By Josh Speer / July 10th, 2020
|Title||Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2|
|Developer||Inti Creates, ArtPlay|
|Release Date||July 10th, 2020|
|Platform||PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||T for Teen – Blood, Violence|
One of the most blockbuster reveals recently was the announcement that Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was getting a sequel. The first game was a very faithful retro platformer, set in a similar style to Castlevania III. But I never in my wildest dreams imagined we’d get a Curse of the Moon 2! Though in many ways CotM 2 follows in the footsteps of the original, it also sets itself apart in a few ways. For one, there’s a new team of demon hunters joining Zangetsu on his mission. For another, overall I found this to be a meatier experience. The real question then is, was Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 better than the first game? Or was it merely a glimmering echo?
First things first. If you played Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, you might have certain expectations after hearing that Dominique is playable. All I will say is put your expectations aside, because Curse of the Moon 2 constantly surprised me as I played. While Zangetsu was playable in the first game, here he’s playable the entire time. Other than Dominique, joining him are newcomers Robert and Hachi. Robert is an expert marksman who can snipe foes from half a screen away, crawl through narrow apertures and wall jump, but is otherwise incredibly frail. Hachi is literally a flying mecha operated by a corgi. No, I’m not sure how that happened either; all I know is Hachi is amazing. He can hover and utilize weapon points that other characters need for subweapons to make himself temporarily invincible. That sounds overpowered, but you’ll really learn to rely on it. He can also smash walls to open up new pathways. Also, since this was already revealed by Inti Creates, I can confirm the other demon hunters from the original game, Miriam, Gebel and Alfred, return at a certain point. I won’t reveal where, other than to say their portion was my favorite part of the entire experience.
One thing that Curse of the Moon 2 does exceptionally well is make every teammate count. Nobody is a clone of anyone else, and each has their strengths and weaknesses. Some are physically stronger, others are faster, some jump higher and others can play crowd control. The first time you play, the end of each boss fight will be punctuated by the arrival of a demon hunter, who slays the boss in epic fashion. After you’ve recruited the core group, the game starts to change things up, and really forces you to alternate wisely and strategically between them. Thankfully that’s done easily by pressing L or R to shift between the group, and it freezes time for a brief second while it happens. A good example of how this mechanic works is against the gigantic mummy boss. He forces you to avoid spears and lightning while trying to scale moving platforms so you can reach his weak point. To do so, I went invincible with Hachi, then got up close and personal with Dominique’s spear, and if the boss ran, I would snipe him with Robert. This system isn’t overwhelming either, and rewards you for being creative. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak. That said, this game is inspired by hardcore retro NES games, so do expect to get frustrated by several bosses. Thankfully there was nothing here I couldn’t figure out how to overcome.
I will say, I really grew to appreciate Dominique during my first playthrough. Her healing spells and powerful attack magic, along with her multifaceted lance, made her a true MVP. This turns out to have been a deliberate choice, since later on you won’t have her at your disposal. I really don’t want to ruin any of the story beats here. All I will say is that you won’t see the true ending for Curse of the Moon 2 for a while. To unlock it, you’ll first have to unlock various episodes and beat them. While you can beat any of the episodes in about 4 hours, my total playtime was around 14 hours. And I should mention, each episode has different quirks that make things a bit more interesting and challenging, such as harder attack patterns for bosses. Hell, one episode even practically turns the game into a Metroidvania, which I enthusiastically approve of. The main thing that changes in each episode is the final boss fight. Outside of that, you’ll have about eight stages to get through each run, complete with branching paths and hidden goodies, including items which permanently power up your team’s stats.
Though Curse of the Moon 2 is made with a certain audience in mind, it’s also approachable to less confident or patient gamers. Though I played on Veteran, which keeps features like enemy knockback, you can play on easier modes that are much more forgiving. Regardless of mode, you can earn extra lives by scoring enough points from collecting items or defeating foes. Either way, the controls in the game are well implemented, and each attack has a distinct audio cue and range. You’ll grow to appreciate the various subweapons at each character’s disposal, such as Robert’s dual lances, Zangetsu’s burning scrolls or Dominique’s wall-crawling lightning. With the exception of Hachi and Gebel, each character has a variety of subweapons they can use. The controls all work marvelously, so you can only blame yourself when you fall into a pit or get skewered by a foe. One nice modern convention is you’ll come across candles that serve as checkpoints. They keep you from having to play entire levels over from the beginning once you die (and you will die). But like in the first game, each character essentially serves as an extra life, so you won’t have to use a continue until your entire team perishes, which will restart the stage.
Speaking of bosses, all the bosses in Curse of the Moon 2 are epic. I’ve always appreciated Inti Creates’ artistic flair, and whether using pixels or sprites, they do incredible work. Each monster is complex and full of detail, and there’s some nightmarish beasts here. Take the first boss, which is a green wyvern. At first it looks somewhat standard, until the red skeleton parasite lodged in its throat breathes fire, or its eel-like tail spits electricity at you. Besides looking epic, all the bosses pose a significant threat, and will force you to learn their patterns and act quickly. Thankfully, I feel the bosses here are more well balanced than in the first game. Some of the original game’s bosses were near impossible without the right demon hunter, and many were hard even with your full team. I didn’t have nearly as much trouble with these bosses, with the exception of the numerous final bosses you’ll face. Those will stress you to the maximum, many with multiple phases, and will require every bit of skill and strategy to defeat. That said, these battles were definitely a highlight of the experience.
The exploration in the game is also a step up from the first game. Many stages are built with dual paths in mind, and some won’t be accessible til you get the entire team of demon hunters together. These paths show off how expansive the stages are, and there’s plenty of hidden rooms full of rewards as well. Every stage is bristling with monsters, and they will do their level best to kill you, especially on Veteran. I got knocked into bottomless pits more than once by flying foes, and raced frantically across disappearing platforms. I will say, Hachi really helps you safely explore, since not only can he hover over pits, he can literally crush deadly spikes underfoot. While his large size makes him an easy target for foes, he’s still pretty invaluable. It’s a lot of fun switching between characters to help you explore stages and combat threats.
Visually, I never have any complaints with Inti Creates, and that doesn’t change with Curse of the Moon 2. Not only is the artwork reminiscent of classics I love, but it is full of its own personality. Take the way each character poses after beating a boss, such as Zangetsu rapidly sheathing his sword or Hachi bouncing out of his mech to bark triumphantly. Even when you’re on the map screen, you’ll see the team interacting on the bottom. One of my favorite moments was traveling to an ice stage, with Hachi shivering until Robert put a blanket on him. These little touches just go to show the attention to detail present, and I love it. I already said how amazing the bosses look, but that goes for every other element of the game too. While it might not be completely faithful to NES restrictions, I could care less. I love how the game builds drama with background animation, such as sinister shadows watching you and then flying off to cause mayhem, or lightning strikes revealing hideous sea monsters. Thankfully, the sound design is also tremendous. There’s lots of distinct sounds that help differentiate the stages, and the grunts of your team lend them lots of personality. Each foe has audio cues as well, and the bosses roar demonically and make lots of noise to show how powerful they are. Honestly, the visual and audio design here is some of the best work I’ve yet seen from Inti Creates, and it’s a large reason why I keep coming back to their titles.
I honestly have no real complaints about Curse of the Moon 2. It doesn’t trip over itself or make any obvious mistakes. The closest I could come to one is saying that it may be too challenging for some gamers, but that’s really not a problem. No game is for everyone, after all. Besides that, the only minor quibble I have is that I feel the true final boss of this game was somewhat less impressive than the first game. But in every other aspect, Curse of the Moon 2 outdoes its predecessor.
Curse of the Moon 2 is great however you slice it. It’s not quite perfect, but it’s so damn close that it barely matters. For $14.99, it’s a bit pricier than the original, but still a great bargain. I enjoyed all the time I spent with the game, especially since there’s more to unlock. I have two mystery modes I’m working to open up, but even then there’s a lot of replay value here. You have multiple endings, as well as plenty of ways to progress through the game, and if a friend is close by, you can also enjoy the co-op mode, which looks really fun. You’ll even unlock cool features like the ability to play as Ultimate Zangetsu, who is even more of a badass than usual. While I would have appreciated a feature like an art gallery or bestiary showing all the enemy names, there’s very little to complain about here. If you like classic platformers and love Castlevania flavor, you absolutely need to own this game. Now I’m just hoping to get an announcement of a Curse of the Moon 3, cause frankly I enjoy these side stories more than Ritual of the Night.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
ArtPlayBloodstainedCastlevaniaCurse of the Moon 2Inti CreatesKoji IgarashiRetro Platformer