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Monday, July 13, 2020

[Review] ‘Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2’ Serves Up More Familiar ‘Castlevania’-Style Action With a Side Order of Weirdness

In Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 teamwork makes the dream work.

The dream in question, though, involves slashing through hordes of demons and felling screen-filling monsters. The team in question boasts a master swordsman, a spear-wielding priestess, an irreligious marksman, and a dog in a mech. The surprising presence of that robo-dog is a pretty good representation of Bloodstained’s whole thing. This series is deeply traditional — slavishly devoted to the 8-bit action-platformers and early Metroidvanias that came before. But, it’s also, at times, out-of-the-blue gonzo weird.

That was, for me, the most endearing quality of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, the 30-hour 2019 mothership that has now spawned two spin-off adventures. Kickstarted in 2015 by longtime Castlevania lead Koji Igarashi, Ritual of the Night was a Symphony of the Night spiritual successor that, structurally, hewed a little too closely to its ‘90s inspiration. But when it broke from tradition, it really broke from tradition, putting players through a righteously weird ringer of photorealistic cats and flying attack portraits of Kickstarter backers.

The Curse of the Moon series is comparatively understated. The first game, released in 2018, was created by Ritual of the Night support team, Inti Creates, as a stretch goal for ROTN  — the idea being that eager backers would get two games, each celebrating a different era of Castlevania, for the price of one. Curse of the Moon 2, also developed by Inti Creates, continues that trend, bringing back Curse of the Moon’s hero, Zangetsu, and introducing a trio of new characters with unique abilities.

Our master swordsman is joined in this outing by Dominique the priestess who can use her spear to bounce on enemies, a la Duck Tales, and cast spells to deal damage or restore health. Robert the rifleman can hit enemies from a screen’s length away. Hachi can briefly hover, pummel opponents with piston fists and turn invincible for as long as his weapon points, which power the party’s secondary attacks, allow. Each character has a separate health bar, but shares a common pool of weapon points. Knowing when to sub a character out for another is a key skill that Curse of the Moon 2 teaches. When a character dies, the other three remain alive and, until you finish the level or suffer a party wipe, you won’t be playing with a full deck. 

As in the first Curse of the Moon, COM2 can be played on Casual, with infinite lives, or on Veteran, which limits the number of continues and introduces knockback — a frustrating dynamic that will be familiar to anyone who tangled with the older Castlevania games. These difficulty options are a smart way to provide players with either a modern experience, bereft of ‘80s bullshit, OR an authentically tough-as-nails action-platformer, infuriating warts and all.

However you decide to play, quickly swapping between characters, and learning to get by when they die, is the heart of the Curse of the Moon series. While Ritual of the Night doles out new abilities via equippable shards, these spin-offs abilities are tied to the characters who can use them. And, for the most part, the abilities of Curse of the Moon 2’s party members complement each other well. With his invincibility skill, Hachi can soak up damage, then swap out to let Zangetsu go in for a bevy of slashes. Dominique can stay above the fray with her spear-bounce, then sub out to make room for Robert’s sniping. It’s a good balance, overall (though Hachi’s ability to withstand damage and dole out massive amounts of pain may make the lineup slightly more overpowered than the one in Curse of the Moon).

Varied abilities make levels significantly more interesting to traverse on a return visit. For the first few missions of my initial playthrough, I thought that Curse of the Moon 2’s level design wasn’t all that interesting. And, when you only have Zangetsu to work with, it isn’t. But, as you unlock additional characters, new paths open up. Hachi can ground pound through cracked slabs of floor and punch through certain walls. Dominique has a high jump. Robert can go prone and crawl through tight spaces. The game really begins to click about halfway through, once you have access to all four characters’ unique skill sets. And while none of the levels are especially memorable, they do become progressively more fun to explore.

Inti Creates’ creative flair shines through most in Curse of the Moon 2’s boss battles. The game’s 8-bit pixel art, overall, is quite strong — I especially like the animation as Hachi transforms from a hulking mech while standing into a miniature choo-choo while crouched. But, the boss battles are consistently inventive. They don’t do much that’s new mechanically; they’re mostly about pattern recognition. But, aesthetically, these were the moments when I felt I could most clearly hear COM2’s weird, beating heart.

After completing the campaign, a second “episode” unlocks. As far as I can tell, after playing through half of it, this second episode is just the first campaign again, but a little harder and with a slightly different narrative framing the opening and closing cutscenes. Significantly, though, your party composition for this second run (and for any that come after) is determined by your playstyle in your initial playthrough. For example, I relied heavily on Dominique’s revival abilities in the final (frustratingly difficult) boss battle, which — for spoilery reasons — meant that Dominique was out of my party for the next go. The first Curse of the Moon took a similar approach, but the fact that Curse of the Moon 2 has a bunch of unlockable campaigns suggests more room for interesting, play-determined narratives to emerge over time. (Time, incidentally, which I just didn’t have to dedicate to New Game+ before writing this review). 

In the end, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 does little that’s new. But, it’s another solid action-platformer from Inti Creates with a steep challenge for genre fans and interesting character abilities and honeycombed level design that will attract newcomers. Teamwork made the dream work this time around. Next time, I hope Inti Creates has a slightly more ambitious dream.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 review code provided by the publisher.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is out now on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/reviews/3623271/review-bloodstained-curse-moon-2-serves-familiar-castlevania-style-action-side-order-weirdness/

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