge fan of the Third Castlevania I can firmly say that… they’re different. But I will say that if you enjoyed any of the Classic-Vania games and lament that their style is sort of a lost art to gaming history, lament no more. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon brings it back in its full glory, and is more than worthy as a spiritual successor. Here’s to hoping that INTI CREATES – or someone inspired by this game’s success – will continue the trend, and maybe we can enjoy a Classic-vania renaissance as well.
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