It’s no surprise that developer Ritual Games and publisher The MIX Games chose October to release BATS: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad. BATS is based on an imaginary Saturday morning cartoon show that stars a quintet of vampires, most of which are parodies of fictitious vampires throughout the history of popular media. The game has a horror theme, but it’s by no means a horror game; it’s a straight-up retro throwback – a 2D action-platformer with brightly-colored pixel art graphics, humor that’s not quite “Saturday morning” safe, and gameplay that makes it feel like an NES or Sega Genesis game. I’m always down to play retro platformers, and I was curious to see if this would satisfy my cravings or if it should stay in its coffin and never see the light of day.
The game starts with a quick cutscene explaining the basic premise of the game. Count Bloodvayne, leader of BATS, is having his daily nap at his secret hideout – underneath what looks like the Lincoln Memorial – when Squirt, the team mascot, and Jigglypuff look-alike, rushes in and wakes him up. Squirt frantically informs the count that the vile Scorpion Supreme, the leader of the nefarious STING syndicate, has somehow captured the other four members of his BATS team.
The game takes place over five levels which are illustrated by a basic map that appears in between levels. It has five squares with a line connecting each one and a little bit of extra art on the side. The five levels are always played in the same order, and I think they could have just omitted this map or at least spiced it up a bit – it’s pretty stale in its current state. Each level is made up of around five sections and then a boss fight. Pretty much all the levels take place in interior areas, like warehouses, sewers, and the STING headquarters.
They all have similar layouts; made up of multiple rectangular rooms of varying sizes. A lot of the stages have a maze-like feel to them because most of the time you can’t tell if a connecting room will have an exit or not, and many times you’ll reach a dead end and have to double back. Most rooms going left and right are connected with doors that you must bust open with an attack. Other rooms are accessible by jumping and breaking through a black and yellow barrier in the floor or ceiling. I thought it was neat how when there were more than one of these barriers right above one another you could continue to travel upwards, breaking through all of them as long as you don’t let go of the jump button. On the other hand, it took me a while to figure out how to consistently break the floor barriers. Eventually I learned that all it takes is pressing and holding the down button before you jump. A few other mechanics are explained in the first level (like a dodge move), but not this one. I think they should have included it with the others.
The gameplay in BATS has a retro platformer feel to it; it seems like the developers intended it to be a fast-paced game, and this is backed up by the fact that there’s a Speed Run mode that has a timer added to the HUD. This game, however, suffers from what I call the Sonic problem. I used to love playing 2D Sonic games but I always hated how you barely had any time to react when you were traveling at top speed. You could play the game nice and slow, but everyone knows zipping through the levels is the most fun. The vampires’ speed in BATS doesn’t come close to the blue hedgehog but that same feeling is present; where you want to go fast, but when you do you usually run straight into an enemy or a trap. This problem is made even worse in BATS because the camera doesn’t keep you in the center of the screen when you are running, it uses a wide camera trap – letting you go way past the center of the screen before the camera starts moving. This works well in slow-paced games, but in faster-style games like Sonic, the camera trap box needs to be much smaller. The developers must have had a reason for doing this, but I don’t think it works well in this game.
The gameplay consists of you working your way from the start of each stage, on the left side, over to the finish somewhere on the right – the exit could be on the top floor, bottom, or somewhere in between. Resistance comes in the form of enemies and traps. Levels usually have three or four enemy types that have different attack patterns. The first STING soldier you encounter just has a melee attack, a little later some of them carry a rifle, and eventually some will throw Molotovs. There are a few other enemies like a green skeleton zombie-thing that rises from the floor and launches toxic barf at you. Four of the five BATS characters have melee attacks and the fifth character has a ranged attack which was a nice surprise. I thought the hitboxes for the enemies and the player characters were a little inconsistent; however, the hitboxes on the hazards have pinpoint accuracy, if you clip that one pixel at the furthest corner of the spike trap you will take damage.
Once you beat the four or five stages in a level you get to confront Scorpion Supreme, who is the boss at the end of each level. He has different attacks in each encounter but I think having different boss enemies would have gone a long way. Like any good Saturday morning, villain Scorpion Supreme is nice enough to bring all your captured allies to the fight – they are all hanging in cages in the background. After you beat him you are able to free one of them. From that point on you can select that character from the character select screen before each level, and by the time you reach the fifth level, your whole team will be available.
The health system works similarly to the one found in Sonic. When you kill an enemy they drop a pink droplet of blood that bounces once or twice on the ground before you are able to pick it up. When you pick it up it adds to your blood meter at the top left of the screen; you have to pick them up quickly though because they disappear pretty fast, effectively making it so there’s only a small window in which you can retrieve it. I think they should have extended this time a little longer. There are also blood droplets hidden in breakable boxes and in some stages there’ll be a few out in the open (luckily these ones don’t disappear). When you get hit you lose all your blood, and your meter resets to zero. In a similar vein to Sonic, when you get hit a few droplets will fall to the floor giving you a chance to pick them back up if you’re quick enough. If you have no blood and take another hit, then you explode into a puff of bats – annoying as it was each time I died I thought this animation was pretty cool.
Most of the playable characters have a special move that will trigger when your blood meter becomes full. I thought it was kind of odd that Count Bloodvayne’s special blood ability is turning into a wolf/werewolf hybrid creature granting you temporary invincibility and increasing your speed a bit (I think). I thought vampires and werewolves were notorious rivals? Because of the game’s difficulty, made worse by lackluster controls, hitboxes, and a poorly implemented camera, you probably won’t get to use the special moves much outside of the first level. Part of me thinks they made the game difficult and frustrating to make up for the fact that the game is severely lacking in content; the five levels will take you a little over an hour to complete the first time around, and the achievement list also seemingly tries to pad the playtime by daring you to beat the game ridiculously fast, as well as without dying. Saturday morning cartoons are supposed to be fun, but all of that makes Sunday morning church sound more appealing.
My favorite part of BATS: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad is the pixel art. It looks like a game that could have been released on the Sega Genesis but with a modern spin, thanks to its bright neon colors and funny scenes. At one point you are disguised as a STING soldier and you walk through their locker room. I also liked the sunbathing soldier you would occasionally see on top of the buildings. The posters, signs, and other details in the levels really helped to make the visuals stand out. The sound design also felt like it was straight out of the 16-bit era. The game had some decent tunes, but nothing that truly stood out.
BATS: Bloodsucker Anti-Terror Squad reminded me a little of Katana Zero, another fast-paced 2D action platformer, taking place inside various buildings where you have to quickly dispatch the enemies with melee attacks. You also have a less effective dodge move, and there’s no time-slowing experimental drug to be found anywhere. Instead of being a sharpened, polished katana, this is more like a rusty spork. Despite a lot of frustrating aspects, I had an alright time playing through it the first time – mostly due to the eye-catching pixel art and funny premise; however, I would probably feel differently if I had paid for this out of my own pocket. I think there are much better ways to spend $10, but if you’re truly interested in this I’d say wait for it to go on sale.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.