When Koji Igarashi’s extremely successful Kickstarter for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night began development, one of the stretch goals met was a retro-inspired “classicvania”. Nobody expected this small side project would ultimately eclipse the main event.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was made fast and cheap by 2D retro maestros Inti Creates. This team has more than proven their competency with such hits as the Azure Striker series, the Mega Man Zero games, Mega Man 9 and 10, and both Blaster Master Zero titles. These guys are pros at the genre.
With Curse of the Moon being such a smashing hit and its bigger counterpart finding success, it was only a matter of time before Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 came. How can Inti Creates improve on such a pure and effective formula? By doubling down on all the best aspects of the original, of course.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2
Developer: Inti Creates
Publisher: Inti Creates
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Curse of the Moon was a brief but challenging retro style action platformer that paid tribute to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. It was a modest, yet satisfying experience that also managed to have a few secrets tucked away in its gothic setting.
The story is very simple, and not the reason why anyone would play a game like this. Demons have began to appear, and Zengetsu being a demon hunter takes it upon himself to hunt them. It is no less complicated than the Castlevania games that inspired it.
Aside from some brief dialogue sequences, there is not much to gleam. The real shake-ups are during the endings of each episode, where some events might play out differently depending on a last-minute action the player may take.
This is not a non-linear Metroidvania. Curse of the Moon 2 follows a level based structure, where characters move at a very deliberate pace, and platforming is tightly calculated. Jumping demands the player commit, since there is a strict limitation on changing direction while airborne.
Curse of the Moon 2 offers more of the same brand of classic NES style Castlevania gameplay, but with a much bigger emphasis on replayability. Levels are packed with branching paths that often requires the abilities of one of the four playable characters.
Katana-wielding demon hunter Zengetsu is jack of all stats. He has decent HP, his sub weapons get 45 degree ranged attacks, and later on earns a powered-up regular attack. His effectiveness is only outmatched by his hatred of demons.
Hachi the corgi is the joke-character, yet is also great for beginners to lean on thanks to his armored suit buffing his HP more than anyone else. His only sub weapon is to activate invincibility, but can walk on spikes and can hover long distances. He is useful, but with a large hit box makes him a liability.
Robert is the disappointment in the cast. Long range gunfire and powerful sub weapons are outweighed by his woefully low HP, and slow attack. His wall-jumping and prone-crawl are underutilized throughout. The kind and elderly Alfred from Curse of the Moon outdoes Robert with powerful magic.
Dominique, the former merchant from Ritual of the Night, takes up the spear in Curse of the Moon 2. This exorcist is the only party member who can revive dead characters, and has the most mobility due to her having the highest jump.
She is ultimately the most versatile character, since she is also able to Scrooge McDuck pogo-jump on enemies and bullets. Her spear also has slightly more reach than the sword or Hachi’s mech, and can strike upwards. Her only weakness is the stiffness of her pogo strike, which can lead to unfair deaths.
The various settings keep things interesting by adding some unique stage hazards or set-pieces. Moving platforms, slippery surfaces, and disappearing floors are compounded with a horde of monsters and living armors trying to make the heroes fall to their doom.
Speed kills, and navigating each zone with a modicum of patience is crucial to survival. Characters move slowly for a reason; watching enemy movements and flight patterns of aerial threats will still require reflexes. Most bullets can be struck with a well-timed melee hit.
Playing on the defensive is always the safest option. This is especially true with the boss encounters that can utterly melt the team if you don’t take the time to learn the pattern and behavior cycles. Lives can be earned, but getting greedy on a boss might mean having to restart the entire level.
Each of the eight stages have multiple routes to the level boss. Some paths might circumvent huge challenging chunks, while some hidden ways lead to some tasty secrets. It is worth replaying stages, since they all have permanent stat upgrades that are tucked away in some routes.
On veteran difficulty, the stat upgrades prove to be utterly necessary due to the brutal difficulty that has been increased from the original Curse of the Moon. This is extremely true in the boss battles which are mostly fair, until reaching the later episodes where their move-sets and patterns get expanded.
There are a couple bosses who are cruel with their attack patterns, who have unfairly small windows of opportunity to avoid damage. There is almost no room for error in some of these later battles.
The walk of failure back to the boss’s room after losing all lives will make your vision burn with seething hatred. This is the good kind of anger, that makes you feel alive and motivated. Rooms that used to make you sweat bullets become an effortless waltz after retrying so many times.
Aesthetically, Curse of the Moon 2 is very consistent with the original. Inti Creates are undoubtedly the masters of NES style graphics; they have been doing it for so long, knowing the perfect balance of how simple to keep some elements, and where to go far enough to impress.
A curious addition to Curse of the Moon 2 is the episodic structure. Regardless which episode is played, the same eight stages will be played, with the only differences being some adjustments to boss battles, and who will be in the party.
No matter what episode is played, all upgrades must be recollected since nothing carries over. Each episode requires a separate save file after all, and each episode contains their own distinct key-items to discover, and different final bosses.
The biggest give away that Curse of the Moon 2 exceeds the limitations of 8-bit Nintendo hardware are the huge boss sprites, with more frames than the 80s console could ever render. Colors are very lurid, showing a range of intense hues that were ever possible in the NES’s 54 color pallet.
Retro-inspired NES-style music has become so commonplace in games of this scale, but Inti Creates truly understand the nuances. The music is very catchy and fast paced. It evokes more of a shredding rock ballad than anything gothic or moody.
The intense music does match the characters and style of the imagery; with some tracks burrowing their way deep into your head, never leaving. Some samples flawlessly emulate the distinct sound quality of the NES, adding to the authenticity of the experience.
The original Curse of the Moon was maybe cutting it too close with its homages to Dracula’s Curse. Curse of the Moon 2 stands on its own without leaning so heavily on Igarashi’s favorite Castlevania, and it is much more memorable as a result.
The intricate branching levels make subsequent playthroughs more varied. Previous “-vanias” have never had stages this complex, and with so many routes through the entire experience.
Anyone who enjoyed Curse of the Moon, will be completely enamored with this sequel. It is more of the same, but the overall design is much more bold and ambitious. The new additions demand more dexterity of the player; and some challenges are white-knuckle, surgical platforming.
It is no where near as crushing as the older NES games that inspired it- even on veteran mode where cruel knock-back is preserved, and lives are limited- and it thankfully never reaches the insanity the sadists at Konami employed in the 80s.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review copy provided by Inti Creates. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.