#BLUD Review

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Every so often something new comes to a genre that pushes the envelope and divides opinion. In the 1990s, cartoons like Ren and Stimpy were just that – over the top, wacky kids cartoons which were seen as innovative, edgy and, for many, damn-right weird.

This is what Humble Games and Exit 73 Games, behind #BLUD, are attempting to do for the world of dungeon crawlers. They’ve fused elements of this well-known genre with action RPG, added a sprinkle of puzzles and wrapped it all up in colourful and fast-paced 2D animation.

However, in doing so have they managed to hit the right notes on all fronts?

BLUD review 3
The artstyle is strong with this one

In #BLUD you play as teenager Becky Brewster, who’s just moved into Carpentersville. Life is not going to be easy because as well as starting high school and making new friends, she discovers her mum was a vampire hunter and she’s the latest in this ancient bloodline. And, wouldn’t you know it, the town has just come under attack by a legion of the undead…

On watching the trailer for #BLUD you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a simple little game – a bit of light combat here and there, but nothing that will give you any trouble. I think you can see where this is going. Quite simply, don’t let the cutesy animation fool you – #BLUD is challenging. On the whole, this is a good thing – after all, no one wants a game that allows you to whizz through it in a couple of hours. But for a game to be enjoyable it has to strike the tricky balance of challenging yet fun, and this is where #BLUD unfortunately just doesn’t quite make it. 

The combat mechanics are difficult to master as you attack in eight directions; up, down, left, right and on the diagonal. You will often find yourself having to face multiple enemies at once, which makes it tricky to dodge attacks as well as deliver them simultaneously. Quite often the sheer amount of enemies on the screen at any one time is overwhelming and when this is repeated several times in a row, it can lose its appeal very quickly.

The narrative of #BLUD is based around Becky meeting, and ultimately destroying, the head vampire guy, Draugur (it was he who killed her Mum). To do this she will have to get some training from her mysterious mentor, Mr. Kristofferson, who is also moonlighting as the school janitor, translate the spells in her Mum’s grimoire and collect various bits and pieces to build the ultimate vampire-killing weapon of mass destruction. 

BLUD review 4
Fight your way through various areas

The story is broken up into chapters, in which Becky has a main task and several optional side quests, such as feeding a neighbour’s dog or putting up posters at different locations across the town. These add a nice break from the relentless killing as it is in the main task where the dungeon crawling element takes centre stage, with Becky confined to one location (such as the school, forest, the larger than expected storeroom of the local mini mart) and having to fight her way through rooms of enemies.

You will have to find keys, dig tunnels, blow up walls, or solve simple puzzles to progress, but what you have to do is not always obvious. At no point were we told we could blow up walls with bombs, this was discovered by trial and error, and the places where you can dig are not exactly signposted. This led to more than one occasion of frustrating running around, retracing our steps as we tried to work out what to do next. 

Health comes in the form of hearts (which can be added to if you find further heart pieces hidden throughout the game) and an attack by an enemy will see you lose half a heart, or a whole one depending on the ferocity of the blow. Individual hearts can be refilled by finding a candy bar or soda lying around, or you can use a precious first aid kit to bring you up to full health (these can be found or bought using coins that you also find on your travels). We would have liked the option of being able to store the food items in our inventory, for later use, as you can with the first aid kits.

At any point, if you lose all five hearts then it’s back to the start with the enemies all respawning, but without you having to redo any puzzles you have already completed. On completion of each crawl there will be a boss to fight, which amps up the difficulty. Some are easier than others but they all took us multiple attempts. One memorable example, which was a rare fun boss battle, saw the school children hurtling along a road in their school bus, with you having to dodge other road users and reflecting the boss’s missiles back at him. We liked the move away from the top-down ish style of the rest of the game and would have appreciated more of this variation.

BLUD review 2
Get away in a school bus…

There are many different types of enemies, each with their own attacking style and method of defeat, which adds interest to the combat but also a layer of complexity as you have to work out the best way to kill them. There is a feature that promises a way of revealing each monster’s weaknesses, which should make this easier, but we found this to have many flaws. Basically, you need to take a selfie with a monster, which for some is nigh on impossible to do without being attacked when in such close proximity. If you manage it, this photo is added to your grimoire along with a bit of information. However, in nearly all examples, what was revealed was not very helpful and really not worth the effort. 

The grimoire can be accessed via Becky’s phone, along with maps, an inventory and access to social media. This is where you can find your quests, along with handy clues in the form of replies from your friends. The social media feature works really well, and is an original way of mapping your progress and reminding yourself what you need to do next. Fast travel comes in the form of a sewer system, but you will have to rid the tunnels of monsters before you can use each one. To be honest, no locations are very far from each other and running from place to place does the job perfectly well.

At the start of #BLUD the only weapon you have is your fists, which only work at very close combat and offer a weak blow, meaning that combat is very slow and challenging. We were more than relieved when we found Brenda, our trusty hockey stick, which can offer a slightly more ranged attack. As you progress through the game you get access to other weapons – pencils, which can be thrown at enemies from a distance (but don’t damage all of them) and cherry bombs, which kill all enemies but are quite difficult to aim accurately at a moving target.

Your best friend Corey, the Q to your James Bond, upgrades your hockey stick at various points in the game supplying you with a handy umbrella shield, spade and grappling hook, which have various uses in helping you defeat enemies and make your way through the locations. For example, the spade can be used to dig holes to take you from one location to another or find buried objects, whilst the grappling hook can be used to cross ravines or retrieve out of reach objects.

BLUD review 1
Just don’t forget the selfies

One thing the teams behind #BLUD have got spot on is the animation – the game looks great, especially the cut scenes, which bookend each chapter. However, the characters don’t speak, instead using speech bubbles and we could have done without the annoying sounds the characters make when these appear, which reminds us of the ‘blah, blah’ noises the adults in the Charlie Brown animations made. Seen as how #BLUD is supposed to draw inspiration from the aforementioned cartoons, which were praised for their irreverent humour, it is not a particularly funny game, and the fact that it tries very hard to be, missing the mark, makes it even worse.

#BLUD is a valiant attempt to break the mould of the traditional dungeon crawler but it fails to achieve its target at being more than this. If you are a fan of the genre and are up for a challenge then it is worth a play. Just be warned that it’s not only the vampires that are a pain in the neck…

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Animation looks great, especially the cut scenes
  • The use of social media to access quests
Cons:
  • Combat is frustrating
  • Tries to be funny but it’s not even close
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Humble Games
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One (review), PS4, PS5, Switch, PC
  • Release date and price - 18 June 2024 | £TBC
Gemma Young
Gemma Younghttp://www.snapshotscience.co.uk
I'm a part-time gamer and a full-time writer of science-y things. On the few odd occasions that I'm able to wrestle the Xbox controller away from the avid gamers in my family, I enjoy spending time playing puzzle and adventure games.
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Animation looks great, especially the cut scenes</li> <li>The use of social media to access quests</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Combat is frustrating</li> <li>Tries to be funny but it’s not even close</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Humble Games</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One (review), PS4, PS5, Switch, PC <li>Release date and price - 18 June 2024 | £TBC</li> </ul>#BLUD Review
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