rediscovering an old game from my youth

In my recent spree of playing and replaying old Castlevanias and listening to all the Goth Metal I cast aside because I mistakenly thought that being a goth kid was “cringe” as soon as I hit adulthood, I had been struggling to try and remember another game I had played as a teen. I remembered downloading it along with a bunch of CV fangames during the early-2000s. Despite me grabbing it with all those fangames, this was very much its own thing; unique graphics, sound, atmosphere. Of course, the passage of time, and the continuous spiral of internet search engines becoming an SEO-driven joke instead of a source of information, have made trying to find this game again really hard. I’ll spare you any more suspense and tell you that I did eventually find it after a couple weeks of searching.

This game is called Vampire. A simple title that did nothing to make my search for it any easier. Vampire is a Windows ’95 game made by the doujin group Sprite. Unfortunately, the game was never finished, and is only a few levels long. It was released in 1997, the version I’m playing here is an updated release from 1999, and while there has been progress made on the game and shown online, it’s all from 2011. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure this is the only Vampire experience we’ll be getting.

Vampire is a game that wears its influences on its sleeve. The main character is a girl with a whip named Millenia, who fights skeletons and bats and various other monsters on her way to fighting, well, a vampire. Playing Vampire is pretty straightforward. You move from left to right (occasionally down to up, or up to down), whipping horror movie monsters in environments that look like an expensive Malice Mizer video. All the while you hear music that, while in MIDI format, definitely has that Goth Rock vibe, with synthesized bells and church organs. Though the game is unfinished, the few levels of action we get are enjoyable enough. I will give some criticisms here and say that the controls can be pretty sluggish; sometimes you may double-tap forward to run so as to get extra distance on a jump, only to slowly walk forward before jumping instead and fall way short of your target. Millenia has an attack where she can whip upwards, but it seems to have a terrible hitbox, as trying to hit things with it is nearly impossible. The last complaint I have is that level 3 has that “enemy that will always get in your way the moment you need to jump onto a platform” bull shit going on. These are complaints that might have been addressed in a future release, if we ever got one.

As it is, Vampire is still a pretty darn good game. But there’s more to a game than mechanics. Something Vampire has that a lot of independent games and even major studio games don’t have is atmosphere. Vampire, if nothing else, is cool. This is a game full of personality, despite the major handicap of not being finished. Each level is dark and oppressive. There are cliffsides full of large monsters. Villages that have been taken over by an army of skeletons and axe-wielding goat demons, displaying their human victims in the streets. Woods populated by harpies and dragons. The pathway to the castle, covered in snow (represented by some great particle effects) and guarded by Zeiram-esque body horror creatures. There is a Gothic aesthetic to Vampire that hasn’t really been matched outside of heavy hitters like Symphony of the Night or Bloodborne, which is all the more impressive given that this a small project made by a handful of people.

(Before anyone mentions anything, yes, I’m aware that at least a few art assets have been lifted from other games, including Symphony of the Night (see the background of that church screenshot). The original art, however, is still fantastic.)

In and of itself, Vampire is a good enough little game on its own. But there’s something to these smaller games essentially lost to time that I appreciate. I can’t quite figure out what that is, exactly. Maybe the whole idea of making a game for the sake of making the kind of game you want to make, and then doing it. Maybe it’s the fact that, again, this is an unfinished work, and that there has been no update on said work in nearly eleven years adds a bit of mystery to it. We as players only get a small glimpse of what could have been an indie classic. That’s some intriguing shit right there. As it is, Vampire is another relic of a bygone era that I have nostalgia for: that era of clicking around and finding cool stuff.

Now, you can’t really get Vampire anywhere, not even on its official site. So, to make things easier, I’ve gone ahead and uploaded the latest version right here.

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