Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon first impressions. Is Koji Igarashi’s reworking of the NES Castlevania formula a true reimagination or merely a regurgitation?
Yes! There’s a new Castlevania game!
Well, sort of. It’s a tribute, a reworking, a … I don’t know, homage?
Officially, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is stated as a “stretch goal” for Koji Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Kickstarter Campaign; I tend to look at it as a mini thank-you treat for fans who crowdfunded the project. For a 32-year Castlevania fan like me, how does this retro throwback play and feel? Does it successfully invoke that Gothic vampire castle feeling of yesteryears? Allow me to share!
Before All Else, the Story Behind Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon …
The story is well-known to us Castlevania fans, but for the sake of those new to this enduring action platforming series, this was what happened.
Koji Igarashi didn’t create what is arguably Konami’s most successful platforming series. However, he was largely responsible for its longevity. The creative force behind Symphony of the Night (SotN), the most beloved episode in the franchise, he refined what is now known as the Metroidvania formula. Simply put, this formula balanced RPG questing and exploration with NES style platforming. The popularity of the formula also ensured Castlevania’s survival throughout several gaming generations.
Unfortunately, successful as Igarashi’s Castlevania games were, Konami ultimately lost interest in them, with Igarashi’s final CV project being 2011’s Harmony of Despair. In 2014, Igarashi left Konami and became the co-founder of Artplay. Thereafter, he also launched a Kickstarter project for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. In his words, this new game would be a “spiritual successor.”
As part of the campaign’s stretch goals, developer Inti Creates was to develop Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, a shorter game described as a companion episode. Conceptually, Curse of the Moon would be created in the style of retro NES platformers, with many elements drawing direct inspiration from 1990’s Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Of interest, Igarashi himself had previously stated CV III to be his favourite Castlevania episode.
All screenshots belong to the creators of the game.
I’d put it this way. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon screams NES era Castlevania. Yet there are also enough differences for any player to immediately know this isn’t some bootleg sham from the past.
One look and it’s obvious that Inti Creates gave a lot of thought to what made Castlevania III so successful, while also cautious about over-relying on the 1990 masterpiece. At the same time, there feels to be a strong secondary homage to another classic NES franchise, the button-busting Ninja Ryukenden trilogy. If you ask me, Inti Creates and Artplay didn’t just design Curse of the Moon to honour the NES Castlevania games. It was intended as homage to NES platformers in general too.
I should highlight that Inti Creates included the downsides of NES era gameplay in Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. As in stiffness, knockbacks, crawlingly slow staircase ascension speeds, the likes of.
While this completes the retro flavour, I can only imagine how frustrating this would be to some of today’s players. Fortunately, the developer had the sense to also offer a “casual player” mode. This mode doesn’t entirely eliminate those difficulties. But it does remove annoying knockbacks on topof offering unlimited lives.
What’s most reminiscent of Castlevania III in Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon are the four playable characters. These are openly inspired by the classic quartet from 1990, but with naughty twists.
Zangetsu: The starting character and main protagonist. I would describe him as an Asian SotN Alucard armed with … a wimpy butter knife. While the most balanced of all four characters and with the highest HP, his reach is simply abysmal. Not to mention his sub-weapons aren’t particularly useful or impressive too. That said, you can supposedly unlock various new abilities for him after fulfilling certain game conditions, thereafter transforming him into a Getsu Fūma alike warrior. I have yet to accomplish these and so for the moment, I groan whenever having to use him.
Miriam: The only gal in the new quartet and the protagonist for the soon-to-come Bloodstained: Ritual of the Moon. In a curious gender twist of sorts, she’s the Belmont in this spiritual successor, the one who’s decisively overpowered as well. Not only is she fast, she uses a whip that has wonderful reach, on top of having truly kick-ass sub-weapons. (That axe …) Having lost most of my acrobatic NES platforming skills years ago, I’m mainly using her in my gameplay. She is just … oh so awesome.
Alfred: In yet another gender twist, Alfred is the Sypha Belnades of this game. His reach and attack will have you in tears. Worse, his HP is so alarmingly little some bosses can take him out with two hits. On the other hand, his alchemic sub-weapons are outrageous, arguably even deadlier than Miriam’s. At the moment, the one I love most is his Burning Sphere magic. With sufficient weapon points, even a rain of fire heads is no threat for this old-timer.
This might sound silly to you. For me, the most important element of any Castlevania game is the soundtrack. If I love the music, I would love the game, even if gameplay sucks. Vice versa, if I hate what I hear, I would dislike the episode too. To the extent of considering it a downer.
The music in Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon doesn’t suck. That said, neither does it impress too. As spirited and intense as most of the tracks are, they just sound too similar, without the sort of tonal colours i.e. variations found in CV III, Rondo of Blood, or SotN.
In summary, while I wouldn’t say this was a major letdown of the game, it was still a disappointment. Hopefully, the composition and arrangement quality improve in Ritual of the Night. Given the incredible popularity of Castlevania music, I think it’s not unreasonable to say the soundtrack is almost as important as the game mechanics.
Summary: Is This A Worthy Spiritual Successor of Castlevania?
I would give it a … 4 out of 5. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon hits most of the right buttons, the only miss in my case being the soundtrack.
Gameplay and mechanics are deliciously nostalgic if difficult. The art design is also wonderfully reminiscent of the epic saga involving Trevor/Ralph Belmont and his famous gang. Best of all, the game doesn’t just invoke Castlevania memories, there’s a strong flavour of other NES classics too. If this is hint of how Igarashi’s next masterpiece would be, well, I’m sold. I’d be placing a pre-order the moment Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is available.
Update Jun 2019: Read my fanboy review of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night!