#BLUD Review – Vamp Up Badly Needed

Games like #BLUD fuel my existential crisis. One look is all it takes to understand just how extremely high-quality this game is. The animation and art are simply stunning. Two decades ago I would see it on a store shelf while picking out a gift for my birthday. I would argue that even today it possesses all the qualities to stand tall along any new AAA release. Just like a lot of them, however, it was released in a poor state.

The difference? I can be sure that the big boys will have months of support and improvements, and likely even a sequel despite all its problems. For an indie, life is often not as kind. An imperfect launch and a few prominent issues are sometimes all it takes to bury some of the most promising studios this industry has seen. #BLUD is the kind of game that, were it released as a console exclusive in a time of less glut, would have people today clamoring for a sequel.

A still of the main character Becky punching a rat, with a bestiary pop-up at the bottom and her friend cowering on the left, all set inside an incredibly detailed room with wrenches, desks, and angular lighting
There is so much that sparks joy in just this one screenshot: the shapes, the bestiary, the animations, the detail, the designs, the colors

Permeating this adventure is an incredible dedication to keeping the player engaged in its world. Whereas most games I have played sort of give up sooner or later while writing lines for examining objects, #BLUD effortlessly juggles hundreds of consistently charismatic lines for its dozens of characters throughout different locations and parts of the story. Furthermore, each character and enemy has a special pose for the selfie system, alongside genuinely silly, well-written social media posts afterward. Be it the protagonist Becky Brewster or a random kid from her new school, there is enough here to write an entire story about any one character and then some! Pacing-wise, it reminds me of some of the very best adventures found on the GameBoy Advance.

A fantastic time capsule wrapped in an enticing cartoon aesthetic and a vampire hunter storyline—a title with such strong appeal seems like a surefire hit for a debut title. In the current era, however, it is so much harder to release a debut product that lags behind its strongest contemporaries. The thing with #BLUD is that it lags behind a lot.

A social media post with Becky standing next to a squirrel. The text exchange to the side has a boy ask whether a squirrel is a dragon, Becky asking what dragon, the boy responding "Dragon deez nuts" and another boy responding by saying "I reported you to the police, the pope and fish and wildlife office, don't be a creep man."
I feel a strong need to make “I’ve reported you to the pope” a thing

Quickfire list of things that should doubtlessly be fixed in the coming months: heavy pop-in, consistent as well as random crashes, quest events triggering during death animations causing quest softlocks, general lack of failsafes for quests should they bug out, enemies getting stuck inside the portals that summon them, the camera failing to return to the player character after moving to a point of interest on its own and more!

The biggest issue, and one which would require a fundamental rework, is the combat. See, #BLUD knows what elements to use to make a fun game, but not only is it unable to execute them all, but also emphasizes the worst ones. The most appealing part is running around the impressively large town of Carpentersville, talking to people, helping them, and watching the silly animations. Instead of speeding up that process, the majority of the game takes place on vampire-infested streets and dungeons, which somehow become more tedious than any fetch quest ever could.

A screaming goat
Same

Everything bad about it can be chucked to the animations. There is this conviction in letting the three-hit-combos and dodge rolls linger for a while, a sort of still frame in the middle of the chaos (ironically these are missing from the cutscenes which opt for smoother movement), which screws with how the combat plays out. Some enemies stand still while it happens, while others run into Becky to deal damage immediately after she exits the animation without a chance for her to avoid it.

Losing health through cheap tricks quickly becomes a running theme, with other enemies employing similar tactics, such as the respawning fire spirits that damage not just you, but the object you are trying to protect. The same object, should it be destroyed, will spawn an enemy, the one which will automatically hit you when you exit an animation, such as the one for getting hit by the spirit. There are many others like it, for whom the only strategy becomes using the block upgrade acquired early in the game, yet even that felt inconsistent.

A bus full of kids
Becky Brewster exudes extreme “little gremlin” energy and I love that for her

Bosses continue the motif, suffering from the “everything is a hurtbox” issue. Things will pop out of the ground or appear out of thin air at unreactable speeds. The fantasy of a vampire fighter disappears, and the first attempts at a fight end up feeling like turn-based encounters. They get hit, you get hit three times. So, just like with those games, my solution quickly became spamming healing items I found hidden across the overworld, with some serving as quest rewards.

Color me surprised when during by far the longest and hardest encounter in the game, my ability to use them was taken away. Not only that, the moment it gets returned, the game puts an instant death trap that sucks you in should you try to heal, as it takes a little bit of time to whip out your phone to check your inventory and then put it down. At some point, #BLUD began to feel like a contest for the worst ideas imaginable.

A mutated rat boss encounter
Sure, the bosses can get quite tough, but are their cheap tactics all that appealing?

Having finished, I compiled my thoughts, frustrated at the amount of crashes and difficulty spikes I encountered in its final moments. I took a breath and thought about the experience as a whole. I could vividly remember nearly every kid from Becky’s school. Maybe not by name, but I could differentiate them by their body type, animations, and personality.The goths, the scamming kid, the sleeper, the one guy who is always late on homework, the gamer, the cheerleaders.

I thought back on the way #BLUD presented itself through chapters, with compelling, throwback cartoon story arcs such as the characters’ parents unknowingly working for the antagonist or living a double life, the episode where the main character refuses their duty to live a normal life, the training arc or an unexpected transformation into a wicked monster. There is so much that this game does head and shoulders above the competition.

Becky petting a dog called Fido
The game’s positive vibes really brightened up my days, and I will remember it extremely fondly despite its issues

For me, the cheap combat did not invalidate just how memorable my 13 hours with #BLUD were. It is far from the easiest recommendation in its current state, but I want to trust this team. This is such an exciting debut title, brimming with inspiration, one which gets what makes gaming fun and with a world I loved inhabiting.

So, although I spent a considerable amount of time expressing my frustrations, I implore you to check it out. It would be a shame to not see what the future holds for Exit 73 Studios. With experience and feedback, I have no doubt that a Becky Brewster adventure, be that this one with some fixes or a future title, could well be an all-time classic.

Mateusz played #BLUD on PC with a review code.

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