Wearing nothing but a lubricated rubber glove, James Matson reaches down into the misty, murky depths of obscurity and plucks out a fantastic little Commodore 64 platformer that deserves more of a mention than perhaps it ever got at release…
Vampire. Vampire. On the Commodore 64 you say?
Wasn’t that the game with the horse and, no, no that wasn’t it. Was it the one where you had to? no, wait that was something else. Did it have a guy in a shirt? And he had to collect all the? No, no that wasn’t it either.
It’s okay if you’ve never heard of Vampire, it certainly wouldn’t appear on any highlight reel of the Commodore 64 glory days. Released by Codemasters as a port of the Sinclair Spectrum game ‘Phantomas 2’, Vampire scored pretty low in its ZZap 64 review back in the 1980s, but we happen to think it’s a pretty neat little platformer which is why we’ve taken some time out to tell you all about it. The basic premise is that you’re a neat little guy wearing some kind of space helmet, who has taken it upon himself to venture into Dracula’s castle and rid the world of his vampiric nastiness.
In order to do this, you must travel through each room of the castle looking for various items and performing various tasks essential to your mission while avoiding an odd array of bad guys. You’ve got a limited amount of health, and anything from touching a bad guy to standing on top of candle when its flame goes off will sap your strength. Limited quantities of food are littered throughout the levels to replenish you, but with no offensive weapon you need to rely on avoidance rather than conflict.
Vampire isn’t a traditional platform game in that there’s no smooth scrolling, instead each room is its own self-contained screen, and exiting top the top, bottom or left/right will lead you to an entirely new room. Some rooms are simply about avoiding enemies, others contains essential items which allow you to access blocked areas or require you to open windows to ensure light is let into the castle. It’s a fiendishly difficult game, with several death traps and no shortage of perfectly timed jumps required, but Vampire has a certain ‘something’ that keeps you coming back for another go.
It’s sure as hell not the graphics which are a shameful lift of the Spectrum’s inferior palette (although not without their own charm) and apart from an awesome title track there’s little sound in the game.
So what is it? What’s the hook? We can only put it down to the simple joy of discovery. Every room in Dracula’s castle is an intriguing set of monsters, health power-ups, moving platforms and decorations. Sometimes you’ll jump so high in a room you’ll briefly appear at the bottom of another room of the castle and for a brief moment see an unexplored area. Curiosity gets the better of you, and you’ll do everything you can to find a way to get there. There’s also that continued desire to want to see the game end, to finish that task, to kill Dracula. He doesn’t make an appearance until the very end of the game (if you make it that far) and shit starts to get pretty weird in terms of level design well before you get to the final fight, but still – after making it through so many rooms, so many bad guys, collecting so many items, you just want to do it.
Originally sold for a couple of bucks in Codemasters ‘Why Pay More?’ range, Vampire is well worth a play even so many years later, and is a testament to the fact that we – as retro gamers – owe it to the Commodore 64 and other platforms to make sure we take the time not just to play the Zelda’s and Sonic’s of the world, but the hidden gems too.
- Graphics (1/5) – It’s a Spectrum port, and unfortunately an accurate one at that. Nothing to see here.
- Sound (3/5) – Smashing title track that will have you doing whatever it is you do when smashing title tracks play. Barren in-game though.
- Game play (4/5) – Vampire is tough, but delivers in terms of exploration and pure platform fun.
- Overall (3/5) – A budget title that delivers more than its orignal asking price might have suggested.