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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

REVIEW: #BLUD's got bite - A sharp-witted nostalgic take on dungeon crawlers and '90s cartoons

All it takes is one glimpse at #BLUD and you'll know if you're all in or not. If you look at this game in motion and feel yourself transported back to the golden age of Cartoon Network programming, finally fulfilling the dream of taking direct control of the works of Genndy Tartakovsky and his contemporaries in a gaming format, you're ready to devour #BLUD.

And even if none of what I wrote above awoke any long dormant parts of your brain, you'll still find lots to enjoy in this silly dungeon crawler that blends classic Zelda vibes with a modern day setting to surprisingly great effect.

Move aside Buffy, Becky Brewster is here to take the '90s vampire hunter crown and run with it, and I'm ready to follow her into Hell.

An in-game screenshot of #BLUD. On a city street, a pink haired and clothed girl slams a giant field hockey stick down onto some enemy. A blood spurt can be seen alongside the enemy's skull. On one side, the manicured lawn of a formal building can be seen. On the right, a tipped over and spilled soda cup can be seen behind an office building.

​Just the Facts

Developer: Exit 73 Studios

Publisher: Humble Games

Platform(s): PC*, PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox Series S and X, Nintendo Switch *denotes platform reviewed on

Price: $24.99

Release Date: June 18, 2024

Review key provided by publisher.

Cartoon classic

#BLUD was birthed by Exit 73 Studios, an animation studio based in New York that has worked with the likes of Nickelodeon, Disney, and Cartoon Network to help create pilots, commercials, and more. The small team prides themselves on their ability to produce high-quality animation with quick turnaround, and there's really no better testament to that fact than the circumstances that led to this game's creation.

In 2017, #BLUD was a project the team had been pitching to studios as an animated series. Hand-drawn and meticulously animated, blending bright and colorful '90s and '00s cartoon aesthetics with a dark and bloody monster-hunting storyline, #BLUD ended up not getting much traction and it was set aside. Then the idea of a game was pitched. Then a playable demo was done by 2019. It was fully revealed to the world in 2023 and, here just a year later, the game's out.

From animated series to full-fledged game in seven years, partially worked on in the margins of other work the studio did? Not too shabby. And it's great to say that the work paid off, because #BLUD is a solid lil' adventure.

In #BLUD, you inhabit the vampire-slaying pink cape of Becky Brewster, an energetic teenager who starts the story moving to a new town and heading into her freshman year of high school. As with any young adult story, the rigors of being a young teen going through changes and making new friends isn't enough for Becky — she ends up discovering her roots as a fated vampire hunter through the power of a book passed down to her by her mother. So amidst classes, field hockey practice, and missing the bus every morning, Becky suddenly finds herself staring down the barrel of Hell itself when long dormant demons awaken and begin tormenting the town.

With the help of her dorky sidekick neighbor, Corey, a maybe-witch-maybe-just-a-goth Morgan, and a mysterious mentor who teaches her the ways of slaying, Becky might just be equipped to handle the war she's accidentally entered.

Presented like a cartoon, complete with full-screen illustrated title cards that introduce each chapter, #BLUD's story earns the self-assigned label of "delightfully zany." Imagine Craig McCracken of The Powerpuff Girls fame teamed up with The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy creator Maxwell Atoms to create a world that keeps the squeaky clean and doofy vibes of both those shows, but then happens to also house a bloody, horrifying world of monsters that Becky and her pals face off against. A traditional "chosen hero saves the world" adventure a la Zelda that embraces the silliness of youth but also makes jokes about the climate crisis, social media, and even says ACAB a few different ways.

Narratively, it's as deep as its cartoon inspirations, meaning it's fun for an afternoon and it more often than not keeps things silly. But don't get it twisted. #BLUD not only has some genuinely hilarious bits of writing — we encourage you to seek it all out, read social posts on the game's version of Twitter called Perch, and talk to anyone you run into — but it also hides some sneaky moments of emotion like those cartoons are capable of.

Minus an abrupt ending, #BLUD's adventure has me wishing it actually did get an animated series, too, just so I can dive a little deeper into its world.

Exit 73 Studios calls the game an homage to hyperkinetic '90s cartoons. And that manifests beautifully in the hyperactive animation of its characters who never seem to stand still and in enemies who go boom in piles of gore in the most stunning ways.

An in-game screenshot of one of #BLUD's chapter title cards. A young girl clad in pink clothing stares at an older man wearing a green button up and brown pants. He seems to be a teacher or principal of some kind. His shadow casts on the wall behind him, in the form of a giant vampire that threatens the girl. In a stylized font, the chapter title SCHOOL DAZE can be seen.

Link's got a cellphone now

What most surprised me about its narrative setup is how it feeds back into a traditional dungeon crawling gameplay experience. #BLUD is structured like a Zelda game, sending Becky from dungeon to dungeon, shuffling off on fetch quests, getting fairly light puzzle work, and finishing with big multi-phase boss fights.

And with the modern setting, Becky's smartphone is the hub of everything. You've got main quests and side quests that are tracked as social media posts on your phone, and you can get hints about them by diving into the comments and reading hashtags. You take selfies with people in town to learn more about them through specialized posts and can even take photos with monsters to properly log them in your bestiary. It's so smartly done and genuinely was half the reason I figured out where to go next in between sessions.

Design-wise, there is an overreliance on fetch quests and monster boxes that can feel a little humdrum, but something about framing them in this way makes it way more acceptable than usual.

On the action side of this action adventure, Becky comes equipped with an old field hockey stick as her main means of vampire destruction. It's a simple combat system but effective for what the game is. At the base, three-hit combos will carry you through it all. But you'll have to be more spry and dodge often, because Becky can be a little squishier than you expect, and even with easily telegraphed moves from the various demons she'll be slaying, it's easy to be overwhelmed.

Button mashing isn't everything either: there are some genuinely interesting dynamics in combat down the line as new enemy types require unique strategies and tools to eliminate, but it takes until the final third of the game for #BLUD to feel like it reaches its true potential. What starts as Becky fighting off flies, rats, and roaches turns into Becky slaying vampires of varying sizes and types. My favorites are the ones who "Bugs Bunny-tunnel" their way around the map underground and need to be shoveled out to slay them properly.

Up until that final chunk, things can feel pretty basic and familiar at times, and not just for the combat alone.

An in-game screenshot of #BLUD. In what looks to be a freezer, a pink-haired and clothed girl pulls on an ice block with a small monster frozen within it. Around her are a series of heating coils that line the edges of the room. Just below the girl is a snowman beast that seems to be approaching.

Simple yet satisfying slaying

A key to a classic dungeon-crawling adventure is a balance between combat and puzzling. Dungeons are simultaneously built as combat arenas that test your growing ability and fun little puzzle boxes that introduce game-wide concepts in puzzle scenarios. For most of #BLUD, the puzzles feel so simple and so minimal in the grander scheme. Until suddenly in the game's final third, it becomes packed with puzzles and brand-new concepts.

It's got an odd kind of pace — where some of #BLUD's most interesting ideas are buried in the back half, but it's also where some of its most frustrating moments are, too. For every fun labyrinthian hospital dungeon that sees you running to and fro unlocking shortcuts and new floors, there's a maddening stealth quest that feels inconsistent in delivery. It's a push and pull that's only as jarring as it is because the game's breezy 12-hour runtime is mostly full of simple, silly fun.

Simple, silly fun that I have to defend. Because #BLUD may not evolve the formula in big, mind-blowing ways, but it does most of what it sets out to do solidly. And #BLUD can often be so, so fun: particularly the chapter-ending boss fights that feature the best bits of gameplay, not unlike a classic Zelda does.

And simple is a lot easier to accept when a game looks as beautiful as #BLUD does.

While the screenshots certainly sell #BLUD's aesthetic, I implore you to go find clips of this game in motion. Exit 73 Studios calls the game an homage to hyperkinetic '90s cartoons. And that manifests beautifully in the hyperactive animation of its characters who never seem to stand still and in enemies who go boom in piles of gore in the most stunning ways. I cherished unlocking new tools and new ways to slay enemies, not because of the variety it added to the gameplay, but to see what kinds of unique animations I'd be treated to as a result.

An in-game screenshot of #BLUD. A pink-haired and clothed young girl uses her cellphone in the middle of a cemetery. A vampire bat can be seen flying behind her. A giant portrait version of her sits on a dialogue box that reads: "You show me a capitalist, I'll show you a bloodsucker."

You hear it a lot with games that feature hand-drawn animation. "It feels like playing a cartoon." But with its roots in an era I was so closely tied to and loved, #BLUD is probably the best example of that I've ever seen. It may not be perfect, but it's the kind of game I always wanted those classic tie-in games to be and never got — and that fulfillment of a lifelong dream is worth experiencing for anyone who grew up in the '90s.

Video Games Are Good and #BLUD is . . . GOOD-GREAT. (7.5/10)

+ a perfect recreation and homage to the golden era of '90s cartoons, simple yet satisfying gameplay loops, hilarious bits of writing hidden within

- simple can sometimes mean stale, strange pacing decisions hurt the overall experience, its best charms may be just for '90s kids

The key art for #BLUD. Facing overwhelming odds, a pink-clothed and haired young girl runs into a mass of vampires and monsters with a wooden stake in her hand. Behind her, a glasses-wearing young man jumps in fear and a cloak wearing older man with a gray beard wields a wooden cane. Just above them, a giang vampire beast with bright red fangs waits to attack. Bats, rats, spiders, and more vampires are grouped up on the right to attack. They're all in some ancient crypt-like location.

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