Developer: Inti Creates Co., Ltd.
Publisher: Inti Creates Co., Ltd.
Producer: Koji Igarashi
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release date: July 10, 2020
Genre: Action/adventure platform game
Modes: Single player, Multiplayer
"Review Code Provided by Developer"
2018 saw the release of the KickStarter stretch goal for Koji Igarashi’s Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night with Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon which was intended originally to be a prequel to that game and inspired heavily by Iga’s favorite Castlevania being Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. Curse of the Moon (Hereby referred to as CotM with review available here) was a clear homage to Dracula’s Curse with how it looked, played, and sound and while it definitely played it safe with how it was even down to how you gained new characters; it also had that Inti Creates flavor added too it showing some original ideas such as being able to kill your comrades instead of recruit them to gain new abilities for Zangetsu such as dashing, double jumping, and more as well as being able to completely ignore them by walking pass them and go the adventure alone or you could have access to all 3 additional characters. The game had so much replayability and many even considered it better in many regards than Ritual of The Night. Fans were wondering if we’d see a new CotM entry for the last 2 years and then out of nowhere we get an announcement that CotM 2 would be releasing in 2020. Does it live up to the love and hype of the original worthy of tribute or does it fall flat by playing it too safe to the original and by proxy classic Vania? Let’s find out!
CotM 2 picks up after the Nightmare mode….. kind of. Spoilers ahead for the ending of CotM as the true ending had Miriam, Alfred, and Gebel confronting the corrupted new Dark Emperor Zangetsu in order to save his soul. As the defeat Zangetsu he is strangely transported to the future in a Mega Man 2-esque intro scene with him standing on a building in 20XX? Well, CotM 2 retcons that ending with Zangetsu being saved and leaving with his comrades after the Nightmare Mode ending as the Demon Tower crumbles and kicks off with Zangetsu and Dominque (Yes that Dominque from Ritual of the Night) hang gliding into a castle too uncover a new demonic threat and the origins of the moons’ curse that is inflicted on Zangetsu as well as the Church investigating the return of the Demon Tower.
Plot wise; CotM2 is a vast improvement over the first game and I’d go so far as to say it’s even markedly better than Ritual of the Night with even more personality and charm of the main cast from the first game as well as Dominque from Ritual with dialoge between characters that, while brief, does wonders to establish the mindsets and motivations of each character leading to really good character development. Zangetsu especially was very much an asshole to his comrades and very one dimensional of a character including his characterization in Ritual of the Night; in CotM 2 he is much more likable and compassionate as well as has instances of humor with his responses to characters as well as the in between level transition screens showing him and others eating, talking, cleaning, and more.
If you enjoyed CotM or classic 8-bit Castlevania then you will enjoy this entry as it takes the core gameplay of the original and ramps it up to new notches with new enemies, environmental hazards, and more. You will start the game off with Zangetsu who plays just as he did in the original game with the same sub weapons/items that he had in that game as well as many of the returning characters; where this game differs in relation to the original is in the new characters and how they play.
New characters to the CotM series are Dominque the spear wielding sorcerous from the Church, Robert the lone gunslinger and former war buddy of Zangetsu, and the last but most random and awesome of the new characters being a cute corgi pup that operates a giant mech armor.
Dominique plays similar to Eric Lecarde from Castlevania: Bloodlines with her spear tactics such as being able to strike directly above and below with a unique twist being that she has sub weapons/items that allow her to generate healing hearts, ceiling clearing electricity, ground to air tornado, spear vertical vault, and her single use special ability being resurrection of a dead character. Dominque is incredibly nimble with high jump abilitilies outdoing Zangetsu and does about average damage with great range than Zangetsu’s standard slashes. Dominique can take slightly less damage than Zangetsu, however, with her healing ability she ultimately is a better go to than standard Zangetsu.
Robert is a the only ranged character in the game akin to Grant Dynasty of Dracula’s Curse (Japanese version) that while being the second weakest attack in the game next to Alfred’s staff attacks, allows the user to safely take out a lot of enemies from a safe distance yet it has incredibly slow recovery after each shot as Robert has to reload his gun. His sub weapons are a throwable bomb that bounces off walls and rolls before exploding, dual throwing spears that are thrown at a vertical arc forward, a devastating close/mid-range buck shot cannon, and his final special item is a desperado scarf giving him the ability to dual wield pistols and rapid fire allowing him to easily kill any enemies or quickly defeat bosses if you have enough weapon energy. Robert has the lowest health of any selectable character and can be killed in two hits from many enemies which makes him a very situational character. He has the same jump height as Zangetsu with the unique ability to wall jump similar to Ryu Hayabusa in the Ninja Gaiden series and also wall slide the same as Mega Man X and Zero from the Mega Man X and Zero series which makes traversal beyond the norm of what a classic Vania style game is. Robert is also able to go prone and do a military style crawl allowing him to go into close spaces that normally only Miriam can slide into.
Finally we have Hachi the Corgi who is the strongest character in the game by default save for Ultimate Zangetsu who is an unlockable variant of Zangetsu. Hachi is one of the slowest characters in the game yet faster than Alfred and is the second character next to Gebel that has no special weapon/item pick ups from purple lamps and instead just gains 3 weapons points from them. Hachi has a powerful punch that can easily one-shot enemies as well as destroy metal barriers and also a devastating power stomp that hits enemies twice and also has the ability to destroy certain floors. Hachi has the unique ability to hover for a few seconds similar to how Mega Man X can with his Fourth Armor leg upgrade allowing platforming to be considerably easier to navigate than it is with other characters along with the fact that it doesn’t cost anything to use. You can hover stationary, move forward or backwards, as well as attack while hovering. Hachi’s best ability that makes obstacles and bosses cake walk is his ability to activate his invincibility mode allowing him to tank damage and enviromently hazards and enemy placements like those annoying frogs and Medusa head like enemies and more. This ability eats up 3 weapon energy per second and is incredibly useful. Hachi has a worse jump height than Zangetsu yet better than Alfred’s and if you hold down the jump button then you’ll start his hovering ability which means if you play as Hachi then you need to pay attention to your environment when jumping and how long you hold the jump button.
Aside from the new characters, you also get the original trio from the first CotM game with all of their pros and cons and best of all is the return of Alfred’s ridiculously overpowered spark spell which makes every boss in the game humble. What I love about the characters is no one is decidedly better than the next and is each is character is very useful in their own ways.
Characters aside, the game unfolds very similarly to the original with its level based progression yet it also changes itself to be radically different from the first game by allowing you to not only have stage select but also the game unfolds in an episodic nature. One of the main complaints of the original game was that its short and can be completed in about 1-2 hours whereas in this game each episode is about 3-7 hours long with tons of replay value and exploration in each stage. Each episode gives you a different set of characters to play as along with each episode building up the previous episodes story arc and expanding the overall lore of the game while also changing the difficulty as you progress leading you ultimately if conditions are met to the Final Episode.
You still have to find stat buff items that increase either your health gauge, weapon meter count, or attack power which will have you needing to explore levels thoroughly as each level holds two of these buffs for your stats.
The game offers multiple endings, tons of replay value, innumerable unlockables and over 20 hours’ worth of gameplay. You can play the game in Veteran or Casual modes which basically has the former giving you classic Vania-style knockback and lives while the latter removes knockback and gives unlimited continues as well as lowering the amount of damage you take and increasing the damage you dish out.
Whats new to the game is the Co-Op local mode allowing you and a friend to play the game together making the game feel decidedly different than any Castlevania game or the original entry and both makes the game more fun but also can make it more challenging as well. At any point in the game a second player can just hop into the game and use any none used character that the first player isn’t currently using. This addition along with everything else added into this game shows the levels of creativity and originality that Inti Creates has and moves this series from the shadows of Castlevania into being its own unique identity.
Not much to say graphically other than the game looks just as good if not more varied than its 2018 predecessor and is in the vein of the 8-bit Castlevania games. All the characters look good and animate as if the game was an NES Vania. The transition cutscenes between levels mentioned earlier look and animate beautiful and bring life to the characters. The later levels in the game including the hidden one go to great lengths’ at blurring the lines of 8 and 16-bit graphics and it’s incredibly varied, detailed, and shows a lot of passion went into making the environments and the game as a whole be a substantial step up from the previous entry.
The OST is a bit of a mixed bag as I felt the first levels theme is fairly weak especially when you compare it to the incredibly strong “Beginning” style theme of the original games first level, comparatively, there are several really good themes in the game yet for every one good theme there’s at least two average themes for levels. The stage “Eyes on the Prize” has a superb ominous and horror-based synth style that’s incredibly high energy and very atmospheric and sets the mood for your romp through the level.
Everything else from sound effects and more are pulled from a variety of games that I can think of from classic Castlevania all the way to Ninja Gaiden, Strider, and even Bionic Commando.
I can only say that the only downside I see is that the sharp spike in difficulty from Episode 2 will be incredibly off putting for modern gamers who don’t care for old school “NES Hard” style games especially classic Vania as everything from the amount of damage you take to the enemy placement in levels on top of the knock back will have a lot of modern gamers potentially uninterested in playing the game even if they do decide to play on casual. Other than that there’s the fact that each episode requires you to gather all your stat buff items again instead of carrying over and while I don’t find an issue with it, I can see a lot of modern gamers finding it to be an inconvenience.
Lack of online coop is something of a missed opportunity.
Look, I LOVE this game! Everything in it from the story, characters, levels, gameplay, replayability, unlockables, and episodic nature including YES the OST; are simply AMAZING! For a game that many assumed would be in the shadow of its predecessor and one that many thought would be just another take on Dracula’s Curse has shown that it is capable of being much more than that and now stands as a game that is still inspired by that classic; it invariably has come into its own with its own ideas and concepts unique to it and for a game that is 15$ you simply cannot go wrong if you decide to pick this up as this is a game YOU NEED in your collection. This is easily in my top 3 games of 2020 and continues to show that indie companies like Inti Creates are masters of their craft!