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Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (PC) artwork

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (PC) review


"A worthy ode to the greatest pure Castlevania game ever made"




The name, Castlevania, has lost much of its lustre over the years when compared with the weight of its import in its 8 and 16-bit heyday. These days, it doesnít demand the same respect, doesnít evoke the same sorts of feelings -- hell, it isnít even the same kind of game. Iím reminded of the way Darth Vader has become toothless, innocuous, child-friendly (Rogue One badassery, notwithstanding). Where has the edge gone, the menace?

There was a time when a new Castlevania project was announced and nothing short of punishing, sonically singular excellence was expected. Those days are over. And yet: thank goodness for indie developers and their tools. Their passion projects provide for us the answers to countless old-school-inspired what-ifs, hearken back and resuscitate long dead bloodlines that The Big Guys, themselves slaves to bean counters, have long ago deemed unprofitable.

Koji Igarashi and Inti Creates have continued that trend with Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, a game that answers the question: What would a spiritual sequel to Castlevania III: Draculaís Curse look like in 2018? Their answer proves that truly excellent gameplay is timeless; their answer is a game that feels like Castlevania III in all of the most important ways, yet caters to modern sensibilities and manages the difficult dual accomplishments of making you want to replay it multiple times through its various modes, and making you also want to go back and (re)play the fantastic source material (which has held up better than I could have imagined). Bloodstained seems set to be a new, modern day classic, even while it elevates an old one.



We take control of Zangetsu, a demon hunter as sturdy as any Belmont, and guide him through eight challenging levels en route to slaying the demon who has brought darkness to the land while he sleeps waiting, like Cthulhu. On the way, Zangetsu will cross paths with three skilled fighters who decide to team up with him, each with their own grudge against the demon that permits them to put their differences with Zangetsu aside for the greater good.

Zangetsu himself is the stoutest of the group; employing his sword reminds us of Ryu from the NES Ninja Gaiden titles, and while his anti-air and demon essence subweapons wonít look familiar, his holy water-inspired attack should. Playing as Miriam makes Bloodstained feel the most like a Castlevania game -- she bears a whip, after all -- but like a Castlevania game on steroids, as she is much fleeter of foot than Simon ever was, can leap higher than him, and her whip is longer than his was, right out of the gate.

Alfred is our Sypha Belnades, and Gebel is our Alucard. If you know those names, you know that the former is physically weak but casts powerful magic, and the latterís greatest asset is his ability to turn into a bat (no subweapons here) and soar.

Switching among the characters on the fly is crucial in Bloodstained -- more so than it ever was in Castlevania III. Not only will character management allow you to take different routes (Gebelís bat form will open up areas that initially seem out of reach) but it will allow you to feast on enemy formations that initially seemed insurmountable (Alfredís burning sphere ability will see you through the most intractable of enemy gauntlets).



But the greatest influence that the characters effect on the gameplay hasnít anything to do with their unique abilities. Itís simply this: once you have your team of four assembled, you essentially have four lives for every life. Once you have all of your allies in tow, how you manage their lives, their unique energy bars, is key to your success further on in the game when things get significantly more difficult. Some of the later bosses will have you lashing out with your most offensively potent character of choice at the onset, before switching in a panic to your defensive standout when the boss switches tactics. If any character should fall to his death or succumb to his wounds, youíll be sent back to the last checkpoint, but as long as you switch off from the characters with failing health to someone fitter, youíll effectively be extending your lifeline nearly four-fold. How efficiently you go about doing this while also making your selections based on offense and defense, is the difference between success and failure.

The faster moving characters and vitality meter swapping makes Bloodstained easier than the game that inspired it. And if itís still too difficult for the uninitiated, you can choose to play it in Casual mode which offers unlimited lives and turns off the old school ďknockbackĒ effect when you take damage. Or, in the event that youíre an 80s gaming guru and itís too easy, youíll be in for a rude awakening once you beat the original mode and explore subsequent runs. Many of them involve not assembling your team of four, which obviously takes away from (or outright eliminates if you bring along no one) the energy bar-stacking. Every combination yields a different ending, and if youíve been starved for 8-bit platformer excellence, this will seem like an absolute feast.

Bloodstained isn't perfect. Its highs aren't quite as high as those of its source material, its awesome tunes not quite as awesome, and it shows off a few rather luridly coloured later levels. But it was ostensibly released as a stopgap while Castlevania true believers continue to await the highly anticipated Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the new IPís tribute to the most celebrated of all Castlevania games, Symphony of the Night. And to consider this first instalment as a checkpoint en route to a greater destination is to sell it criminally short. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon compares itself to what is arguably the best pure experience in the Belmont canon and comes out of that comparison none the worse for wear. Thatís no easy feat.

4.5/5

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (July 15, 2018)

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EmP posted July 15, 2018:

Excellent review, Marc. Some of the references fly over my head, but it shows you know an ungodly amount about the series Bloodstained is based upon, and add authority to your review. The source material favours you; best thing you've written in some time!
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Masters posted July 15, 2018:

Thanks, dude! It's been awhile since I reviewed something I gave a shit about. That always helps. But now, back to your regular scheduled indie-effort-template-based-review.
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Follow_Freeman posted July 16, 2018:

This was a great review, much more informative and well-flowing than any other I've read. I'm looking forward to trying this out. Important question, though; do you have any air control in your jumps, or do you just have a fixed arc like the old games? I hated that nonsense in the original titles and have to get a mod for air control when playing Castlevania 3. I have a bunch of mods for that, might make a blog about it.

Anyway, very well written. I might have adjusted the paragraph structure, but I must disagree with EmP's criticism, for there's no reference that is also subtly explained in natural fashions such as here:

"Alfred is our Sypha Belnades, and Gebel is our Alucard. If you know those names, you know that the former is physically weak but casts powerful magic, and the latterís greatest asset is his ability to turn into a bat (no subweapons here) and soar. "
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EmP posted July 16, 2018:

I never said the references weren't solid, only that they flew over my head. I've not played as much Castlevania as a lot of people.
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Masters posted July 16, 2018:

I never said I knew him -- I said he touched me on the shoulder once...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Freeman. I don't remember the jumping now; I actually wrote this review some time ago and I no longer have access to the game... sorry!
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honestgamer posted July 17, 2018:

Great review, Marc! I especially loved the third paragraph from the end, where you talked about the utility of the four-character team and how that can work to your advantage. But there were a lot of great bits throughout.

Freeman, to answer your question: you can't change your jump direction mid-air. Or couldn't when I played it for a bit on Switch. I saw people complaining about that on Twitter, too. Honestly, it didn't bother me in the first two stages or so, but maybe it would get to me in some of the later areas.
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Masters posted July 20, 2018:

Thanks for the comments Jason, and thanks for answering Freeman. :)

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