I'm gonna level with you—I did not have high hopes for Mega Cat Studios' tie-in game for Renfield, a horror-comedy with Nicolas Cage playing Dracula in what looks like a riff on What We Do In The Shadows. I've been inundated with Instagram ads for it for awhile now, and my heart yearns to see anything else—Traeger grills, meal prep services, topical CBD ointment, please, God, anything.
Wouldn't you know it though, Renfield: Bring Your Own Blood kinda whips. It passed possibly the most crucial test for me in that I sat down to play it for a quick "yea or nay" writeup and kept at it for way longer than I planned, promising "ok, this is the last run" to myself no less than four times.
Renfield has the swarming hordes and auto attacks of Vampire Survivors, but instead of surviving for a set amount of time in a single play field, Renfield has a room-by-room setup more like a traditional roguelike. Clear all the baddies while picking up new attacks and leveling them up, then rinse and repeat.
Renfield's basic gameplay benefits from some great pixel art animation, strong enemy variety, and an arsenal that, while not exactly balanced, feels really good to use. This game's equivalent of Vampire Survivors' whip and bible in particular feel great, with Renfield's "shadow claws" and "black bat" churning up crowds of enemies into chunky pixelated salsa.
At a certain point, things get spiced up with a sort of "level escape" mechanic for the last few rooms. The setup for each stage is that you've come searching for a helpless victim to bring back to Dracula, and once you reach them you get a Bioshock-style "Press X to harvest innocent creature, press Y to save them." It's a lot less goofy in an arcadey pixel art game, and once you've made your choice you trigger the Wario Land/Pizza Tower-esque timed escape.
Rescuing your target instead of bringing them to Dracula triggers a more difficult escape sequence with a tighter time limit, but greater rewards. I dig the risk/reward element here, and having the pressure turned up for the last few rooms of a run really helps it feel memorable—my first clear felt very hard-won.
Renfield is in early access at the moment, and definitely feels a little barebones—there are only three stages, and as far as I can tell only one playable character, though I expect that to change in the three to six months Mega Cat estimates it will take to finish the game. However, like Vampire Survivors or Boneraiser Minions, Renfield is only five bucks on Steam, and it looks like it will stay that way through the full release—a pretty enticing value proposition.
What a strange road the universally-maligned movie tie-in game has taken. Once the realm of the most 3/10 console games you've ever played (looking at you, Eragon for Xbox 360), now it's all these tongue-in-cheek riffs on indie games. Well, Renfield stands head-and-shoulders above that pack—it certainly beats another smugly self-aware joke dating sim, anyway.