Release date: May 24th, 2018
Platforms: PS Vita (Reviewed) Xbox One, 3DS, PC, PS4, Switch
With game developer Konami leaving the famous Castlevania series dormant or as a shadow of what it used to be, the Bloodstained series was introduced to the world in 2015 by Koji Igarashi and the ex-Konami staff who made the older Castlevania games as a spiritual successor to Castlevania to continue the tradition of these classic games.
The Kickstarter campaign for the main game, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, was funded in 2015 and became the most-funded video game campaign at that time, and as such, also met its stretch goals to add more features.
One of those features was an 8-bit prequel game that would be released before the main game, and that would turn out to be Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. COTM is a faithful 8-bit revival of the classic Castlevania game style, being closest to the NES’s Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse as well as the PCE-CD’s Rondo of Blood, mixing elements from both games and injecting some new ideas as well.
Staying with the classic 2D sidescrolling gameplay, COTM stays authentic to its inspiration and features wonderfully detailed 2D environments and characters, making the visuals a treat for those who still love the early Castlevania games, and the attention to detail is sometimes surprising, with even some of the visual faults and limitations of 8-bit hardware left intact.
The developer, Inti Creates (made up of former Capcom staff,) has a good history of making these kinds of classic revival games in recent years (Mega Man 9-10, Mighty Gunvolt Burst, Blaster Master Zero) and they have all had this same level of quality, so it may not be surprising to anyone who has played their previous games, but for newcomers to their style and quality, this will be a treat.
COTM also features the multi-character real-time swap system from Castlevania 3, but with a few twists, including each character having their own unique sub-weapons and abilities beyond their normal attacks. Some characters can do slide dashes or fly through the air, or have more or less health or attack power, among other things, which also allows for each level to have different routes you can take if you utilize certain abilities. The balance between characters strikes a nice flow and makes you think of how to approach each situation.
These alternate routes are like small puzzles to figure out to get shorter, alternate paths which often lead to new items or enemies you can’t encounter in other areas, which makes them more similar to Rondo of Blood’s alternate paths, instead of the post-level choice alternate routes of Dracula’s Curse.
There are also many different ways to play and many different endings, depending on choices you make within the game. You can choose from the beginning to recruit the other characters, ignore them, or kill them, and each choice alters the game in multiple ways. Doing a solo run with only the main character is a fun challenge in itself, and changes the dynamic of how you play the game and fight all the different enemies and bosses, on top of the new ending you can achieve.
COTM features 8 levels in it’s running time, making each playthrough about 2-3 hours, and also features a few ways to make the game more accessible to those players who don’t welcome the classic challenge of Castlevania games, which can be a plus for those who are usually turned off by the difficulty of these classic games.
The game also gives you more incentive to do multiple playthroughs, with various unlocks and modes to unlock, including one mode that has an entirely new final stage with a new final boss, making for some engaging extra content. Boss rush modes, hard/solo modes, and more await those who take the time to unlock them.
The only real downside of COTM is that it doesn’t bring a whole lot of innovation to the table, being mostly just a clone of an older game (albeit, a great, classic game,) where some of Inti Creates’ “revival” games of this type brought a little more new in terms of gameplay or options. This doesn’t necessarily take away from the game that it is and is trying to be, but it stops it from being a real masterpiece of its own.
One of the best parts about this package is that it only costs $9.99 US no matter which platform you choose, or if you backed the Kickstarter for the main game, you also get a code for this game for free. So, regardless of it being thought of as a “side-game” and a bonus goal for the Kickstarter of the main Bloodstained, this title stands on its own and provides a good amount of value for those who choose to pick it up.