Well, last time we looked at Wallachia, a Castlevania inspired game that plays nothing like a Castlevania game. And today we’re back with a sequel to a game that does. Bloodstained: Curse Of The Moon was a rather fantastic sendup of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. One that celebrated the use of multiple characters and branching paths. Unsurprisingly, a lot of fans wanted more. But surprisingly, out of nowhere a sequel dropped on all of the digital console storefronts and Steam.
PROS: More of what you loved from COTM. 2-player co-op.
CONS: 2-player co-op. Checkpoints could be better balanced.
OLD CREW: The characters you loved are nowhere to be seen. Or are they?
As in the previous game, this is another love-letter to Castlevania III. If you’ve played the previous game, you’ll know exactly what to expect here. Zangetsu returns to slay demons as a new threat begins to emerge. So you’ll be doing exactly that. Things kick into high gear right away as the NES style is markedly improved with even more detail in the sprite work. If you thought the last game had good use of the NES’ aesthetic, you’ll really like this one in terms of the style. The animations are brilliant too. When you get to the end of the very first stage, you can see some background details in the boss introduction the NES could never do. So you can expect some flashy things that weren’t common until the Super Nintendo or even Playstation, just done with this 8-bit era look.
Anyway, within each of the game’s stages there are many branching paths. Most of which cannot be reached on your initial run of the stage. As in the original game, you’ll meet new characters in-between stages who will aid you on your quest. There are three of them. Dominique (Who comes from Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night. She was that game’s shopkeeper role.) who fights with a spear, has a higher jump, and can use healing items. Later on, you’ll meet Robert, the weakest of the group. He’s an ornery old man with a shotgun. He can also go prone, allowing you to reach some rooms the others cannot. And because he has a shotgun, he’s perfect for situations where enemies are blocking crucial jumps. Finally, there’s Hachi a Pembroke Welsh Corgi who pilots a Steampunk Gundam. Yes, really. He’s got the ability to hover for short distances and destroy some structures.
Each of the stages goes on through three areas with a couple of checkpoints. And within those areas the branching paths I mentioned come into play. One path might require Robert to crawl through a crawlspace. Or Dominique to use her Scrooge McDuck pogo jump on. Or the dog to smash through a floor. Sometimes these paths are a more difficult route to take. Sometimes they’re easier. And sometimes, either way, they’re necessary. One of the few issues I had in my playthrough was the placement of checkpoints. Most of the time it’s fine and breaks up the action mostly pretty evenly. But there are other times when it doesn’t and losing your party means redoing a very long gauntlet again. Again, this is a minor complaint. But it’s something that will inconvenience you. Near the end of your run, there’s one placement that actually makes things maybe a little too convenient as it will start you right near a bunch of items that make it difficult to actually game over in spite of how difficult the section is.
Throughout it all, though you’ll notice there were still a lot of routes you couldn’t take before even though you had all of the characters at your command. That’s because you didn’t. The little secret the game holds is that you cannot see everything on an initial run. So those of you out there who are completionist players will need to beat this game no less than three times to see it all. After you beat the game, you’ll be told you can play Episode Two, which is exactly like Episode One except now you start with Robert and Hachi already at your stead. You’ll now be able to take routes they could do that you couldn’t do before. The checkpoints and bosses are the same except now they’ve gotten a bit more difficult than before. Over time you’ll meet more characters who you can take other paths with. So Curse Of The Moon 2 does go out of its way to give you replay value.
New to the series is a co-op mode where two people can play through the game together at the same time. It does work for the most part. You can strategize, find situations where one player uses one character, while the other switches to something different, and utilize strategies in tandem. The problem is that much like in the days of the Commodore 64 and NES if two players with a wide skill gap play together it’s going to lead to a lot of deaths. As both players really need to stay near the center of the action. Go too far ahead, and the other player will impede you by being too far behind. You can help a weaker player by playing the game on the casual setting which takes away the Castlevania style knock-back you suffer when hitting a bad guy. But that only goes so far. It’s a nice inclusion but if you tend to get really angry when a friend or sibling costs you a victory, you’ll probably just want to play it alone.
I enjoyed Curse Of The Moon 2. It’s a very tough game, but mostly pretty fair. Nitpicking over the checkpoint distances aside. You don’t have to have played any of the previous games in the franchise to enjoy it, though it does help you understand a little bit more of the story, and helps as an addendum to Ritual Of The Night as the first Curse Of The Moon did.
If you’re a big fan of Castlevaniaesque games or NES hard games of yesteryear, this is a release worth checking out. If you enjoyed the first one already it might not wow you as much. But it’s more of a good thing. Dedicated fans will want to play through it multiple times to see all that it has to offer. And if you’re slow to frustration this is something different to play with a friend these days than the genres you’re normally used to.
Final Score: 9 out of 10.