Nuclear Throne, The Binding of Isaac, Enter the Gungeon, To Hell From Hell, Wizard of Legend, Nex Machina—a renaissance of twin-stick arcade-style shooters is taking place in this very moment! The legacy of the arcade hit Smash TV lives on, but with a twist: developers are infusing roguelike elements of permanent death and random generation into the genre. I, Dracula: Genesis is the latest entry in this hybridization.
I am so embarrassed by the QuickScope that I initially recorded that I decided to do another session. On the spectrum of complex shooters, I, Dracula: Genesis resembles the more complex games like Nex Machina. Because of this, I died in ways that I now look upon as pitifully. Incompetently. Shamefully.
I will blame the game over my (initial lack of) skill. In all seriousness, the first hour of I, Dracula: Genesis is a rough row to tow due to its information overload. Unlike a simpler game like Nuclear Throne that throws players right into the action, this shooter comes with a tutorial because it must; dozens of gameplay mechanics operate simultaneously. Yet because several of the topics in the tutorial explore features in the game that have yet to be unlocked, much of it did not make sense to me. I first needed to accumulate the requisite experience during actual gameplay.
I recorded the QuickScope of me getting my butt kicked. Learning what can and cannot hurt is at first tricky. Some enemies generate radioactive clouds on death; others leave bombs; certain terrain literally bites! Staying alive long enough while experimenting with teleporting tiles that look like bubbles or bouncing on protruding surfaces is a challenge enough. Of course the game ranandomly-generates biomes, so mastery of one run may not necessarily translate to success in another.
I took a break to grab a bite to eat after the QuickScope session. After that respite, I jumped back in, using the hand-for-a-face Arman, whose default weapon is a lead pipe that charges into a super swing after four hits, and managed to beat the first difficulty! I would attribute my success to unlocking more weapons, items, and skills over the course of my previous playthroughs. I decided to jump into the next difficulty tier, and was smacked down immediately again, because new enemies and hazards that I unlocked alongside my own buffs.
I learned that I, Dracula: Genesis is a game that only knows how to giveth, scaling in difficulty in realtime as players themselves get better. How does the game know players are getting better? Longer runs mean more experience points. If players are willing to get blown up in the beginning, the game pays off with more guns, more foes, more bonus rooms, more shops, more NPCs, more risks, more bosses, more characters and so many features that I am intimidated at the prospect of writing a full review when I, Dracula: Genesis leaves Early Access.
While shooter fans may not be phased, I think it is critical that the developers at MoreGames polish the user’s “first impression” experience. I can imagine gamers purchasing I, Dracula: Genesis for its atmosphere that reminds me of video games on the Sega Genesis, only to be turned off by the game trying to convince players of its potential immediately, rather than allowing them to stumble upon the good stuff through natural gameplay. For example, I appreciate the pop-up screen explaining to me that artifacts are passive items; I do not need to be told this information in the tutorial, two hours before I unlock my first artifact.
While this preview may read as though I am 50/50 about the game, let me say this plainly: I have been enjoying my time with I, Dracula: Genesis. I look forward to MoreGames transitioning from their five-year “secret” development cycle into a full release. I may consider rummaging through the official Discord channel to spitball achievement ideas so that shooter fans like myself will have goals to pursue even after hour 50.