Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon – First Impressions

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is one of my all-time favorite video games, and yet it has always bummed me out that it’s release signaled the end of the traditional Castlevania series. Since the release of SotN in 1997, all games with the Castlevania appellation have followed in its footsteps as a Super Metroid-style adventure game – find an item, use it to get to the next area, then repeat – and none of them, not even any released in these retro-gaming obsessed times, have thrown it back to the linear action platforming the series exemplified in the 8-bit and 16-bit days.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, released last year for PC and pretty much every currently active console, was made to fill this void. Curse of the Moon is directly modeled on Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse for NES, and most of the game’s presentation hearkens back to Castlevania III in some way. The graphics are done in the retro 8-bit style. There are four playable characters, each with his/her own unique abilities (and each sharing a substantial amount of DNA with one or more characters from Castlevania III). There are branching paths within each level, reminiscent of (yet distinct from) the branching level selections of Castlevania III. You get the idea, here. If you’ve ever played Castlevania III, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon will look awfully familiar.

And that’s mostly a good thing! Castlevania III is rad as hell, so any game that can credibly ape its style must be pretty good, as well. Curse of the Moon mostly does a good job of pulling this off. I say mostly because while Castlevania III is one of the hardest games on a console known for its ludicrously hard games, Curse of the Moon is pretty dang easy, at least on Normal difficulty (which is the only option available on the first playthrough).

There are several reasons for this. For starters, several enemies have similar patterns to similar enemies in the NES Castlevania games. If you’ve played those games a lot (and I have), you’re going to go into Curse of the Moon with a pretty good idea of how to handle most enemies. The second reason is that unlike Castlevania III, all four characters in Curse of the Moon are available to the player after they’re unlocked. You do not have to choose which of the three extra characters you’re going to roll with, ensuring that you have maximum situational flexibility. And again, since all four characters are suspiciously similar to the characters in Castlevania III, veterans of that game will be able to quickly figure out which situations are best for using each character. What’s more, every character has his or her own health meter, and you don’t actually lose a life until all four characters have died individually.

This makes the game exceedingly easy to plow through with brute force. Once you get wise to the best times to switch back and forth between characters, and understand how to manage the health of all four individually, it becomes very hard to die. I took down the final boss in one shot despite having spent at least two whole minutes figuring out how to hit the thing, and all it took was careful character management, pattern recognition, and patience. I can understand not wanting a retro-Castlevania throwback to be as difficult as the games its aping, and I get that this was the Normal difficulty setting, but even so, I stomped through my first playthrough of Curse of the Moon in two sittings, and that means it was just too damn easy.

There are, of course, higher difficulty settings and New Game+ modes and all that, and I’m hoping the higher difficulties give me the real throwback experience. And I will get to that in short order, because Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is fun as fuck. I enjoy playing it, and you probably would, too.

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