Welcome to Save State, where we indeed play indies. During yet another random power outage, I found myself with time on my hands and nothing to do because it was dark at 7:30PM but I’m not 80 years old, so I don’t go to sleep that early. So, I whipped out my trusty Steam Deck and discovered that Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon could be played without needing to be online, so I took that game for a quick spin because I had no idea when my electric would come back on, and playing Yakuza 0 instead would have roughly only lasted for about two hours given the Steam Deck’s battery lifespan.
Developed by Inti Creates, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a 2D action platformer that doesn’t try to hide that it’s a very apparent homage of classic Castlevania in the Bloodstained universe. Instead of a labyrinth platformer or Metroidvania approach, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon plays very similarly to games like Castlevania III, where your jump trajectory can’t be changed midair, and you can switch characters to gain advantages during battle or rough platforming sections. Controlling cursed samurai Zangetsu, you venture through 9 stages and fight the boss of each stage, collecting a few power ups and new characters along the way.
As Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon was heavily inspired by Castlevania III, players familiar with those older games should know that they’ll have a lot of challenging platforming segments and fun boss fights. You begin the game with only Zangetsu, who has an average jump and a powerful but short ranged sword, but as you progress through the first few stages you’ll find new characters who will offer their services for your quest.
Miriam, the protagonist of Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, shows up as a companion Zangetsu can bring along, and she has a far-reaching whip and jumps much higher than Zangetsu, but with much lower health. Alfred, the magician, has the lowest health and shortest melee attack of all characters, but has some of the most powerful and useful powers of the main quartet. Finally, there’s Gebel, the analogue of Alucard from Castlevania III, who can’t use any secondary weapons or spells, but can turn into a bat to cross tough platforming sections or find secrets the other characters simply couldn’t reach.
Each character has their own health pool, and you can switch them out with a press of a button. A character losing all of their health or falling into a pit will remove them from selection for the rest of the stage, and all characters losing means you lose a life. You can select whether or not you play with lives, and can even turn off knockback when you get hit, which are both nice quality of life features for those less familiar with platformer games. Each stage is relatively large with various branching paths you can take depending on which characters you have with you at the time. If you can’t jump or fly over to a door out of reach, then you might have to take a more difficult path instead which incentivizes players to keep as many characters alive as possible so you can take your preferred paths through the levels.
On top of the basic parameter differences, like health, jump height, and weapon reach, each character also can pick up a variety of sub weapons as you progress through stages. The sub weapons consume weapon energy, which you can pick up by destroying candles all over the stages. Zangetsu’s most common sub weapons offer the ability to reach enemies diagonally above or below him, which are situationally useful when ascending or descending so you can kill enemies and then safely jump to their platforms. Miriam’s sub weapons tend to have wide reach, or are very powerful, slow attacks with a giant axe. Alfred’s sub weapons are quite possibly the most varied, as he can summon a barrier of fireballs that instantly kills most weak enemies, a giant, icy sword that can freeze even bosses, or a homing ball of electricity that can trivialize some bosses. Gebel doesn’t get any special subweapons because he’s a man who can transform into a bat, and if I know anything about bat men, it’s that they never carry around a bunch of gadgets or anything of the sort on their utility belt. Missed opportunity, honestly.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon’s platforming is by far its strongest feature, which is good because that’s the sort of thing these titles live and die by. The stages are all extremely well designed and every challenge presented to the player is surmountable without needing to be cheesed. However, for some not familiar with platforming titles, this can be a bit more on the difficult end of the range, but the quality of life features, such as removing knockback when hit, makes it substantially more forgiving to play if you’re interested in trying retro style platformers. Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is probably one of the most accessible retro Castlevania-likes on the market.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is pretty short, which is likely its one detriment. It only takes an hour or two to breeze through, but thankfully there’s reasons to play through it multiple times. After clearing it once, you can attempt the game in Nightmare mode without Zangetsu, which gives you the other three characters right from the first stage. There’s also hidden power ups you can give Zangetsu by forcing him to have the challenge alone, perhaps acquired by taking the power from his would-be companions, instead of rescuing them. I was able to play Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon through 3 times in around 5 hours, and in fact my power came back on right as the credits rolled for the third time.
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon’s visuals are nice, and the music is fitting though not exactly what I’d call super catchy. The level design and boss fights are absolutely among the best you could do while using classic Castlevania styled mechanics and controls. It was entertaining, easy on the Steam Deck’s battery life (thankfully), and expertly utilized new age game design principles to evoke feelings of nostalgia for titles I played years and years ago. You got me again, Inti Creates. You got me again.
That said, I think we’ll bring this week’s entry of Save State to a close. Be sure to pull up your pants, because everyone is being cursed with your moon right now.
No, I will not apologize for saying that. See you in two weeks!