Halloween 2012 Gaming Special Day 5: Vampires! (PC, Mac)
Treat me with something more comic and cerebral
Enough of that psychological terror and shooting monsters and humans in the face gameplay of Dementium II? Maybe something more child-friendly, but not childish enough to be for kids only? Confused? Read on…
Why always mindlessly killing the poor creatures of the night if they just want to find their way home. But that’s not easy if you’re living in crypts with devious traps. So God (or the player) help them not to turn into a pile of ashes in Vampires!, a quirky little puzzler not from Transylvania, but from the Czech Republic nonetheless.
So leave thy stake at home, bring along enough intelligence and awake from thy mulled/red wine slumber to save many a vampire’s day!
(Czech Republic 2012, developer/publisher: CBE Software, platforms: PC, Mac, Linux (planned) and iOS, Android (later))
Bring all your vampires safely home before the break of dawn.
Mass Market vs. Bloodsuckers
With countless puzzle games around and now more than ever with mobile gaming, it’s a crowded market and competition is hard. But fusing gameplay elements from classics like Lemmings or that changing-the-direction-of-pipes game everyone knows but not its title, together with the vampire mythology is quite unique and makes for a fun experience in CBE Software’s self-published Vampires!.
Get your neck around this gameplay
The player’s task is to lead the vampires to the exits of each crypt or level. Like Lemmings, the little bloodsuckers walk their paths without seeing the consequences or traps. But unlike DMA Design’s seminal game, they can’t be controlled directly or given any tasks to perform.
The main way to help them is to rotate tiles on the map in every direction to manipulate their walks of doom. First this sounds pretty straightforward, but when vampires are introduced which follow a certain pattern (like turning left or right), the difficulty curve goes up a notch and more.
Use both your brain halves…and don’t eat them like zombies!
With two vampires going in two different directions at crossroads, it already becomes quite hard to keep track of things. But when there are some traps like stake catapults found or antagonists like hunters roaming the game world, it needs more thinking and planning than before.
It’s a good thing then that the player can, before the level starts, have a look at the playground and decide in advance what actions to take. Because when the vampires start walking, there’s no turning back as it’s not possible to pause and a clock counting down til sunrise makes sure one is always required to be fast and precise in the rotations of tiles and use of tools.
Nail biting tasks of difficulty
Not to spoil all of the other mechanics at the player’s disposal (like garlic to make them turn around or spider webs to slow them down) or the trap devices which have to be overcome, but there are quite a few gameplay-altering ones which make Vampires! a force to be reckoned with. This can of course sometimes be a bit too much and rotating many tiles when more than one vampire has to be taken care of, can become quite hectic. Even with careful planning (which is essential in later levels), the difficulty of the levels varies and the structure of the game is not consistent: a new mechanic is introduced and then not used at all in other levels.
The devil lies in the structure
This is the only problem the game faces: the overall crypts-episodes-levels selection feels a bit random and disconnected. A story might not be necessary for a puzzle game like this (Lemmings didn’t have a plot), but when it’s not easy to know how the “chapters” are connected, their divisions are quite superfluous. A better learning curve would have helped establish coherence and avoided frustration.
Trophies of Blood
For those gamers who like a bit of a challenge, it’s also possible to go for trophies in the form of either certain achievements (some can also be done by dying in a certain way or perform silly tasks) or to get silver and gold medals. Bronze ones are already awarded for completing a level, but the others demand a lot more strategy and fast movements in that they require a limited number of rotations and still being in a specific time frame.
Help me, I lost all my vampires!
It’s not as if there aren’t any helping devices: the player can actually decide to skip levels by using white flags. There are five of them, so if they’re used up, one has to go back and complete the levels to progress. Levels are unlocked in chronological order, so it’s not possible to select them all right from the start.
How a vampire presents himself in the world of technology
Graphics are nice to look at with quite a lot of detail, which is reminiscent of the good old Dungeon Keeper‘s comic aesthetics. Animations are cute, light effects pleasant to the eye, and there’s rarely a slowdown by moving the camera. It is nothing which will set the world of a graphics enthusiast on fire, but compared to other puzzle games, a lot of work went into creating that crypt world, each dungeon crafted a bit differently for variety.
Special mention has to go to the soundtrack which is a strange mix of choir, synthesizer and (sometimes discordant) guitar riffs. But it works and is quite catchy to listen to, even if it can be a bit distracting when concentrating on the task at hand at some points.
Casually dressed for the hardcore vampire and puzzle lovers
All in all, even with an abundance of puzzle games around on multiple platforms, Vampires! stands out with its brain-teasing difficulty which creates the one-more-level-feeling of yesteryear. With a cute presentation it might look like a casual game (and in many respects it certainly is), but it’s a devious puzzler for the hardcore who like to use both their brain halves and have quick reflexes.