Inti Creates returns with the 8-bit spin-off a sequel of its series, expanding the playful recipe with new features and characters.
Initially born as a bonus of the Ritual of the Night Kickstarter campaign, the spin-off Curse of the Moon was able to immediately attract the attention of the historical fans of Castlevania, becoming the most appreciated element of the whole Bloodstained project. In 2018, the prequel of the adventure directed by Koji Igarashi highlighted for the umpteenth time the incredible talent of the Inti Creates team in knowing how to capture the essence of iconic sagas of the 8-bit era, bringing them back into products able to go beyond the simple nostalgia factor (retrieve the review of Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon). Today, two years after the first experiment, Curse of the Moon is back with a direct sequel with the aim of re-proposing the same winning formula, however introducing some substantial differences within the game system.
Bloodstained Curse of the Moon 2 picks up exactly from the finale of the first episode: the wandering swordsman Zangetsuafter completing his revenge mission, he finds himself again forced to face a demonic threat.
The story is little more than a mere pretext to justify the advancement of the protagonist within the 8 levels that make up the adventure. Each of the stages is well characterized and presents, both stylistically and in the proposed challenges, a strong identity that clearly differentiates it from the other scenarios. The platforming dynamics are essentially identical to those seen in the first Curse of the Moon and ask the player to traverse two-dimensional levels full of secret passages, bifurcations, enemies and deadly traps. The protagonist will, therefore, have available, in pure Castlevania style, an arsenal consisting of the main weapon and a series of secondary consumable attacks, which can be collected and reloaded by destroying the lanterns present in the various game screens.
To close each section there will be the inevitable boss, a gigantic opponent who will require careful study of attack patterns and more than a few attempts to be defeated. By now the real trademark of the series, to come out winners from these battles will mean being able to recruit new playable characters, each with specific characteristics and unique skills that will make it indispensable on more than one occasion.
The ability to change at will at any time between one warrior and the other guarantees non-trivial freedom of action and also requires careful strategic planning by the player. Not only will some secret areas and hidden shortcuts be reached only by a certain character, but also each of the protagonists will have its own energy bar: falling on the battlefield will not mean having to start again from the beginning of the level or from the last checkpoint reached, but return to the beginning of the last room visited, however losing the use of lifeless ally. Only with the elimination of the last member of the team will there be a loss of life or possibly game over.
Difficulties of the past
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 offers a level of difficulty calibrated upwards which translates into a decidedly demanding experience: although it is possible to obtain extra lives by accumulating score from the distracting elements, we found ourselves in front of an action-adventure much more arduous than the first episode, which showed its side in its extreme simplicity.
Lovers of classic Castlevania will, therefore, find it bread for their teeth, with a deliberately woody and limited control system, to remember in all respects the adventures experienced at the time of the NES. Those looking for a more affordable challenge can choose between two levels of difficulty: Veteran and Casual. The second, designed for an audience less accustomed to the genre, not only offers unlimited lives but also the absence of the backlash every time you are touched by enemies. A feature that, inserted in a context where millimetre precision is required even in the banalest of jumps, it can make a clear difference. Thanks also to a greater number of checkpoints and many more objects to restore health, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 completely changes its face if played on the simplest difficulty.
A new cast
Although all of these dynamics have been amply explored within the first chapter, Inti Ceates has tried to substantially renew the playful formula of the title. First of all the cast of characters, completely renovated, it offers four heroes with strong characterization. If Zangetsu is the balanced character par excellence, Dominique he is able to jump much higher than the swordsman and can use his spear to bounce on various types of terrain. Robert, the sniper, compensates for a low attack potential with bullets from the extended range and the ability to advance lying down to cross the narrowest passages.
Among all, it certainly stands out Hachi, a dog driving a robot capable of not only inflicting a high amount of damage but also of gliding in the air thanks to the motors installed inside its mechanical limbs. A variety that allows the player to freely face the various challenges proposed by the game, perhaps with a more cautious approach from the distance with Robert, or prefer a more aggressive style using the power of Hachi.
Although the experience as a whole is well balanced, encouraging the player to experiment as much as possible, unfortunately, the situation changes markedly with the multiplayer, another great novelty of the sequel. Curse of the Moon 2 allows you to face the adventure together with another user in local mode. At any time the second player can join the game, taking control of a new Zangetsu distinguishable from the original only for the colouring.
The developers have tried to implement the co-op mode in the best way through some precautions: for example, it will not be possible to select the same character at the same time, or one of the two players will be able to bind to his ally and rely on his movements to overcome situations more complex.
But unfortunately, the level design was not meant for multiplayer, and the addition of a companion destroys the otherwise perfect balance of the title. The fights will become much simpler, the more exciting platform sections practically impossible to face in two and the possibility of climbing to the head of your ally will lead to real moments of “sequence break” which will cancel out the complexity of the levels. In short, multiplayer remains a welcome addition but unfortunately not exploited to the best.
Completely opposite discourse for the introduction of the episodes within the progression. As with the first chapter, completing the eight levels will take approximately three hours in total but it is by defeating the last boss that Curse of the Moon 2 begins to express its full potential.
In the predecessor, replayability was guaranteed by being able to choose whether to recruit the warriors or absorb their powers, decisions that would lead to a fair amount of alternative endings. In this second chapter, however, there is no choice to make but once the game is over, a second mode will be unlocked, called “episode”, which will require you to retrace all levels previously addressed under different conditions. There is no mention of simple backtracking because, in addition to a weak narrative designed to justify the repetition of the scenarios, the experience will be heavily altered by new enemies and abilities, variations within the team and even new bosses. As if that weren’t enough, there will be a total of five episodes and despite the fact that a little tiredness is needed in having to face the same levels over and over again, Curse of the Moon 2 pleasantly surprised us through a continuous reversal of the hinges of the gameplay: a sometimes introducing some old acquaintances and even abandoning the linearity of the adventure.
Technically, the game does not differ from what has been seen previously even if a certain desire to move away from the imaginary borrowed from Castlevania is perceptible. Graphics and sound they are a clear tribute to the 8 bits of the late 80s, but where Curse of the Moon literally mentioned Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse on more than one occasion, the new work by Inti Creates tries to move away from these canons while remaining faithful to tradition.
Once again it is the bosses who impress with the quality of the sprites and their atypical design and much more than simply citations. The result is therefore dated but characterized by a unique charm: an anachronistic product but not an approximate or lacklustre one.
Bloodstained Curse of the Moon 2
Nintendo Switch Analyzed VersionUltimately, although the impact in its revolutionary way that had the unexpected arrival on the market of the series is lacking, Curse of the Moon 2 tries as much as possible to emancipate itself from the giants that preceded it and represent yet another testimony of the profound commitment placed by Inti Creates and Koji Igarashi within the project. The small studio founded by former Capcom employees has proven to be the best possible interpreter to revitalize the big names of the golden age of 2D video games that have struggled so much to keep up with the times. Likewise, the IGA master, in the role of producer, lays bare his great love for the Castlevania series, a marriage that between ups and downs has continued uninterrupted since the days of Symphony of the Night. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is certainly not a perfect product, and we believe it can be perfected in many aspects including a rebalancing of the multiplayer experience and perhaps a greater variety in endgame content. In its small way, however, it is an inspired and engaging production, difficult without ever becoming frustrating and highly replayable, all offered at a competitive price. A highly nostalgic game but able to exert its charm also on the new generations of gamers: Curse of the Moon 2 is an excellent result that we hope will bring the Bloodstained series and the memory of the Castlevania classics to touch new qualitative peaks.