I have to admit that while I have given the multitude of Vampire Survivors-likes a try over the years, the genre didn’t actually “click” for me until the real-deal Vampire Survivors arrived on iOS late last year. Since then I haven’t really felt the desire to go back to any of the me-too games to approach them with a fresh perspective or anything, nor have I particularly felt very excited about any upcoming games that were cut from the same cloth. I guess Vampire Survivors was the porridge that was just right for me.
There was one exception, though. I love all the games from developer Kyle Barrett and so last year when he first announced Ultra Blade, a game with a similar overall vibe to Vampire Survivors, I was definitely interested. The game took some big twists and turns and changed quite a bit over its development compared to what it was originally announced as, but all of that was certainly for the better and what we have here now is something that looks the part of a Vampire Survivors-like but in reality plays much differently.
You’re still a lone badass fighting off mobs of bad guys that only grow in numbers and strength the longer you survive, but where Vampire Survivors feels almost like a bullet hell as your focus shifts to avoiding enemies and letting your offensive abilities do the work of taking them out, combat in Ultra Blade is much more deliberate and strategic. Also, as is sort of a hallmark of a Kyle Barrett game, it’s designed to be played with just one thumb. Tap and drag to move your character and perform automatic attacks, but let go of the screen to deliver a heavy attack. Tap the screen to do a stomp attack to clear the area directly around you, and swipe to dodge in any direction.
It’s not tremendously complex or anything, but it’s wild how having a few extra mechanics for combat can really change up the feel of this type of game. In addition to the combat mechanics themselves, the real core of Ultra Blade is all about customizing your loadouts in what feels like a million different ways that can completely change up how the game plays. This is a game that is designed for people to try out wacky builds and see what sort of stuff sticks. It also doesn’t hurt that the progression system for all this stuff works like a constant drip feed of unlocking cool stuff that keeps you coming back run after run.
My one major knock against Ultra Blade is that it’s very obtuse, and leaves a whole lot of stuff for the player to figure out. Not totally intentionally, and the game has made huge strides in this department since its earlier beta days with work in that area continuing, but also I think it’s kind of fun figuring stuff out as you go, and it’s a good reason to chat about the game with people online and share tactics or discoveries.
While its more methodical combat can be tough to adjust to at first, I think once most people settle into the game’s loop and start unlocking some cool stuff Ultra Blade will sink its teeth right in. There’s an absurd amount of stuff to do between the different game modes and unlockables, so as long as you don’t mind a game that throws some pretty decent challenge at you I think you’ll more than get your three buck’s worth. I know the Dark Souls analogies are so played out by now, but truly if there ever was a Dark Souls take on a Vampire Survivors-like then Ultra Blade is it.