The release of Maidens of a Hollow Dream demonstrated that doujin circle Akiragoya understands the fundamental elements of a STG. Built around an innovative mechanic where success required players to swap between the two lead characters, the side-scroller was irrefutably distinctive. Like any respectable shooter, the concept seemed simple. But in execution, Maidens revealed a wealth of sophistication. Anyone hoping to land a place on the online leaderboards would have carefully research its nuances. Longevity was provided through unlockable power-ups, which safeguarded the four-stage excursion from fatigue.
With the release of Steel Vampire, the circle upholds their expertise with a 236 megabyte download that’s brimming with frenzied action. Pleasingly, Steel Vampire is no simple retread. Save for intensity, programming proficiency, and a multitude of creative design decisions, there’s little to connect the two titles. Although Akiragoya isn’t quite on the same level as danmaku darlings CAVE, there’s a palpable prowess within the doujin circle.
Thankfully, a comprehensive tutorial explains the multitude of Steel Vampire’s interlocking systems. Tapping on the fire button releases a stream of offensive projectiles, while holding the button down activates your sub-weapon. Although the sub-weapon isn’t as powerful or causes defeated enemies to release as many chips, it slows down your movement speed, which can be helpful when evading squalls of enemy bullets.
Interestingly, contact with enemy ships isn’t fatal but merely pushes you around. The motivation here is evident, with Steel Vampire wanting players to get as close to enemies at possible. This is also promoted by the quality of chips released by vanquished foes, with adjacent adversaries discharging many more of the collectables that can help restore your shields and power-up your VoBurn bombs. Another consequence from this design decision are the extremely large sprites in Steel Vampire. Both your vessel and enemies are enormously sizes, further reducing the time you’ll have to dodge bullets. To help the game color codes enemy projectiles with an unmistakable blue and purple hue. No other object in the game is a neighbor on the color spectrum.
The various kind of chips discharged from defeated foes also have a role in Steel Vampire’s systems. VoBurn acts as both a defensive and offensive weapon, with a giant flaming skull canceling incoming bullets and also removing massive amounts of health from enemies and bosses. But instead of picking up the sporadic power-up like most games, bronze colored chips gradually regenerate your VoBurn meter, incentivizing fast, precarious play. Silver colored chips replenish your shield gauge but avoiding damage for protracted periods will also let your ship will gradually heal itself.
There’s also the rank system, which adjusts offers adaptable difficulty beyond the main presets. Picking up a red ‘command log’ immediately increases your on-screen ranking five-fold, although it also increases on its own. Permit the rank to exceed the thirty-level mark, and you’ll be in for true danmaku intensity, as the screen fills with projectiles traveling in a multitude of trajectories. While picking up a green log can drop your ranking one point, you’ll be restraining your scoring opportunity. As such, Steel Vampire goads you into playing at your skill limit, keeping things consistently engaging.
Bosses and the occasional subordinate will also drop weapon containers with the contents revealed at the end of your game. Essentially, these can augment your main, sub-weapon, or the offensive utilized by the mini-ships that flank your ship. Although the loot system isn’t too deep, it’s rewarding to earn new weapons and sell off any fodder firearms for credits that can be used to boost your passive abilities.
While Steel Vampire’s multitude of gameplay systems might seem like a lot to think about, the mechanics all blend together after a few plays. Soon, you’ll be looking for the shadows of enemies and trying to eliminate them before they add to the number of on-screen threats. Like any good shooter, it’s easy to get ‘into the zone’, becoming completely engrossed by the persistent onslaught of opponents.
Like Akiragoya’s Maidens of a Hollow Dream, Steel Vampire is a shooter with few shortcomings. Sure, there’s the occasional instance of slowdown that can break immersion. But beyond that, there’s a wonderfully cohesive set of systems here that make the game a delight. Those with a passion for quality STGs will undoubtedly want to welcome Steel Vampire into their den or computing lair.
Steel Vampire was played on PC with review code provided by the publisher.