In our most recent coverage of Bloodstained, we mentioned some of the minor gripes we had with the main series title in the series, specifically how Zangetsu mode didn’t really live up to its full potential in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. That isn’t to say it isn’t fun (it is — playing as Zangetsu is a blast. He just needed his own adventure rather than a blasting through Miriam’s adventure on his own. In Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2, he gets exactly that in a fun, fast-paced NES-style adventure.
This review refers to the Nintendo Switch version, which I purchased for $14.99 on the Nintendo eShop.
In the follow-up to 2018’s Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon — an NES-style game featuring Bloodstained’s Miriam, Zangetsu, Alfred and Rebel battling evil forces — Zangetsu finds himself preparing to enter an evil tower of some kind. Along the way he will team up with various allies, all of whom have different abilities that will help him on his journey.
The spear-wielding magic user Dominique joins the action in stage two. Her magic is much more useful than the standard elemental fare and her spear abilities closely resemble those of Eric LeCarde from Castlevania: Bloodlines. Stages three and four introduce two new additional characters: an athletic sniper named Robert and a heavily armored steampunk dog, Hachi. Robert is quick, can leap off walls and crawl, possesses a long range weapon and has explosive-based sub-weapons. Hachi is armored like a steampunk train and attacks with his drill arm. He can hover for a few seconds, perform a deadly ground pound and become invulnerable for a few seconds. He can also punch through various barriers and hazards, opening up alternative paths and such throughout the game.
Switching between them at different points is useful in the same way as doing the same thing in the first game. These characters are fundamentally different from those of the original and that of its inspiration in Castlevania III.
On the surface, the game feels a great deal like a professional NES homebrew game. The graphics are similar to the muted gothic aesthetics of the original 8-bit era Castlevania games but with a smoother frame rate and character-switching animation.
Zangetsu looks good as an 8-bit sprite as do each of his companions. The environments are detailed and the bosses colorful. The enemies will be familiar to anyone with experience playing the earlier Bloodstained titles, as numerous enemies and a few bosses make appearances here in glorious 8-bit form.
In between stages, the heroes are shown enjoying a campfire at the bottom of the screen while the map — visually paying homage to Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse — shows the next destination. It’s a nice touch that creates a unique atmosphere while paying tribute to the classics.
The level design is interesting with divergent paths and detailed backgrounds. The occasional Easter egg pops up as well, with the skeleton of the twin dragon Zangetsu battled in the first game making an appearance as a background decoration in one of the stages. Bosses looks phenomenal with great animations that only enhance the spectacle of the game.
The sound effects perfectly capture the nostalgic audio from the series without being annoying and the music in each stage is the perfect blend of 8-bit nostalgia with the gothic sensibilities of what we’ve come to expect from Bloodstained’s music. Each level has its own remarkable theme worth listening to whether you’re playing the game or not. As far as modern 8-bit game music goes, this title’s sound design is perfect.
The controls are straightforward and can be mapped at the options menu. There’s the standard jump and attack moves, a sub-weapon move and a “change character” function. Nice and simple. Players can also (thankfully) toggle HD Rumble on or off.
Beating the game opens additional “episodes” where you can take different paths through the same levels and face a deeper challenge than the first play through. There are a few alternate endings, extra modes to be unlocked and a fun space shooter level somewhere in between.
The tribute to classic Konami wouldn’t be complete without giant Moai Heads that attack you for no reason and this game does not disappoint. I spent several hours playing and replaying the game and enjoyed every minute of my playthrough. It never becomes redundant, the challenge keeps things fresh and the surprises from the series make it worthwhile for those who’ve completed the other games in the Bloodstained series.
If this had been the adventure we received for Zangetsu mode in Ritual of the Night, that would have been amazing. In its own right, however, this Zangetsu adventure really shines and I hope to see more Zangetsu-related Bloodstained content in the future. Until then, both Curse of the Moon titles are amazing retro-inspired games that will keep you entertained for years to come.