Do you remember a time when people believed that vampires actually spontaneously combusted under the influence of sunlight, rather than the current popular notion of sparkling? Do you furthermore remember a time when – because of their combustibility – these vampires went about magically rotating floating islands, and doing their best to avoid comically large cloves of garlic? If that second part doesn’t yet ring a bell, then it must be because you haven’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing Gamesmold’s Shadow Vamp (out now, $0.99).
It would seem that Victor the Vampire – a rather squat and portly undead fellow – has once again made the mistake of drinking blood all night long, forcing him to make a daring return home during the daylight. For any other vampire this would be a positively impossible task, but Victor has a magical amulet that – should he sacrifice his life essence unto it – will permit him rotate the entire floating island he is trapped on. Using this – and a heavy dose of wits – he will be able to stitch together the various shadows cast by the environment, and hopefully find a way to the safety of the island’s local crypt.
On the bottom left side of the screen – as far as Shadow Vamp’s controls go – you have a virtual analog joystick, which is used to move Victor to and fro about the game’s various stages. On the lower right hand side of the screen is the all important valve like wheel, with which – at the sacrifice of Victor’s life – you can freely rotate the entirety of each and every island. I would like to point out that – from the gamer’s perspective – it isn’t really the stage that rotates, but rather it would be more appropriate the claim that the sun itself is revolving around the level.
As Victor doesn’t last very long in the sun, unless he finds some temporary all powerful sun block, the amount of life lost by manipulating the environment is definitely a preferable sacrifice. However, rest assured, there’s a lot more to solving all of Shadow Vamp’s 48 stages other than simply rotating each level over and over until you finally figure out the best path. Often the portly vampire will be called upon to interact with the environment in a variety of ways that will never be immediately obvious, such as one section where – in order to grow giant light-blocking beanstalks – he must push seeds into a pool of water.
For the truly adventurous – who aren’t happy unless they’re knocking on heaven’s door – there’s more to do in Shadow Vamp than simply look for a way to the crypt, you can also hunt down hidden money. This money will often be hid in out of the way places that can’t easily be reached, such as requiring the player to precariously stand within the shadow of a giant rolling metal ball. When enough of this cash is collected – or bought via IAPs – the player will either able to buy extra bottles of suntan lotion, or entirely different vampires to tackle the game with.
These alternate vampires are each extremely better at one thing – such as surviving sun damage, running around, standing next to garlic, or pushing stuff – than poor little Victor himself is. Particularly amusing is Nosferella, a tall and slender female vampire, who has an extreme immunity to sun damage thanks to the decorative umbrella that she carries around at all times. That said, while all of these alternative vampires have their specialties – and some of the hidden treasure troves can only be reached using them – I am happy to report that every level in Shadow Vamp can be finished with Victor alone.
While Victor himself is fully capable of solving every last stage in Shadow Vamp, even if he can’t necessarily take home all of the treasures, the one thing that will occasionally thwart players are the controls. For the most part the game’s inputs behave exactly as advertised and will give you no difficulties, but every now and then – especially with the island rotation wheel – they can cause things to happen other than desired. Considering that Shadow Vamp just received an update claiming to tighten up both of these, I must admit that I probably would have hated to see what they were like before hand.
The first – and less frequently occurred – of the two issues involves the fact that you push things in Shadow Vamp by walking straight into them, as the game doesn’t contain a dedicated grab function. If you’ve ever played a videogame before where objects can be knocked around simply by bumping into them, then you’ve already experienced all that can go chaotically wrong with attempts to solve certain puzzles in Shadow Vamp. As for the island rotation wheel it has an occasional tendency to move in the exact opposite direction – or sometimes just jerk back and forth – if you get in a hurry and try to spin it too quickly.
Still – despite all of those issues that I just mentioned – I was fully capable of solving the various puzzles found throughout Shadow Vamp, and found considerable satisfaction doing so. While games with full on real-time shadow casting are certainly nothing new by this juncture, they generally don’t involve light sources that players can freely revolve around the world at their leisure. Watching the shadows of buildings set various distances away – not to mention a variety of shapes and heights – warp and bend as you rotate the island is quite mesmerizing, and sets up puzzles far more deviously clever than you would at first think.
One particular that I want to commend – visually speaking – is the extreme sense of light and dark conveyed between the shadows that Victor can safely hide in, and the harsh brightness of the world just waiting to burn him to a cinder. Furthermore – even more impressively – these shadows aren’t merely just darkened spots calculated directly to the floor, you can actually take damage from the top of Victor’s head getting realistically lit up if you stand too close to the edge. The character models themself are far less impressive – harkening back to something that would have felt perfectly at home on the Playstation 2 – but generally won’t be looked at with such scrutiny, seeing as how Shadow Vamp is normally tackled from a bird’s eye view.
All in all, Shadow Vamp – with unobtrusive IAPs, mesmerizing shadow mechanics, and an asking price that’s less than a single dollar – is currently a killer offer for fans of environmental puzzle games.
iFanzine Verdict: Shadow Vamp is an interesting puzzle game featuring a core mechanic entirely centered around shadows, chiefly: your character is a vampire and can’t safely stand anywhere but the dark. The mere act of rotating each island – as you try to stitch to together optimal paths – can be truly mesmerizing to watch, but there’s thankfully more to puzzle solving than just that. While the game does let players grind to unlock other vampires – which are essentially Shadow Vamp’s easy mode – or obtain them more quickly via IAPs, every stage is still sanely finishable as the main character. While the game’s controls – especially the island rotation valve – do have a tendency to occasionally work against the player, they will – for the most part – generally work as intended. All in all – especially when the low asking price is factored in – Shadow Vamp is an easily recommendable game for fans of environmental puzzle titles, and will hopefully receive some more control tweaks in the near future.