BATS: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad may be the most unashamedly nostalgic game you’ll come across this year. It’s clearly developed by a team who played with their GI Joe figures while listening to Alice Cooper. It’s got a bit of Strider, some Sonic the Hedgehog, and plenty of every Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that came out between Commando and Terminator 2. Basically, it’s the 1980s blended into a blood-red smoothie.
You initially play as Count Bloodvayne, the leader of the BATS. Your squad has been captured by Scorpion Supreme (pincers for hands), and you’re going to stop at nothing to get them back. Scorpion Supreme’s base is spread across five levels, shown on possibly the most unnecessary Super Mario World-style map you’ll come upon (you really don’t need a map for just five levels), and each of those levels is broken up into four or so mini-levels played in sequence.
BATS: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad is an arcade action game. While it’s got a smidgeon of platforming, and it’s possible to unlock characters who take the game in a more Megaman-like, shooter direction, it’s a brawler. You are moving from room to room through industrial complexes, dodging traps and taking out enemies as you go. They explode in a fountain of blood drops, and you suck those drops up to fill a life bar.
Sonic the Hedgehog is an unexpected reference point here, as the blood drops act like rings. Get hit, and your blood bar empties, with drops scattering around you. Pick them back up, and you can absorb another hit. Fail to pick them up and you’re one hit away from death. As a nifty addition to the formula, you can also cap out on your blood bar, which gives you special abilities like turning into a near-invulnerable wolf.
It works pretty well. You can see why only a few games have adopted the Sonic model – the difficulty curve shallows significantly, as you’ve always have a quick method of restoring your health – but it works well here. There are just enough hazards to mean that you’re on edge.
The controls are fairly robust, as the combination of jump, dash and attack means that you can nimbly get on the wrong side of enemies and hit an artery. There’s a slightly unusual use of the jump button, where you hold it to burst through ceilings above you, but otherwise BATS: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad is a simple and nimble little slasher. It’s no Dead Cells or Hollow Knight, but it’s aiming more for similar 80’s games like Two Crude Dudes and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the NES one), and it gets there.
The levels are undoubtedly BATS: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad’s weak points. They’re all constructed from the same boxy kit, as if Scorpion Supreme made his evil lair out of reclaimed storage containers. It means that there’s a whiff of familiarity throughout, as you move through your thousandth oblong room. It’s mostly linear too, with only the occasional branch where some extra blood drops can be found. Since you really only need one blood drop to survive, and reaching the cap of your life bar is relatively rare, it’s not enough to make exploring enjoyable.
At the end of each level is a boss fight with Scorpion Supreme, who has clearly gone to the Dr Robotnik school of villainy. He appears in a spherical ship in the same two-tier boss arena every time, but changes up his arsenal each time you face him. Sometimes you’ll be dodging mines, other times lazers. You’ve got to deplete his health bar rather than hit him three times, so it’s not a direct lift. Kill him, and you get to choose which of your team to free from captivity, and they become a playable character.
The boss fights are fine enough. They’re a change in pace at least, as the levels are on the easy side thanks to the blood drops, so you can blitzkrieg through them without much in the way of care. With Scorpion Supreme, you get one blood drop, which exhausts on the first hit, so you have to play with care. Going from gung-ho to hardcore precision is a bit of a cognitive switch, but we liked it.
The characters you unlock are bewilderingly different, to the point of changing the genre of game. It’s a bold move. Rick Ghastley (haha, YES) for example, gets a twin-barrelled shotgun, so you no longer have to get close to enemies. It strays into Megaman territory. But the compromise is that you have a long reload every two shots which leaves you extremely vulnerable. There will be wildly different reactions to this: we tended to stick with Count Bloodvayne, simply because we’d mastered him. Every character is so different that you’ll need to learn their weaknesses and attributes, and BATS: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad is short enough that we didn’t fancy the investment.
BATS: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad is not a long game. It’s not a difficult one, either, so there’s an obvious sticking point here. Each level is roughly fifteen to twenty minutes to complete, and there are only five of them, so factor that in when considering that £8.39 price. It’s probably at the top end of budget pricing, which might cost some people out of a purchase.
We played BATS: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad with a smile on our face. It’s bombastic and stupid, with a strong handle on the ‘80s arcade games it wants to emulate. It won’t win any awards – particularly with its bored, ‘I made this out of LEGO’ level design – but for a couple of hours it will get your pulses racing. Come get some.
You can buy BATS: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S