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What are we playing? We’re playing what pretty much everybody and their gramma is playing this week, which is Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. And with good reason, because it’s rad.

For those unaware of what this is, here’s a quick rundown: Koji Igarashi, the producer whose name became synonymous with the “metroidvania” style of game since he took over Castlevania: Symphony of the Night halfway through its production and went on to create many more of the acclaimed entries in the Castlevania series, is currently developing a new game called Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, which was funded by fans on Kickstarter. One of the stretch goals for this project was an 8-bit-style prequel game called Curse of the Moon — which just got released last week, and retro game fans are almost universally raving about it.

Whereas BRotN is going to be a CSotN-style affair, BCotM is…okay, these acronyms are already silly and confusing.

*ahem*

Whereas Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is going to be a Castlevania: Symphony of the Night-style affair, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is closer to Castlevania III in its approach. It’s got NES-style pixel graphics (albeit widescreen) and music, placing it squarely in the same authentically-retro category as some of my other favorites, Shovel Knight and Axiom Verge. In short, if you like that stuff, you’ll like Curse of the Moon.

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In this game, you start off as sword-weilding warrior Zangetsu, and meet three allies along the way; in keeping with the Castlevania III theme, you’ll be reminded of the Trevor-Grant-Sypha-Alucard team, except here you can switch to controlling any of the four at any time, rather than choosing only one to take with you.

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Each character has different weapons and special skills, and you’ll find all of them handy throughout the game. If one character gets knocked off, the other three carry on until all four have been eliminated, then you finally lose a life. But by the end of the game, you’ll probably have at least 9 lives piled up, with four chances each, giving you lots of tries to get through whatever section you’re getting through, which should be enough to figure it out.

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There are branching paths within each level, which ultimately all lead to the same endpoint. At each junction where there’s a choice, you’ll find the remains of a fallen warrior, who will literally point you toward the easier path; however, there are times when that path may be inaccessible with your current characters or skills, and you’ll actually be forced to take a more challenging route. This exploration factor adds replay value and occasionally yields some rewards in the form of 1ups or the best special skills.

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The overall play is ripped straight from the Castlevania mold, with stairways between platforms, breakable lanterns containing points or items, the occasional breakable wall, and enemies that are all cousins to classic ‘Vania foes like zombies, Medusa heads, axe knights, and the like. Veteran vampire hunters will feel right at home.

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Bosses are often huge and impressive, and would have been technically impossible on the NES but are mostly fun and harrowing fights, with many of them having a “final blow” attack after you’ve defeated them.

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The game offers two difficulty settings, “Casual” and “Veteran.” Veteran mode would be considered “normal,” and is not as difficult or frustrating as some of those early ‘Vania titles; it only took me a couple days of casual play to bust through it. Some of the bosses do take a little trial and error to learn their patterns and devise your strategies, like a classic 8-bit game. The final level, however, is actually kind of terrifying and does take a lot of practice to learn your way through it. I won’t give away what happens, but you’ll be glad you have all those lives to figure it out. Finishing the game then unlocks “Nightmare” mode, which allows you to go through the game in a little different way; but telling you too much more would be a spoiler.

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I’m hoping that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is as worthy a descendent of Symphony as Curse of the Moon is of the NES Castlevania legacy. For only $10, this is definitely a Curse worth bearing for any retro gamer.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is available now for download on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

 

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