The history of Kickstarter-funded video games isn’t exactly full of success stories. For every Shovel Knight, there’s a Mighty No. 9. Much like movie tie-ins, you do occasionally get good games from Kickstarter, but for the most part, you should exercise caution and keep the hype to a minimum. We still don’t know whether Koji Igarashi’s 2015 Kickstarter for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night will be one of the rare success stories, however the 8-bit stretch goal, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, gives plenty of reason for optimism.
Igarashi handed off development of Curse of the Moon to Inti Creates, presumably with the remit of “remake Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse but change the names and make small changes to the enemies.” Outside of the iOS store, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a game so flagrantly copy another, and I’m including all the Battle Royale knockoffs in that. I suppose the polite description is to call it a “love letter” to Dracula’s Curse, but it’s more like a love letter that has been copied from someone else. Given that Konami has effectively abandoned the Castlevania franchise, I can’t bring myself to get all that annoyed by this. #FucKonami
You start off playing as demon-hunter Zangetsu (basically, Belmont from Dracula’s Curse), however as you defeat bosses, you’ll gain the option to recruit new characters who all have unique abilities. Miriam is the most agile and has good ranged attacks, Alfred (Sypha) is weak but has powerful magical abilities, and Gebel (Alucard) can transform into a bat to reach previously inaccessible areas. You can switch between these characters at any time however when one of them dies they are inaccessible until you beat the stage or all playable characters die and you lose a life.
Inti Creates made a few minor gameplay changes to the Dracula’s Curse formula to make Curse of the Moon more forgiving. You move faster, lives are more plentiful, and the bosses are easier. I’m fine with this. I find the NES Castlevania games a bit stodgy these days, so the extra speed is welcome. I recommend using a d-pad if you can. The joycon analog sticks aren’t an adequate replacement.
While the visuals mimic those of the 8-bit era, Curse of the Moon has a lot more detail in the environments, managing to look like how you remember Dracula’s Curse looking as opposed to how it actually looked. Enemies are also more expressive and there’s some parallax scrolling that’s more reminiscent of the 16-bit era than 8-bit.
Level design is one area where Curse of the Moon falls short compared to its inspiration. You’ll occasionally come to branching paths, some of which require certain character skills to progress. The paths offer different routes to the ending, however I never felt like I was exploring the levels and was unable to backtrack to see the other options. The “vania” part of Metroidvania genre largely came from the PS1’s Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, so you wouldn’t necessarily expect that level of freedom in an 8-bit inspired game. However, with all the different character abilities and routes, it’s a shame exploration isn’t more fun and rewarding.
Boss battles are also a touch disappointing. The first couple look great and are fun to fight despite a lack of challenge. However, bosses in the second half are neither memorable to look at nor interesting to fight. All bosses have a brutal final attack that is only triggered once you’ve defeated them. This comes as a nasty shock the first time, but it’s easily avoided once you know it’s coming. It’s frustrating if you get killed after a tough boss but I couldn’t help but laugh when it happened.
An initial playthrough of the 8 stages will likely last no more than two hours, however beating the story once unlocks nightmare mode which changes things up considerably both in terms of story and challenge. You can also make life harder on yourself by not recruiting any of the allies to help you or by killing them and unlocking new powers for Zangetsu. If you do all this, there’s a boss rush mode to mess around with for those so inclined (not me).
Conversely, if you want to make life a bit easier on yourself, you can play on casual mode which gives you infinite lives and stops enemies knocking you back when you’re hit. Most players will likely have more than enough lives on the normal mode, however it’s nice not to have to worry about them. The last stage, in particular, has a cheap mechanic that is partly trial and error and can result in a fair few annoying deaths.
Other than minor graphical and gameplay tweaks, Inti Creates hasn’t changed much from the classic game it’s based on. This is a mixed blessing. I can’t deny the sheer joy of the sound effects when you strike the lanterns or the phenomenal music that triggers all that blissful nostalgia. However, once the nostalgia starts to wear off, you notice that the enemy types are almost identical and not especially varied, plus you’ve seen all the abilities before.
There’s a big difference between being inspired by something and flat out copying it. Curse of the Moon copies Dracula’s Curse and does a good job of it. So much so, that if you’re a fan of Dracula’s Curse, you might not even need to play Curse of the Moon. Compare that to Shovel Knight, which combined the best parts of series like Mega Man, Mario, and Ducktails, to be an excellent game in its own right which I recommend to everyone. Personally, I prefer the Shovel Knight approach to retro-inspired games, although Curse of the Moon is a great way to revisit a classic without requiring so much skill and patience to see it through to completion.
The lack of exploration on offer is disappointing, but with the additional game modes, there’s more than enough content in here to justify the $10 price tag.