Back in 2015, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night director Koji Igarashi convinced more than 60,000 Kickstarter backers to fund Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night – a spiritual successor to his beloved classic. That project is still in development. In the meantime, Igarashi teamed up with Inti Creates to develop Curse of the Moon, a game that teases Bloodstained’s world and acts as a different sort of spiritual successor, following the tradition of Castlevania’s earlier adventures. Curse of the Moon is an impressive ode to the NES era, but as a tease for what’s to come, it elicits more indifference than excitement.
Curse of the Moon’s action is most reminiscent of Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, since it features multiple playable characters and levels with branching paths. Throughout the game, four heroes join your squad, each with unique skills and side weapons. You can swap between anyone in your squad at any time, and this diversity adds some needed variety to the action. I grew particularly fond of Mirim, whose high jumps and long-range whip make her incredibly effective. On the other hand, Gebel’s ability to transform into a bat allows you to circumvent more than a few frustrating sequences. I enjoyed hot-swapping between my entire crew and matching their unique talents to the task at hand.
The story behind your party’s quest to hunt demons remains vague through the end of the game, but I appreciate the gothic backdrops and the unholy parade of venomous wraiths, undead archers, and strange tentacle monsters. Inti Creates’ macabre environments provide a haunting atmosphere despite their limited pixel count. Unfortunately, these levels are more interesting to look at than explore. Each one has a few branching paths, but every fork ultimately sends you moving from left to right as you carve your way through a new page from a mythical bestiary. The directions I picked never had any meaningful impact on the action, and aside from a few light platforming sequences, the gameplay doesn’t evolve from room to room.
I wouldn’t fault anyone for mistaking Curse of the Moon for a long-lost entry in Konami’s epic vampire slayer series. In classic Castlevania style, you even press up to climb stairs. Unfortunately, Inti Creates’ dogged adherence to classic gaming tropes weakens its nostalgic grip in a few ways. The action is incredibly sluggish, and I grew impatient with my characters’ plodding movement and attack speed. Enemy attacks also cause knockback, which resulted in more than a few cheap deaths as my heroes tumbled into bottomless pits.
Curse of the Moon isn’t incredibly challenging. You can finish it in one or two sittings, and that’s all this game really deserves. I had fun experimenting with Curse of the Moon’s four heroes, but for a game so clearly inspired by a beloved franchise, the level design feels largely uninspired. While I was initially swooned by this Castlevania doppelganger, its nostalgic spell was broken once I realized its 8-bit beauty was only skin deep.