I came across Vampire Night at an old arcade in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I could tell that the arcade unit had seen some use over the years, but now, it was moved to a far corner, pushed aside and replaced with a fancier, brighter, properly working Time Crisis 3 machine. That Vampire Night game, with its calibration that was more than a hair off and a screen that was a little too dark, still seemed to cry “play me!” I only gave that unit a few of my quarters, but it gave me much more: an appreciation for lightgun games and a desire to play more of them. Now, my collection of PS2 lightgun games is relatively robust. Time Crisis 2, Time Crisis 3, and Time Crisis: Crisis Zone; even less-than-brilliant ones like Ninja Assault and Resident Evil: Dead Aim; and now, Vampire Night — they all grace my shelf.
The great thing about lightgun games is, even if they’re pretty bland, they can still be entertaining because of the coolness factor of shooting things with fake guns. Ninja Assault, for example, has boring, non-ninja enemies, but I still had fun when I played the game with my buddies. The same can be said for Vampire Night. While certainly better than Ninja Assault, it can’t compete with some of the genre’s best. This isn’t a game of hide-and-seek like the Time Crisis games are. There’s no ducking for cover, it’s just a fast and furious marathon of shooting. The only break in the action occurs during the single second it takes you to push the reload button on your GunCon, and then it’s back to shooting.
Vampire Night is paced out over a series of six chapters, each with their own bosses except for the first. You play as vampire hunters attempting to end a three hundred year feud (these guys can really hold a grudge) with a vampire known as “The Vampire” (very original, huh?). And, provided you have about forty minutes and either a friend or patience, you can end that feud for them. Let’s hope you have a friend too, because Vampire Night seems to be designed as a primarily multiplayer game. The game can be beaten on single-player, but having played through it with friends as well, the game is just more fun with another gun firing alongside yours. The boss battles themselves necessitate another gun more so than the actual levels of the game, but even during regular gameplay you’ll come across points that just don’t seem accomplishable without an ally. Several times, you’ll have a pair of fast moving enemies that can take a lot of hits coming right towards you, and if you aren’t fast enough with your shooting and paying attention to their shots as well, there’s no way you can possibly survive the game.
I liked the boss battles a lot in this game because of the constantly changing environments and the fact that you’ll be fighting the battles on-and-off throughout the level. You’ll be fighting generic enemies for a bit, then the boss will emerge and you’ll fight him or her, and then it’s back to the random enemies again. The boss will later appear, usually for a final showdown, but the constant switching provides a clever breakup in the action in a game that could have quickly been tedious if it had followed the traditional “begin level, random enemies, boss battle, end level” formula that many other games follow. A great example of this set up is found right in the game’s third level, which starts off with you battling a vampire throughout a cramped castle. After a confrontation, he flees, only to reemerge at the end of the level, flying into the majestic sky to pour fireballs down onto our heroes. Only the forth boss was boring and too easy to take down, but maybe that’s because she’s the only female enemy in the game.
The boss battles also help because, quite simply, most of the regular enemies suck. They come in two varieties: slow ones that take too many bullets to go down and fast ones that take too many bullets to go down. Their attacks are nearly always the same, and even as the game tries to spice them up by having them kidnap townspeople and pop out of places, they fail terribly at intimidating you and even more at keeping you interested. One particular set of enemies that annoyed me the most were twin ghouls that rolled around a circular room. Not only were they hard to shoot at because they were rolling around in a giant circle, but they took so many bullets that they ended up hitting me before I even had a chance to kill them. Another one in particular that stuck out was a crappy wolf man whose slow movements seemed out of place when most of the other enemies moved quickly.
As much as I loved the frantic, in-your-face gameplay style, the rest of the game can’t keep up the pace. The dialogue, which is typically terrible in this genre anyway, reaches an all-time low in Vampire Night. Poorly delivered, overly-exaggerated one-liners fail repeatedly in execution. This problem stems from a poorly written script mostly (though, I question if a script was even written at all), but the actors providing the voice work hardly seem professional. You can’t blame the time period either; Time Crisis 2 came out before Vampire Night and did a much better job.
Vampire Night doesn’t look bad, but it doesn’t have the polished look that most light gun games get when they come to the PS2. The bosses are too pixilated. The environments that you fight in are easily the best part of the game, with the opening level showing the two nameless heroes entering into a beautiful castle, surrounded by water and a beautiful sky. Even as great as the environments are, the first level bosscompletely ruins them because he’s so grainy and dull. “The Vampire”, our to-be-dreaded-and-feared enemy looks incredibly boring.
Aesthetics aside, Vampire Night’s weakest point is the fact that it isn’t at all immersive. A game like Time Crisis 3 really gets you into your characters shoes, even if it’s through poorly acted cutscenes. They don’t have to be perfect to get you there, but the ones in Vampire Night don’t really do anything at all. The characters are never introduced to us, secondary characters don’t add anything, and the vampires are ambiguous and down right boring. Shooting them is plenty of fun, of course, but I just like to know why I’m doing stuff sometimes, or at least who I am.
A special mission is included that allows you to buy enhanced weapons, which adds to the longevity and makes the single-player mode easier to bare, but in the end, Vampire Night doesn’t have nearly as much replay value as it could have had. This could easily have been one of the most interesting and original lightgun experiences out there if the developers had done more than simply go through the motions and tried to develop a quality game. As it is, there are a few memorable experiences to be found in this game, but in the end, this is sadly an average game.