After the massively successful Kickstarter campaign for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and then the development hell the game went through to its eventual release this last month there was a little side project that spun out of that game and released a year earlier. Unlike the modern take on the Metroidvania genre that Ritual was intended to be, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is very much a throwback to the genesis of the genre with NES style graphics and a design that reminds me a little of early Castlevania titles. The game plays into that retro feel from the outset with its limited palette and blocky graphics. In a minor nod to a modern audience the game provides a difficulty option of veteran or casual with the latter offering unlimited lives.
Choosing the casual option though really exposes the truth of the game in that there’s not a whole lot to it. There are a some branching paths you encounter from time to time but for the most part you’re likely going to follow a fairly linear path in your travels. Occasionally you might see an opportunity to take a different route but I’m not convinced it makes much difference. Besides, once you go through certain doors in a level you can’t go back. The developers may have realised this too and offer players an option to wind their progress back but it’s hard to tell when that will be of any use – it seems not if you’re playing using the casual option.
The controls take you back to the old days with only the face buttons needed for jumping and attacks. It’s functional and serves its purpose but that’s it. Movement though can be a little frustrating thanks to how it deals with going up and down staircases as you find enemies have little trouble attacking you while you’re struggling to move and down them.
A neat mechanic is that as you progress through the game and defeat bosses you’ll also have additional characters join your team with their own unique attacks and abilities. Being able to switch between them as needed allows you to find the right fit for your current task – to make the most of it though you need to be mindful of their health and ensure each gets boosts when needed as losing one at the wrong time can make some areas a little harder to traverse.
There are some positives to be taken from Curse and the highlights of the game are definitely the bosses which are imaginative and fun to take on. My favourites include one near the beginning that’s stoking the fire of a train you’re travelling on and another made of coins in a treasure vault. They both full the screen impressively and don’t try to be too smart with the mechanics needed to beat them.
The thing I’m asking myself with Curse of the Moon is “why?”. I understand that this was intended to be something to whet player appetites until the “real” Bloodstained game arrived but it just seems way too simplistic or interesting to fill anyone’s needs. It certainly doesn’t appear (to me) to be a good example of the genre it is trying to reference. Admittedly my own interest in the genre started back with Shadow Complex on the 360 so my expectations could be tainted by newer games and their modern conveniences. If you are a fan of early Castlevania games you might find this a fun distraction but it’s not one for me unfortunately.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is out now for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Switch.