Friday, October 28, 2022

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Lots of systems, 2018)


Time for me to finally take a dip in the Bloodstained series. These games look and play just like the Castlevania games, only a bit modernized. This is because they were made by the same guy, via crowdfunding. And the series has been very successful, much more Shovel Knight and less Mighty No. 9. The main goal was to create the game Ritual of the Night, and the crowdfunding overachieved enough that we also got a couple of NES-style spinoffs including this one. Starting with the shortest and easiest of the games, let's get to it.

Rather than playing as Miriam (the hero of the main game), in this one you play as this Zangetsu guy. His whole deal is that he hates demons and will stop at nothing to genocide them. From what I can tell, this isn't a prequel to Ritual of the Night and serves more as an alternate storyline side-quel.

Zangetsu senses the presence of a powerful arch-demon and sets out to vanquish it. That's the story, and that's really all we need.

Zangetsu plays a bit like Ryu from Ninja Gaiden, with a short slash. However, the jump controls are way less mobile than that game. Like the original Castlevania, once you commit to a jump, you can't change course.

There are tons of diagonal staircases, again, like Castlevania. I was hoping for a game along the lines of those classics and I got one here. The difficulty is adjusted down quite a bit which makes this a pretty enjoyable play, as well.

Train level. Note the lamps that you can beat up for powerups, just like Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden.

Here I am furiously stabbing walls in an effort to find a Thanksgiving turkey. HEAL MEEEE

They did an amazing job making this feel like an NES game. It's definitely well beyond anything the NES could do, though, with parallax scrolling and a lot of things on-screen at once.

The first boss is this giant...thing? Like most of the bosses in the game, it gives you a platform (the fist) to use when you attack.

Or you could just use the diagonal whip special attack and wail on the boss. Note that the bosses don't have life meters, surprisingly.

Here's Miriam, the hero of the main Bloodstained. She joins your party and from here on out you can switch between them at will.

ORRRR you can actually kill her instead (she's weakened from being held captive by the boss, so one hit will do it). Indeed, Zangetsu can kill all of the allies and take their power instead of recruiting them. I didn't do this, but it's one of the more interesting ideas I've seen for branching paths in a game like this.

She's got the more traditional whip, plus an extra character means an extra life meter. Switching between the characters quickly when they get to low health is paramount, because if your currently-played character loses a life, it's back to the checkpoint.

Overworld map. There are only five stages shown off the bat, with 3 more after you reach the arch-demon's castle.

Miriam is so hot that she's even hot in 8-bit form. It takes skill to be hot in 8-bit form.

There's more and more platforming as you progress, which is kind of an issue with the jumps being the way they are. Either way it's a blast going through these 8-bit environments.

Miriam also has a slide that lets you get things from narrow corridors. Any game with a slide is immediately better. Unfortunately this slide isn't too quick, so you can't really use it as a dodge.

The next boss is a deadly turtle. Miriam is SO CUTE.

The key with bosses is generally to just find a spot that is semi-safe and then wail on them. They don't have that much for HP.

The next rescued character is Alfred, the alchemist. He's slow-moving, can't jump high, and doesn't have many HP, but he can use some pretty devastating spells. What's more, there are points when his short jumps are actually a benefit, like when you need to quickly bounce up a bunch of steps without floating in the air much.

Without spells (which use special attack ammo) all he's got is this dinky wand attack. That said he definitely has his places. So far every character is useful, and the way they're set up reminds me of Castlevania III.

I take my first death trying to reach this archer who fires machine gun like arrows. A first death several stages in is pretty good.

I return with Alfred and use his fire wheel barrier spell to walk right through the arrow barrage.

The platforming is getting intense now, with moving platforms that don't wait around long.

The next Scrooge McDuck?

No, it's this weirdo. He has giant grabby hands. It's like if Giga Gaia mated with Sylvando and they had a robot-chylde.

This is an easy fight, just use the gold piles as platforms to reach the head. Or you can blast him with special attacks that fire diagonally, like Zangetsu's whip or Miriam's triple-knife.

Here's the fourth and final character, a vampire named Gebel. He's basically Alucard. Noted genocidal lunatic Zangetsu is ready to murder him because of his demon DNA, but eventually agrees to let him join the team.

...for now. Man, Zangetsu is an ass.

Gebel can turn into a bat at will and fly around, which lets you reach distant or higher platforms than you can normally. It also lets you totally gimp a lot of the platform sections. However, get hit once and he falls right out of the air, so use caution.

The next boss is this pair of dragon heads that UNLEASH HELL.

Defeat them and they come back as this horrifying fusion form. Let's just move on quickly.

Here's the bat form at work, as I use it to cross a pit and skip part of a level.

In the pouring rain, Zangetsu lurks.

There's a recurring miniboss in this level, a painting, that can one-shot you if it hits you on a dive. Super-annoying, but it's also easy to defeat (very little HP) if you can successfully dodge the dive a couple times.

The next boss is a Mega Man refugee. Seriously, it uses a number of attacks that are straight out of Mega Man, like Storm Eagle's Storm Tornado.

I found that the key to winning here was to have Alfred launch electric homing projectiles and let God sort him out.

Finally, Castle Dracula the castle.

The next boss is a lady in a bathtub.

She roars out and becomes this umbrella-daemon.

Disappearing block puzzles right out of early Mega Man are the next major threat as our heroes take on the library.

Some of the enemy sprites are SO GOOD. This one, for example, is way too good for a regular enemy.

Deadly conveyor belts await at the end of this stage, and some of them move fast. I ended up just gimping my way over it in bat form.

The next boss is an interesting fight with electrified surfaces.

The final stage is a doozy, easily the hardest in the game. It's really the only stage that poses a major threat. For the most part this is a fairly chill game.

The main threat here comes from this wall of pink static that chases you. It's a lot like the Mega Man 2 death-lasers in that it'll follow you as you try to book it through these various hallways.

Here, it chases from the left. Get caught by it and you're DEAD MEAT. This one mechanic alone makes this stage very difficult.

Finally, we reach the arch-demon...and judging from the portrait, it's a lady?

As is tradition, the final boss has two forms, and the first isn't bad at all.

Time for the second form. Feels like Giga-Bowser is about to materialize over the horizon.

Nope, what we have instead is...

...a giant multi-winged angelic creature with great hips. Reminds me a lot of X's final form in Mega Man Zero and the angelic similarities there.

I found a way to win this fight pretty handily: Bat form. Can zip back and forth in bat form and stay above most of her attacks. It's even more effective if you use Alfred's fire barrier, then switch to Gebel and use bat form. The fire barrier actually stays in place despite the character change, allowing you to stack up damage on the boss as you do bat attacks.

Zangetsu protects his allies from the arch-demon's final attack, only to succumb to the darkness himself and become a monster.

The others escape from the castle...without Zangetsu, who has become that which he despises.

And that's it...until Curse of the Moon 2? I don't know the chronology of this series or if it even has one.

*holds earpiece* I'm told that there's a second quest mode of this game that continues the story and gives you the real ending. How very NES of them! So we don't even have to wait for Curse of the Moon 2 to see what happens.

I go to pick up where I left off, but you can't really do anything new that way. Instead, you have to start a new game, and...

...choose the now-unlocked Nightmare difficulty, which actually functions as the "second quest" where you don't have Zangetsu anymore.

I play through largely the same levels (but now considerably more difficult). It's pretty cool to have Miriam (and the others) from the start now.

On this second run I started to appreciate how varied the stages actually are. There are a bunch of branching paths that I didn't see the first time, or saw and couldn't access. Like this room with spiked ceilings didn't even show up in the first run.

Reach the final stage again, and now it's HELL.

Stage 8 was already the hardest stage by far, and this alternate stage 8 measures up. Overall it's easier because of the lack of Pink Death Static this time.

One cool thing about the stage is that the characters split up, so you need to use a different one in each section. They also have their own minibosses.

None of these minibosses are a particular threat, and we soon end up at the final boss.

It's very reminiscent of the end of Castlevania, except there's an eclipse instead of a moon. Also, the stairway is going down instead of up. HELL.

Here's Zangetsu, and his katana is now a scythe. This is the real final boss, and it's far-and-away more difficult than anything else. This took me a bunch of tries.

You only play as Miriam for this one, while getting assists from the other characters. For example, Alfred blocks this one fire attack and you can use him as a shield to get some hits in.

Another big attack has the entire room turning deadly while Gebel creates a bat platform. All in all, the fight is about maximizing your opportunities to strike.

Finally, he gears up for one last super-attack, and it can easily one-shot you (it got me the first time). The key is to whip all the fireballs that materialize from the sides so that none of them disrupt Alfred from casting his big spell of doom. If he finishes casting that before Zangetsu does the super-attack, you win.

Alfred unleashes the big spell of doom, and that's it for Zangetsu. RIP.

I thought they'd like bring him back to the fold. Nope, they just straight-up murked him. However, his soul is saved, so he's living on in an afterlife of some sort.

That afterlife is apparently Mega Man 2, as he climbs on top of a skyscraper in a futuristic city.

Will this lead into Curse of the Moon 2? I don't know, but I'm going to find out. This game was a lot of fun, and supposedly the sequel is exponentially more difficult, so I saw this as a bit of a practice run for that. Let's get it done.

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