I first heard about Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness when I was scrolling through the enormous list of games coming out this month. The striking artwork caught my eye and had me intrigued. As I researched further into the game, it quickly became one of my most anticipated games of October.
Developed by Indiesruption and published by Blowfish Studios, the game is set in the 1920s and follows the chilling story of a 1920s freak circus that burned to the ground. Oliver Mills has received an invitation to reunite with his circus freak cohort at Petrescu House to revive Vlad Circus. Not everything goes to plan though, as decapitated bodies, rats and other creatures start appearing around the house, forcing Oliver to fight for survival and stay close to reality.
The story grabbed me from the beginning offering memorable characters with emotionally resonant backgrounds and a compelling narrative that had me not wanting to put the game down. I didn’t want this journey to end. The atmosphere of the game had me reminiscing of 2011’s To The Moon, another pixel art game with a captivating story just like Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness.
The 5-8 hour playthrough deals with some heavy themes, which amplifies the tone of the game. It is far from Resident Evil-style horror but leans more towards psychological. I did, however, get jump-scared once or twice.
Before I get into the gameplay aspects of the game, I’d like to give special praise to the art direction. The beautiful pixelated art style is next level. Each canvas is carefully crafted to give a genuine eerie ambience to the game. In no way does the pixel art diminish the horrifying halls of the mansion where the game takes place.
As Oliver, you will roam the Petrescu House and the surrounding grounds to uncover some mysteries and survive. Different objects that you find around the house will assist you in gaining access to additional areas. I found these puzzles to be really thought-provoking, sometimes prompting you to think outside the box. I struggled several times. The game doesn’t hold your hand, but access to a diary that logs information you have previously uncovered plays a vital role in progressing.
The map isn’t huge. There is a lot of backtracking throughout Vlad Circus, but it never feels repetitious. There’s almost always something new to uncover as characters move around during your time in Petrescu House. Towards the end of the game, some newer locations become explorable. These were my favourites as they offered more insight into Oliver’s world.
The game offers two modes: story and challenge. For purposes of the review, I played the game in story mode. If you are up for a more difficult playthrough, I would recommend challenge mode. I didn’t feel a sense of survival in story mode, which is clearly intended for casual gamers or story lovers.
Along the journey, Oliver is equipped with weapons like a kitchen knife and guns. Oliver’s health is indicated by his stress levels. Encounters with enemies can raise Oliver’s stress levels, which if raised too high, will cause a game over. Praying with rosary beads will remedy the stress but will need to be used in a timely manner. Vlad Circus’ combat does not have much depth, but it doesn’t need to. The heart of the game comes from the tense environments and engaging story.
You know that feeling you get when you finish a game or TV show that had you enthralled the entire time? That emptiness? That’s how I felt when I finished Vlad Circus. This game will no doubt be overlooked during the crazy period of AAA game releases in October. So if you love horror games or puzzle games, this is a must-play.
VLAD CIRCUS: DESCEND INTO MADNESS REVIEW
Vlad Circus: Descend Into Madness is an essential horror/adventure game title with a gripping story that leaves a haunting sense of emptiness upon completion. Indiesruption has delivered an experience that will stay with me for years to come.
- Charming yet spooky pixel art-style
- Puzzles can be quite challenging if you aren’t paying attention
- The story, while a tad predictable, had me enthralled the whole way through
- A few more weapons or enemy types would have been great
- I wish it was longer (I didn’t want it to end!)