In a surprise May 12 announcement, former Castlevania director Koji Igarashi announced the imminent release of an 8-bit-style prequel to his crowdfunded Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. This separate game, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, is out now for PC and consoles (including 3DS and Vita) for $10. Where Ritual of the Night is a spiritual successor to the PlayStation’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Curse of the Moon takes on the style of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s Castlevania and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. Developer Inti Creates produced this spinoff for Igarashi, and the studio maintained as much of the look and feel those classics — and this includes some of the more unforgiving mechanics.
I’ve played through the first six stages of Curse of the Moon, and I think I’m getting near the end of this compact experience. After a handful of hours, however, I already considered it a success at what Inti Creates set out to do. This is like a light version of Shovel Knight by way of the Castlevania series, which is a compliment for a game that only exists because it was a bonus goal in a Kickstarter campaign.
Curse of the Moon looks like an authentic Castlevania game and plays like one, too — at least on the veteran difficulty. But whether you play on veteran or casual, you’ll get that Castlevania visual style. The characters and enemies have that simple look of an 8-bit game, but like Konami’s hits from the 1980s, the artwork does a lot to suggest monsters and magic to your imagination. The color palette also stretches into the oranges, blacks, and purples in a way that few games outside of Castlevania did on the NES.
Inti was equally faithful to the mechanics, which provided me with a lot of frustration. Playing on veteran means that your character gets knocked back when an enemy hits them. This means if you have poor timing on a jump, you could end up flying back a few feet into a bottomless pit, which is an instant death no matter how much health you have. Curse of the Moon also scoffs at the concept of physics and momentum.
Your characters can either jump straight up or in a set, predetermined arc if you jump while moving. If you run off the side of a platform, you’ll fall straight down instead of carrying your velocity over the side. This means that once you commit to an awful jump, you will see it through even if that means you’re going to end up in another one of those pits.
That is frustrating, but it’s also familiar. I can get rid of the knockback by playing on casual, and I’m glad it has that option. But I am here to get some more Castlevania, and that means warts and all.
But Curse of the Moon isn’t just a copy of Castlevania — it brings something new along with it. In the first hour, you’ll go from controlling one character to controlling four. Each is their own archetype and capabilities. One can take and deal a lot of damage, another has a whip and can jump higher, a third has multiple magic attacks, and the last one has a close-range spread attack and can turn into a bat.
At any time during gameplay, you can hit a button to transform instantly into the other heroes as long as they’re alive. If you have all four characters, you’ll have more options in getting past certain obstacles that are impossible if, say, you don’t have the guy who can turn into a bat. This is going a long way to making this feel like a new old Castlevania, and that’s what is sealing this as a satisfying experience for me.