Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2

Four Brave Warriors (Well…Writers) Do Battle Against Old School NES Difficulty

Curse of the Moon 2 title card

This week We’re Just Playing the latest offering from Inti Creates, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2, the sequel to the Kickstarter original that released in 2018. What does our crack staff think of the new game, and does it surpass the original? Let’s get everyone’s reaction.

Johnny Malloy

The original Curse of the Moon was heavily inspired by Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. It was released prior to Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and came about after the Kickstarter campaign reached a stretch goal, allowing the team to create a retro-inspired spin-off that does not canonically fit into the timeline of RotN. That means characters from RotN could be incorporated without having to adhere to the continuity of that game.

In this sequel, you play once again as Zangetsu, as he sets off to investigate a demon stronghold known as the Demon Tower. Instead of Miriam, Alfred, and Gebel, this time you begin your journey by acquiring the services of Dominique, Edward, and Hachi.

Dominique, who fans of RotN will remember as the shopkeeper with questionable motives, uses a spear to not only attack, but to Pogo bounce on items and enemies, much like your average Shovel Knight or Scrooge McDuck would. I found controlling her bounce move a little stiff (especially compared to Shovel Knight‘s smooth controls) and had several issues executing multiple jumps at once.

Dominique stands in front of a series of candle holders she can bounce off of.
Bounce with me, bounce with me.

There are times when you will see candles strategically placed in a way that is begging for you to break out a sick combo, but I would often only be able to string 2 bounces together before missing the mark and having to move on.

Her weapon moves are similar to Eric Lecarde from Castlevania: Bloodlines, and her jumping abilities (similar to Miriam from the original Curse) allows her to reach even greater heights.

Robert is the gunslinger, which gives him the ability to attack enemies from a distance. In addition to that, he can crawl under tight spots and cling to walls. When I first heard this, I assumed he would control like my least favorite character in Dracula’s Curse, “Slippin” Grant DaNasty.

It turns out Robert doesn’t so much cling to the walls as he does slide down it like Link trying to scale anything in Breath of the Wild during a rain storm. What he can do is jump back and forth between walls allowing him to achieve newer heights of his own, much like Ryu did in the old Ninja Gaiden NES trilogy.

Lastly, we have Hachi, a little dog who controls a giant mech suit reminiscent of the Magitek equipment in Final Fantasy VI. He is the most powerful out of everyone. He has no sub weapons, but can activate Invincible Iron, which protects him from harm while using weapon points. Since he doesn’t acquire sub weapons, you can use him to break sub weapon-colored candles and collect weapon points instead.

He can smash through walls and has the ability to hover in mid-air when you hold down the jump button. I actually found that the jump button was far too quick to register a hold, and I found myself accidentally hovering quite often early on, which led to more than a few deaths. You can cancel out of the hovering, and once you get this down, you will most likely enjoy your time with Hachi much more.

OK, so let’s talk about the gameplay. Yikes, this game is tough. I ran through the first seven games in the Castlevania franchise and I beat them all, so I know of difficult games. Initially, I played the game on Veteran mode, but had to drop down to Casual mode once I reached Stage 6.

Dropping down the Casual removes “knockback,” which normally will thrust you backwards when you receive damage. Stage 6, and the two stages that follow it, have enemies strategically placed everywhere, and every hit seemingly knocks you into a bottomless pit. As much as I normally don’t play with the training wheels on, I had to in order to complete the first playthrough of the game.

While the game is significantly more difficult than the original Curse, there are some useful powers that can make the game a little easier. One of Dominique’s powers allows her to plant a seed that grows into a flower that drops health. This means you can farm weapon points, spawn health, and then switch to other characters in order to heal them.

While Edward can reach enemies across the screen with his weapon, he is the weakest of the four characters, much like Alfred was. Zangetsu also gets new moves and blade power-ups. When I was still learning the new character moves, I would stubbornly go back to Zang simply because I was comfortable playing as him, but eventually I forced myself to learn each character’s moves, and you probably won’t succeed at this game unless you acclimate to everyone.

I don’t recall the original game necessitating you constantly switching between the characters, but I found this game much more creative in it’s usage of each character’s special abilities. The best example of this was when I saw an area where it seemed like I could use Robert to “Ninja Gaiden” between two walls to an out of reach location. The problem was, when he jumped on the wall and sprung off to bounce off the other wall, he fell short because his jump was inadequate. However, I tried jumping up first as Dominique, then (at the apex of her jump) switching to Robert, springing off the wall and successfully reaching the opposite wall, and ultimately reaching the new location. There really is nothing more satisfying than thinking out a problem and executing a solution.

The stages in the game are broken into sections marked by checkpoints that are very similar to Shovel Knight, and they all culminate in the requisite boss fights. Thankfully, the sequel gives the bosses a health meter this time around, so you know how close—or far away—you are from victory.

The game has eight stages total, but there are multiple playthroughs (referred to as Episodes), where you play either with different characters, or play sans a character or two. While I’ve only completed Episode One, I do know there are multiple endings, although I have not spoiled myself on what they are, as the joy of beating these retro throwbacks is watching the various endings once you’ve earned the right to see them. Anyone that played the original Curse of the Moon and saw the ending that pays homage to an old NES classic knows what I mean.

When we all decided the play and review this game, I suggested we should pick who our favorite new character is, and I admit I was already partial to Dom even before I played it, due to her feeling the most like Miriam, but that didn’t end up being who I went with. Hachi is my favorite, not just because he’s such a good boy (yes, he is!), but because in a game this tough, you need a bruiser to muscle your way past some of the more frustrating parts.

And this game will frustrate you. I often tell my wife that when I yell at a game, I’m not truly angry. I call it “video game angry,” in that, you are frustrated in the moment, but you’re not legitimately mad. You just react naturally to the circumstances, and then move on. She doesn’t really buy that, but I stand by it. I know there are people that do get mad at games, and smash their controllers, and turn into petulant babies, but this is detached-anger. Or maybe I’m just trying to justify why I dropped so many Curse-bombs playing this game.

Fellas, what did you think?

Sean Coughlan

Fresh from my playthrough of the original Castlevania, I felt in great shape to tackle Curse of the Moon 2. The game couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Slicing through undead minions whilst stubbornly inching towards an end goal is something that I don’t think I’ll ever tire of. I must admit though, by the end of this game I felt a little less confident in that last sentence. Curse of the Moon 2 left me battered and bruised in a way that I wasn’t expecting.

The original Curse of the Moon is a bit of a hazy memory for me—even though it’s only been a couple of years since its release. I’d picked it up shortly after release, played through it, and quickly forgot about it. I remember enjoying it, but that’s about all I remember of it. One thing I certainly don’t recall was it being overly difficult. I went back to check my save file and apparently, I finished it on veteran difficulty in just over 2 hours. Curse of the Moon 2 however, while still short, has certainly left a more lasting impression on me (that impression being boot-shaped and on my backside).

The game does a good job of feeding you a new character to play with in each of the first four stages. You get to grips with Zangetsu in stage 1, while in stage 2 Dominique is added, and so on. Each of these stages are well designed to show off the new character’s abilities. Whether it’s having to use Robert’s wall jump, or Hachi’s hover, at this stage the game is training you to see opportunities to problem solve later on.

It’s an aspect of the game that I really enjoyed. Each of the characters offer unique ways of tackling the various enemies and hazards and can even allow access to alternate routes or hidden areas. There’s a lot of eureka moments to be had in switching between characters for troublesome sections of the game.  With several sub-weapons for each character, the game gives you plenty of opportunity to experiment. It’s a surprisingly strategic experience.

Hachi, Edward, Dominique, and Zangetsu kneel together.

One of Dominique’s sub-weapons allows her to spawn a heart which can heal her or another character. It costs a lot of MP to cast however so I’d written it off during the initial stages as being of limited use. Once I unlocked Hachi however, it became invaluable. Hachi, not having access to his own sub-weapons, instead receives MP for breaking purple lanterns. Suddenly I had the means to regularly top up my characters’ health—incredibly useful during the more grueling sections of the game.

That’s quite a significant example but much of the time the usefulness of each character is more subtle. Using the stairs to shoot down enemies who are hanging from the ceiling as Robert or using Hachi’s butt-stomp to take out enemies that rush towards you. Using Dominique’s upward attack to take out flying enemies or using Zangetsu’s jumping attack to clear enemies while platforming. I felt truly reliant on having access to each character’s attributes to the point that losing one would see the rest fall like a house of cards.

To that end, I find it slightly difficult to pick a favourite. Each felt invaluable in their own way. That being said, I did enjoy using Robert quite a bit. Ranged weapons aren’t common in Castlevania-style games and the ability to snipe from a distance was very welcome. I also think he has the most useful sub-weapon—two javelins that shoot diagonally-upward. Also, who doesn’t love wall-jumping?

The game (or at least the first episode) took me over 6 hours to beat on the veteran difficulty. It’s definitely one of the toughest games I’ve played in a while. Having just completed the original Castlevania for the first time, I can confidently say that Curse of the Moon 2 is at least on par with it. You’d think with all of the tools at your disposal that there’d be plenty of opportunity to ‘cheese’ the game, but that’s absolutely not the case—it’s what makes it fair.

Conor O’Donnell

While Johnny is the seasoned veteran with the Castlevania franchise, I have only beaten Super Castlevania IV and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The original Castlevania on the NES still haunts me to this day with its harrowing difficultly.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon jumped on my radar after winning a physical copy of the first game from Limited Run Games. After checking the secondary market price for the game, I decided to purchase a digital copy to compare the experience from the sequel. As mentioned here, Curse of the Moon 2 is a hard game. Considerably harder than the original.

I decided to play on Veteran all the way through. The ramped-up difficulty required intricate knowledge of what character to use for a certain situation. Curse of the Moon 2 may be hard, but it is fair. Grinding extra lives and reaching check points come by easier than the old school NES platformers.

Curse of the Moon 2 reminded me of Mega Man numerous times oddly enough. In Mega Man, using a certain power-up at the right time can make a hard level manageable. Sound familiar? Remember the disappearing blocks? Curse of the Moon 2 has a similar section; however, it is dialed back which makes for a less frustrating experience. The driving music also reminds me more of Mega Man than Castlevania which is not a bad thing.

Hachi is without a doubt the popular pick for favorite character, but I found myself appreciating Robert as I got further in the game. Ultimately, he is a utility character with a long-distance rifle shot. His ability to hit enemies from afar is something that all the other characters lack. He is essential for several nightmare sections.

It has been a while that a game made me sweat this much. The boss fights are intense, the jumps are precise, and the knockback from Veteran mode will ruin a good run out of nowhere. Curse of the Moon 2 is a satisfyingly hard experience and most importantly does not waste your time. Limited Run Games recently announced they will release the physical version of the sequel and I will do my best to get my hands on it to complete my physical Bloodstained collection.

Collin Henderson

Well, everyone, I’m going to echo all of your sentiments. I don’t think it’s fair to call the original Curse of the Moon a throwaway title simply because of how rock solid it is. It’s the kind of game that’s fun to replay with different builds and character sets, since you can opt to skip characters or even kill them if you’re a monster (this feature is not in 2, but it makes up for this in other ways I’ll get into). That being said, Curse of the Moon 2 is the Real Deal, with a—yes—much stiffer challenge that still manages to feel fair thanks to its more well thought out character balancing.

And what a roster you have to choose from. One of the biggest flaws of the original is that the game didn’t give you a ton of reasons to use other characters outside of low health bars. All of them, outside of Gebel, kind of felt same-y, with Miriam feeling a bit too similar to Zangetsu in particular (thankfully, she came into her own in the fantastic Ritual of the Night). Sure, everyone had unique spells, but when I was playing the first game, I mostly switched characters when I remembered they existed, or there was a huge gap that couldn’t be crossed by Gebel. Curse of the Moon 2 truly does make each character feel distinct and helpful in their own way, with each of them essentially fulfilling an RPG class.

I will admit that Dominique’s bounce ability and Robert’s wall jump mostly felt more like gimmicks than truly useful parts of your arsenal, although Dom’s bounce ability does come in handy during some bosses. Still, I was switching characters every few minutes in this game because each one truly felt like they brought something to the table. And yes, best boi Hachi was my favorite to play as, and part of that is because when I play RPGs where you can customize your build (like in Dark Souls) I tend to go for a straightforward brawler character with high health and attack. It’s just how I roll—it’s simple enough for me to understand, and it usually works. Hachi very much fills the brawler archetype, in no small part thanks to his ability to turn completely invincible, which is immensely helpful during later stages as an “oh crap, I can’t read these patterns, help me” card. The fact that he’s a shiba inu who pilots a steampunk robot doesn’t hurt. That being said, Robert really grew on me as I went along, thanks in no small part to a weapon he can get in later stages that lets him rapid fire two muskets without reloading in exchange for weapon points. It came in handy during several of the later bosses.

Hachi battles the ice queen boss.
Hachi’s brute force comes in handy for several boss rights.

Something else I really admired was the level design. My first playthrough, I saw more than a few routes that were clearly meant to be reached with different characters, so the idea of adding “episodes” that act as bonus challenges was a smart move. I am a few levels into episode 2, and it feels fresh because I have characters in the beginning that I didn’t have the first time, so I was able to go different ways and play through entirely new rooms. It’s a smart way to encourage replay. That, and getting the whole story, which, as I recently learned and Johnny already mentioned, takes place in a separate continuity to Ritual of the Night. It went a long way towards explaining how Zangetsu and Dominique were even able to be in this game (if there’s a Ritual of the Night 2 or some kind of follow up, I’m absolutely rooting for Hachi to make an appearance).

I have a few problems that are weirdly holdovers from the first game. Chief among them is the fact that you are brought back to the beginning of a room if your current character dies, except everyone else retains their health. I really wonder why the developers didn’t just have you simply change into another character on the spot. It can lead to some tedium. There’s also a lack of explanation for certain key items, which only becomes a real issue in further episodes.

Still, I am having a blast with Curse of the Moon 2. Inti Creates is a developer I stand by. I haven’t played every single game they’ve ever released, but I have yet to be let down by any of their titles that I have played. They continue delivering throwback 2D action here, and have the benefit of 30 something years of hindsight to make this type of game, known for its crushing difficulty, a bit more accessible so even someone like me can beat it and still feel accomplished.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 is available on Steam, Switch, Xbox One, and PS4. Johnny and Conor played the game on PS4, while Collin and Sean played it on Switch. It is currently priced at $14.99.

Written by TV Obsessive

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