A finely crafted love letter to fans of retro Castlevania titles… But has a botched launch impacted the game’s credibility?

It’s a bit of a well known fact amongst us lads and lasses here at Respawning that the first game I ever owned and had bought for me (Instead of them being gifted by cousins or left at my Dad’s place) was Castlevania: Circle of the Moon – The game was brutally difficult, but it taught me an important lesson about perseverance and, more importantly, started my love for 2D gothic platformers.

Throughout my years, I’ve gone back and played every single Castlevania title, from the very first on the NES to Order of Ecclesia, I’ve experienced all of the franchises’ ups… And many downs.

Now, I’ve always been skeptical of Kickstarter, especially after debacles such as Mighty No. 9, Unsung Story, and the System Shock remake, I’ve been incredibly apprehensive of games that have been promised there… Saying that, however, some gems DO see the light of day, such as Warhorse Studios’ Kingdom Come: Deliverance… So it was with bated breath and a heavy heart that I sunk in my payment to slack-back Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night after having followed the Kickstarter for many years – Having literally a day left to back, I took the plunge, and I sat back and awaited what would come…

Fast-forward to the day after my backing, and word spread that Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night’s ‘Retro-inspired game’ backer reward had actually evolved into a fully-fledged retro game designed as a love letter to fans of the original Castlevania… And even better, all backers who opted to receive the game would get this retro title bundled into the price of their backing tier – Brilliant! Two excellent games based off of the two distinct ages of Castlevania titles? Sign me up!

However, come May 24th, and the cracks were beginning to show – Due to a supposed supply issue with Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, codes for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS consoles would be delayed; not a great start… And certainly not doing a whole lot of good for my faith in the Kickstarter – The developers, Inti Creates, did thankfully supply all backers with a temporary Steam key to play the game, however, but do note that it’s 4 days later as of the time of me writing this article, and I’ve still yet to receive my code for the Nintendo Switch version of the game.

So… On to the actual game – Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon follows a side character to the main game, Zangetsu, as he travels across the land in his quest to eradicate the recent demon presence; on his travels, he’ll encounter minor and major characters from the main game that’ll join him on his quest (Or not, if you decide to be a total bastard and kill them), including Miriam, the protagonist of the main game, Alfred, an Alchemist who uses demons for his own material gain, and Gebel, a vampric lord cursed with an affliction that turns his body into stained glass (Much like Miriam) – All four party members have their own distinct playstyles, with Zangetsu being short-ranged but incredibly versatile, Miriam specialising in long-ranged whip attacks, Alfred having ridiculously short reach but an impressive repertoire of spells, and Gebel who’s honestly only good for mobility. When a character dies, they can’t be revived until the next Stage, or if you restart the current Stage completely by running out of lives.

Overall there are 8 Stages to complete, each ascending in difficulty with many optional paths to explore and navigate – Bosses have a unique sense of originality amongst common counterparts in Castlevania, however it can’t be ignored that, at least for the first half of the game, the bosses are surprisingly easy, even on the game’s “Veteran” mode (One of two modes, with Veteran offering a traditional gameplay style and Casual being better for newcomers, increasing HP, damage, lives, and removing knockback from attacks) – It’s a bit disappointing, but I hope there’s at least an “Extreme” mode unlocked by beating the game, at least.

So far I’ve made it to around Stage 6, so I’m 3/4 of the way through the game’s content just within three hours or-so, so you unfortunately don’t get a lot of bang for your buck, but in terms of finely crafted, enjoyable and addicting Castlevania-like gameplay, honestly I struggle to think of any other titles that do it better than Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon. It’s honestly a near-perfect recreation of the classic gameplay styles of old, as is expected by an industry veteran such as IGA and his team.

The feeling of polish with the gameplay doesn’t just lie in the gameplay, however, visually, the game looks great, nearly on-par with Shovel Knight (Although there are some areas that could do with more animation, such as Stage 2 when you see the moon’s reflection unanimated), and most importantly, sounds great. Each attack has a classic, crunchy sound effect straight from the 80’s, and it sounds beautiful coming through modern hardware. Again, only Shovel Knight has surpassed this level of quality in my mind.

So, what do I think of Castlevania Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon? It’s an honest recreation of the classic Castlevania gameplay formula and aesthetic packaged together into a loving, brilliant, but small package that brings back that 80’s charm… Well… When you actually fecking get the game eventually, that is…

Overall I’ll give Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon an 8 / 10, simply due to a bit of extra polish being needed here and there, and for the fact that the Konami Code doesn’t work anywhere. Long live Bloodstained.