Preview by Mike Finkelstein
I'll be honest, I hesitated even taking a look at this game for this site. It's really not a Castlevania-related game, playing more like an action/puzzle-maze game in the genre of Pac-Man and it's ilk. It does star a cute vampire girl, and it has graphics that fit it nicely into the 16-bit genre, but it's certainly not a Castlevania game in the strictest sense.
And yet, the developer made the connection on their own. VampireDev, like many itch.io creators, is an independent designer, working on their own on their fun little game. They're a coder and developer, but clearly one of their skills, at least not yet, doesn't reside in music development as the game (at least in its demo form) borrows music from the Castlevania series. It's a nice little touch, honestly, because for the style and design of the game, the Gothic tunes of Castlevania did fit perfectly. That makes this game, if not a proper fan-game, still fan-game adjacent where it counts.
In the game you play Elizabeth who, as described by the developer, has to drink blood and, to do so, leaves her castle every night to feed on the surrounding locales. Early in the game this means traveling to a nearby village to feed on the peasants there, before moving on to other towns and homesteads and then, eventually, ruins and temples. There's a lot of variety in the levels and certainly plenty of playability as you learn the ins-and-outs of each locale.
The vampire girl herself is adorable. Every time you finish a stage, Elisabeth will spin and do a little curtsy, making everything you just did -- feeding on the lives of all these poor peasants -- seem cute and innocent. It has a light and breezy feel, when the game gets going, and controlling the little vamp gal is simple and easy as all you have to do is press the arrow keys. She bounces along, looking for her meal, and it's all fairly enjoyable, at least from her perspective.
That said, the game is pretty unforgiving. Some times I had problems getting through even just the first stage, and that's because there's a lot to manage for such a simple game. While Elisabeth is moving around, the peasants will see her and flee, crying out for help. This causes two issues: one, it stops Elisabeth from being able to feed on them because the villagers will immediately flee into a house to avoid being eaten, but it also, secondly, causes the vampire hunter to come stalking Elisabeth.
The vampire hunters (of which there's one at the start of the game with more added over the course) are like the ghosts in Pac-Man -- if they touch Elisabeth they will kill her. They are pretty single-minded and once they've seen Elisabeth they will motor towards her. She is slightly faster than the hunters, but she can easily get caught up on the environment as well as the villagers she's stalking.
That's actually one of the more frustrating parts of the game as the villagers don't immediately disappear when they're eaten. Instead there's a brief pause as Elisabeth feeds, and this gives the hunter time to catch up. There's been a ton of instances of my girl only having one route of escape and getting caught up because a villager crosses her path and Elisabeth comes to a dead stop (and they just gets dead). If they acted more like pellets in Pac-Man (or the ghosts in that game after you get a power-pellet), the game would be much much more manageable.
There are ways to distract the hunter, such as with the vampiric "Fog" power that Elisabeth can sometimes get after feeding on a specific villager, but by and large Elisabeth has no way to defend herself. It's all luck, good avoidance, and hoping the villagers don't get in your way once you've fed enough. It makes each level less tense than frustrating, ruining some of the fun of the game.
As this game is still in demo form (with the last release back in 2019), presumably some of these game play nuisances could get worked out. In the process, I do hope the developer fixes a couple of other issues I noted with the game. For one, although there's supposed to be music in the game (the aforementioned Castlevania tracks along with some vampire-appropriate song cues), these tracks didn't play in my copy of the game. I know they have worked for other gamers (I've seen videos of people playing the games with the music working perfectly), and the files themselves were in my copy, they just didn't want to load. Also, the score screen, which is supposed to work, spits out dead code instead, so that's a bit of a flaw.
As Demo 4 of the game was released back in 2019, it's hard to say if this title will get any further work. I think there's the code of a good game here, it just needs a little prodding, a little easing up on the difficulty or just giving Elisabeth a bit more she can do to avoid danger. I liked the core of the game, I just think it needs some work before it's in its "final" form. Plus, of course, they probably will need to remove the Castlevania music.
- Vampire's Bit (itch.io)