Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 – An Examination

About a year and a half ago, I played through Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon and shared my thoughts on the game in this space. I hadn’t finished every possible path in the game at that time; I have in the time since, and I’ve spent a good deal more time with it in general, but my opinion of the game is essentially unchanged. It’s a well-made retro action platformer that is plenty of fun, but it maybe resembles Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse a little too much. It’s also a little bit too easy for my tastes, even granting that it was probably a wise design choice to scale the difficulty back from the notoriously brutal Castlevania III.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 came out last year, to my great surprise and delight. If one of my very few issues with the original was that it was a bit slight, and that I got through it without shedding enough blood, sweat, and tears, then it could only be a boon to have more of it. I am both pleased and horrified to report that, whereas the first game wasn’t hard enough for me, being a seasoned veteran of many murderous 8-bit classics, Curse of the Moon 2 most definitely does not have that problem.

This game is fucking hard. The game consists of at least four (possibly five, although I suspect the fifth is a Boss Rush mode or something) episodes, each of which is roughly the length of an old-school Castlevania game; as of press time, I have finished only the first episode. Accomplishing even that much was an ordeal, and my reward for having made it through the hand cramp festival that was Episode 1 is access to Episode 2, which is even worse in every respect. The final end of the game isn’t remotely in sight, and yet here I am, unsure if I’ll even make it through the second part of four. It reminds me of struggling through Castlevania III, in that there are times when I start to wonder if I even like the game that much. Curse of the Moon 2 is still a good game, don’t get me wrong, but only masochists need apply.

A big part of what makes Curse of the Moon 2 that much harder is that it bears far less of a direct resemblance to Castlevania III, particularly when it comes to the supporting characters. Main character Zangetsu is back, but the other three characters are entirely different, with different configurations of different abilities that require serious figuring out to use effectively. Even having made it to Episode 2, I’m still not positive I’m getting the most out of these characters. I will share what have learned about them, with the caveat that you, the reader, will take any advice pertaining to them with several grains of salt.

Zangetsu is the same as he ever was. He has that 8-bit Belmont speed and jumping, with a short range sword attack and some neat special weapons to diversify his skill set somewhat. He also has a lot of health, which is its own kind of useful. Those of you who have played the first game may know that the game features…shall we say, intriguing means of enhancing Zangetsu’s power; Episode 1 of the sequel gives you these enhancements automatically after a certain point. They’re a big help, but they also aren’t quite enough. It’s worth noting that all of the characters capable of wielding special weapons have a super-special weapon out there. Zangetsu’s super special, when activated, does a whirling spin attack whenever he jumps that is quite similar to the jumping spin attack weapon from the original Ninja Gaiden.

At first blush, Dominique may seem an awful like Miriam from Curse of the Moon, but this resemblance is deceiving. Dominique is faster and can jump higher than Zangetsu, to be sure, but that’s where the similarities to Miriam end. She attacks with a spear that can attack straight up as well as forward, you can also perform a downward thrust with the spear which can bounce off of certain objects, although I must confess that I had real problems finding opportunities to use this ability. Really, I had problems using Dominique in general, even with her superior speed and jumping. She can’t slide, and she doesn’t have much health, even after you find some health bar increases. On top of that, it felt that her higher jump was a hindrance, not a help, in most of the trickier platforming sections. I mostly used her for her special weapons. She has a special weapon that drops health, and her super special weapon heals the entire party, also reviving and healing any dead characters.

Robert is a commando with a gun who can also crawl forward (that is, move forward while crouching) and do wall kicks, which allows him to climb up narrow vertical passages. The utility of his gun is self evident, as the projectile (I mean, it resembles a laser beam of some kind but bear with me) traverses the length of the screen and is therefore ideal for picking off enemies at range. His special weapons are also pretty great. His super special also requires activation, but it lets you shoot his gun as rapidly as you can mash the button, which is particularly effective against bosses. I’ll bet you’re thinking Robert sounds overpowered, and perhaps you’re wondering how hard Curse of the Moon 2 can possibly be with Robert here to wreck shit. That’s why it’s high time I tell you he has a ludicrously tiny health bar; dude can take maybe three hits, and that’s only against the weakest enemies. There’s always a catch.

Finally, Hachi is a dog (I think he’s supposed to be a corgi, which is adorable) that pilots a giant mech armor, because why not? He has high attack power and the most health of any character, and the mech armor can walk on spikes. Hachi is also slower than dirt, and he does not have any special weapons. However, he can activate an invincibility mode that uses weapon energy (and does so very quickly, which is fair), he can do a mid-air stomp that is effective both for offense and for opening up paths through levels, and he can hover in mid-air if you hold the jump button.

Here I must point out that, while Curse of the Moon 2 generally controls very well, I’ve had issues with Hachi’s hover. It’s too sensitive! Just about any button press longer than a quick tap seems to register as a hold. It’s possible this is an issue with my controller (I’m playing this game on Nintendo Switch with a Joycon, and Joycons are known to have issues), but I’m not sure it is. Either way, it’s somewhere between obnoxious and infuriating whenever I hover when I mean to do a regular jump.

So, while it’s plain to see that this cast of characters is balanced in their own way, they are also new and different, and therefore have a bit of learning curve to them. This is especially true when it comes to the level shortcuts. Like the original Curse of the Moon, Curse of the Moon 2 features branching paths in each level, many of which are shorter and easier but require a specific character and/or some ingenuity to access. Accessing shortcuts in the first game is largely a matter of having the correct character on hand, but the means of getting to shortcuts in the sequel is rarely obvious. I missed most of the shortcuts I saw in Episode 1, to my great consternation. I saw them, I just couldn’t figure out how to get to them. It felt like the game was taunting me, although it’s possible these shortcuts aren’t actually accessible in Episode 1. It’s also possible that I simply didn’t solve whatever riddles the game was telling me. Who knows?

There’s also the boss fights. While I found them surmountable in Episode 1, the Episode 2 boss fights are on another level of madness. So far, I have only beaten the first level of Episode 2, and only after a mighty struggle and many, many deaths against the boss. I do not know exactly how many pattern cycles it took me to take out that asshole, but I know the cycle count was disgraceful, and was well into the double digits. I made it to the level 2 boss, but came nowhere near taking it down. This is why I’m in a bit of a despair when it comes to advancing in this game – it’s certain to only get worse.

Nevertheless, I give Curse of the Moon 2 my highest recommendation for those of you that enjoy a true challenge. For those of you that do not, I still recommend the game, but I must warn you that you’re in for a real rough ride.

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