Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 takes some of the criticisms the first game received to heart. It takes risks, but only some pay off.
I enjoyed Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. It was in many ways derivative, but it also modernized (and occasionally watered down) the classic Castlevania III formula with style and polish. Its sequel, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2, takes some of the criticisms that the first game received to heart. It takes risks. Some of them pay off, but others double down on some of the original’s problems, leaving a game with higher highs and lower lows.
Save a few mishaps along the way, Inti Creates’ 2D games are known for their polish and precision in presentation and gameplay. From their sprite work to their tight physics, they have a style that’s clearly inspired by action platformers from the 8 and 16-bit eras. As far as studios primed to develop a series inspired by the NES Castlevania games, Inti Creates might as well top the list.
In Curse of the Moon 2, it felt like Inti Creates did their thing. The sprite work and the environments are painstakingly drawn and animated to a shocking level of detail considering the game’s 8-bit style. The bosses all seemingly outshine the one before them in detail and animation. The colors are vibrant and lively without jeopardizing the spooky gothic aesthetic that we know and love from Igavanias. The striking backgrounds not only serve as backdrops that are easy on the eyes but also function as bite-sized opportunities for some light environmental storytelling.
The music plays a similarly impressive, albeit familiar role in the game’s presentation. It never quite reaches the height of the classic Castlevania earworms, but it does a fantastic job of establishing atmosphere and tone, especially in one particular level that involves a chase.
While the last Curse of the Moon game naturally garnered a lot of apt comparisons to Castlevania, it also bore some influences from classic Mega Man. Curse of the Moon 2 draws a bit more from Mega Man than its predecessor.
Not only are levels slightly more linear, but they also contain special hidden areas that house power-ups and healing items. One level in particular, The Demon’s Crown, involves a chase sequence that feels like a mix between some of the chases from Mega Man X combined with the tight platforming and level design of Castlevania. It was frantic and challenging in a refreshing way. It also made the game’s inconsistencies shine through, however.
Both Curse of the Moon games feature platforming sequences with multiple solutions that encourage you to switch between different characters to fully utilize their movesets that are clearly inspired by the various Rush abilities from Mega Man. Curse of the Moon 2 finds new and interesting ways to build on that concept, making each character you unlock useful and unique in their movement.
The only returning character from the previous entry, Zangetsu, is the only character without any special movement abilities. The second character, Dominique wields a spear, giving her extra range and even allowing her to do a Shovel Knight-style bounce. While each character has different abilities that can act as support for other characters, Dominique possesses two very helpful healing spells that are lifesavers.
After Dominique, you’ll unlock Robert, a hunter, and an old friend of Zangetsu’s. He uses a rifle, which gives him a range and makes him ideal for playing it safe when you’re low on health. He can also go completely prone and crawl through spaces the other characters can’t fit through. That’s not his only exclusive movement ability though, as he can also perform wall jumps which adds a refreshing level of speed to the game. Hachi is the last character you unlock.
From the moment Curse of the Moon 2 was revealed, Hachi became a fan-favorite. He’s a corgi who can pilot a mech, so what’s not to love? After performing a jump, Hachi can temporarily hover and move back and forth while also possessing an ability that can make him temporarily invincible.
You’ll need to master all four characters’ attacks and abilities to enjoy the game to its fullest. When you use the pogo stick-like ability just right or wall jump your way to safety in a tight situation, it’s some of the most satisfying platforming the genre has to offer.
That said, the game feels like it pushes back. Not with a challenge, but with frustrating inconsistency. Jumping and momentum in Igavania games have always been the same. You need to be moving forward before you jump to gain any distance. This basic mechanical element of the game makes what would otherwise be interesting design choices frustrating, particularly Hachi’s hover ability. Getting Hachi to actually hover was one of the most unnecessarily challenging elements of Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2.
When precision platforming is so important and prominent like it is in Bloodstained, inconsistent movement makes playing any section that requires that maneuver a chore. This is true especially when a character dies as you need to either lose all your other party members or find a way to revive them before you can play as them again. Granted, those situations only happen once or twice per level, but when there are only eight levels to begin with, one or two times per level can become pervasive.
Unreliable platforming options aside, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 isn’t terribly hard. The boss fights are fairly complex and offer a good challenge, but are never frustrating. They do offer a feeling of gravity and scale in a way that classic Castlevania bosses couldn’t because of technical limitations.
I completed my first run on the veteran difficulty, which is the hardest of the two difficulties available to you when starting the game. The other difficulty, casual, offers a much more relaxed experience with no penalty or knockback after being hit.
Returning players from the previous Curse of the Moon game will also be pleased to know that there’s also more postgame content for players outside of the Nightmare mode. Upon beating the original game, a remixed version of the game unlocks that continues the story. That said, that new game+ content isn’t a challenge on the same level as the nightmare mode.
Regardless of which difficulty you play on, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 serves as one of the best entry points into classic Castlevania. Its gameplay, while not as challenging as the classics, introduces interesting mechanics that build not only on the original Castlevania games but the first Curse of the Moon as well. It certainly falls short in a few of the places it tries to innovate, but despite its flaws, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2 offers a strong dose of nostalgia with a few modern twists and a fantastic presentation that makes it more accessible and sometimes even a bit more enjoyable.