Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2: Good moon rising

What an excellent night to have a curse

Well, Bloodstained has certainly become a thing. The series was born when the beloved purveyor of various Castlevanias, Koji Igarashi, used Kickstarter to fund a brand new Metroidvania in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. This game - in this writer's razor-sharp opinion - turned out to be a bit of alright. Amusingly, though, it was one of the project's original "stretch goals" that seems to have an even better reputation. Ritual of the Night was prefigured by Kickstarter-promised 8-bit throwback title Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, a marvellous take on Castlevania 3 with multiple characters, routes and modes - an excellent teaser for its bigger brother, and one of my favourite games of 2018. Now, we have Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon 2, and it's even better.

If you played the original Curse, you'll know what to expect, to some extent. It's a multi-character romp through a series of spooksome scenarios, with characters familiar (Zangetsu and Dominique from Ritual of the Night) and brand new (Robert the shootsman, and Hachi the dog in a mecha, amongst others), each offering a distinctly different approach and gameplay style. Each character has different attacks as well as different means of traversal - in Dominique's case, these are one and the same, as she can use her enormous polearm weapon to bounce off enemy heads like a much sexier Scrooge McDuck. The level design here is generally much stronger and more varied than even the excellent original; everywhere you go you'll see telltale signs of secrets and extra paths you'll be able to come back and access as you recruit new allies to your side. It's all very organic and feels great to play.

It's also harder. Quite a bit harder, but without feeling unfair. There's no "sacrifice" feature in Curse 2 (not that I could find, anyway!), so the game doesn't need to be balanced around your not having access to the whole squad. This means you may find yourself needing to change characters quickly and repeatedly in order to dodge certain boss attacks - Robert's "go prone" ability becomes essential in this respect. Some may miss the versatility of the original game's design, accomodating single-character runs, but personally I think this approach is better, and makes for a more enjoyably taxing game. If you thought the first one was a little too easy, prepare to suffer, though once again you can play with a more casual option to make things a little friendlier. There's a pretty extensive post-game too, but I won't spoil it. Rest assured your skills will be tested.

Graphically and sonically I really can't fault Curse 2. It's a perfectly atmospheric look that briliantly captures the feel of the NES games that aesthetically inform it, but applied as before to widescreen gaming. I played it on Switch, but I can't conceive of it being any lesser an experience on any other format. Frankly, if you like modern-retro, this is pretty much an essential purchase. And you should like modern retro, because it's ace. Between this and Panzer Paladin we've been absolutely spoiled of late.

A review copy of this game was provided by the publisher.