What if Simon Belmont wielded a sword instead of a whip and wore a trench coat and pants instead of those booty shorts? If, like me, you’ve found yourself wondering those things, then Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon might be the retro-inspired video game for you! This homage to the classic Castlevania formula by ArtPlay, Inc and Inti Creates Co, LTD (available on Steam), combines fast action with some thoughtful platforming and character selection choices to create an experience that harkens back to the days of the NES.
Story. You begin play as Zangetsu, a demon hunter with a deep grudge against the forces of evil who travels through distant lands to slay a demon who lives in a faraway
castle. During the course of your travels, you meet allies with different abilities who have their own pasts and reasons for helping you. Simple and straightforward like the best classic action games. Each stage has a demonic boss whose form and attacks fit thematically with the stage’s aesthetics. After defeating the first three bosses, you unlock a traveling companion – Miriam the whip-wielding shardbinder who can high jump and slide, Alfred the old alchemist who can use magic and hit things with his cane, and Gebel the “cursed shardbinder” who transforms into a bat and is clearly our own version of Alucard.
Gameplay. Bloodstained shines in its gameplay for me. The controls are responsive, the action is swift, and the options are plentiful. For those familiar with the classic Castlevania games, this game feels familiar. There are lanterns that, when shattered, drop secondary weapons (which are different for each character), magic potions to (re)fill your weapon point meter to use those secondary weapons, money bags to gain points toward extra lives, and (occasionally) hearts to refill your life meters. Secondary weapon placement appears to be intentional, as the same weapon spawns at the same location each time.
One mechanic that stands out for me is the character switching. Yes, we’ve seen it before, but what’s interesting here is that each character has an individual life bar. This comes into play as when a specific character dies, the player does not lose a “life” until all characters are dead. This means that, as the game progresses, you have essentially four chances to complete a stage per life. This is a vast improvement from the generation of games Bloodstained seeks to emulate. And it’s also an act of mercy on the part of the creative team.
Character switching is important because some characters can access certain areas that others cannot. Only Miriam and Gebel can slip through small spaces. Gebel can fly across long chasms or up to great heights in bat form, making travel easier. I’m still trying to see what Alfred offers, beyond his magic that can protect multiple characters, freeze enemies, etc. But, you will find yourself switching among characters frequently, as some are just better for certain sections than others. So, keeping them alive is essential.
And the boss fights are unique and appropriate for each stage. The bosses are often huge and deadly. As I’ve mentioned, the early stages show a pattern where the new character is uniquely powerful against the next boss. Each boss requires a different strategy to defeat, and, once you learn the pattern, the fights become easier.
Graphics and Sound. The graphics are what you should expect from a game paying homage to the NES Castlevania line. There are big, but clear pixels and bright, oddly chosen color choices. That said, the graphics are clear and distinct. It’s easy to see characters and objects against the background. They are pixel graphics in the old Konami style.
The sound has that old midi sound feel of the 8-bit era. I don’t think this music will be as iconic as the early Castlevania music has been, but it is still good. Some of the sound effects could be better. For instance, when a door opens, it makes a high pitched “blingy” sound, as opposed to the creaking thud of the old Castlevania line. That’s a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things, but the game sound is really good. If you can handle my voice on screen, you can watch me play through the first four levels of the game on my Twitch channel here.
Final Thoughts. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon won’t reinvent the action genre. It is, however, a wonderful and loving ode to the classic Castlevania games that I grew up playing. And, given that this game was made as a stretch goal for a Kickstarter, this is why we should support independent creators. Without the support of the gaming community, this wonderful game would not exist.
Rating. 3.9 out of 4 Demon-Slaying Bats.