2019 will be the year of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the new Metroidvania created by Koji Igarashi, one of the key men in Castlevania’s development since the epoch-making Symphony of the Night. The game has generated a huge amount of hype, quantifiable in the five and a half million dollars obtained from his Kickstarter campaign. To deceive the spasmodic wait, Inti Creates has created Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, a sort of appetizer of Ritual of the Night.
Again we are faced with a game that pays homage in every pixel Castlevania, but the episode taken as a model this time is not Symphony of the Night, but the much older third chapter, Dracula’s Curse, dating back to 1989.
Curse of the Moon, then, is a valid action platformer that seems to come out of the era of the glorious NES, as is evident from the first screens, reminiscent – net, of course, of the resolution, infinitely greater – of the distant 8-bit era, in this sense, Curse of the Moon reminded us of Mighty Gunvolt, another similar operation of Inti Creates, who wanted to accompany Azure Striker Gunvolt to a spin-off delightfully retro taste. Another point of contact with the games mentioned is the beautiful soundtrack, created by specialist Ippo Yamada, who has signed many OST for Mega Man (as well as that of his spiritual successor, Mighty No. 9) and who will participate in that of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.
But the similarities don’t stop with graphics and art direction, they also extend to the field of gameplay. Dracula’s Curse marked a return to the purely action platform mechanics of the first episode, abandoning the adventure and role elements of Simon’s Quest, but added other elements to overcome the problem of excessive linearity, introducing three compressors and some forks, leading to multiple endings.
Curse of the Moon also features three additional characters and multiple endings, although it handles those elements differently. As for the supporting characters, Dracula’s Curse allowed you to take only one with you, a restriction absent in Curse of the Moon, which goes to compose in this way a really interesting party: the swordsman Zangetsu, in search of revenge against the demons who cursed him, can be accompanied by Miriam, equipped with the classic whip that fans of Castlevania have learned to love, the magician and alchemist Alfred and Gebel, able to turn into a bat. These four characters will return in Ritual of the Night, although their relationships won’t necessarily be friendly…
But it’s not mandatory to let all the supporters enter the party, on the contrary, Curse of the Moon from time to time allows the player to choose whether to recruit them, not recruit them or kill them, thus acquiring a new move for Zangetsu. Depending on the choices made, you unlock one of the six alternative endings and possibly the Nightmare mode (with a new final stage) and Ultimate mode, as well as the Boss Rush Mode. This extra feature is necessary to achieve a reasonable longevity, as a run itself lasts just a couple of hours, ten to fifteen minutes for each of the eight levels it is composed of – but unlike Dracula’s Curse, here there is no countdown timer.
All characters, switchable with the LB and RB buttons, have their own health bar and, with the exception of Gebel, their own set of secondary weapons (which have a dedicated button, although you can restore the old combination ↑+Attack), but the indicator linked to the latter is common (you see it at the top right in the screenshots accompanying the review, below the score). The death of one does not mean the loss of a life: simply, you go back to the previous checkpoint using the other fighters, only when all have died you lose a life. Always said that you are playing in Veteran Mode and not in Casual Mode, which eliminates lives and knockbacks.
From this point of view, we should praise the ability of Inti Creates to climb the difficulty: Curse of the Moon can be a walk of health (in Normal Casual, recruiting all the characters) as a hell (in Ultra Veteran, without one or more compprimary, especially in the last levels), it all depends on the player.