Blood of the Werewolf, a great new indie game, was released last week on Steam. The opening cinematics, motion book-style animation -- like flat comic book pages come to life -- set the stage for an intriguing story of Romani-esque racial persecution. A woman, whose people turn to wolves at night, is out for vengeance after humans hunt every last one of them down, finally killing her husband and stealing their only child.
You play as Selena, the mother and main character in this point and shoot sidescrolling platformer. She tromps through sewers and factories reminiscent of the original Ninja Turtles games, neon green slime and all. You fight old-school baddies like fireball tossing fish monsters and even a few sasquatch; the bosses are the big monsters of childhood gaming, barfing projectiles, beaten by learning their patterns. This is classic gaming, but with new twists and a rich art style that is gorgeously retro, even using old, blobby monster movie lettering for its title screens.
One gameplay twist centers around the mechanism of werewolf myth. Traditionally werewolves only transform during the full moon and against their will. In the game, Selena is human indoors, but transforms under the light of the moon. This activates two sets of controls for the character, one precise (when human), the other more powerful and brutish (when wolf), forcing the player to switch styles before either starts to feel completely familiar. Unfortunately the controls for both the human and werewolf forms take a bit of getting used to -- at least when playing with a controller -- and the awkward human jump-aim combinations and wolf double-jump mechanism could use some fine tuning.
Blood of the Werewolf is not for the faint of heart. There is a particular feeling that old frustration platformers like Super Mario used to evoke, which is lost in most modern games. Back then you had to repeat a level, dying over and over until you learned the muscle memory to complete it in one go. It was unbelievably stressful and this game has a tinge of that feeling without making you completely insane. They don't limit your lives and only make you go back a short way when you die, but they are absolutely referencing that frustration for both nostalgia and cred. However, the bubble of cartoon blood that arises when you get squashed to death, followed by a zombie hand rising from the grave to mark the start of a new life, does help with the sting.
It's a finely tuned delicacy of stress. Before you scoff, researchers at UC Berkeley have shown that acute stress, like the kind you get from short-term fear or frustration, actually improves cognitive performance. It's a bit like loving Breaking Bad, periods of good stress are broken up with deep breaths and gratitude for checkpoints.
The game is great on its own, but it should also be noted that it's not often you come across powerful female leads in games, much less play a grieving mother. As Feminist Frequency, a YouTube channel focused on parsing the complex subject of women in video games, has discussed, women in games are often the victims of kidnapping, becoming the central goal and motivating force behind the hero's perilous adventure. The rescue of wives, daughters, and princesses is by far the most oft-repeated trope in games to this day. Blood of the Werewolf gets points for a strong story out of the gate and for inverting entrenched gender roles, but this game is still centered around a kidnapping.
If you are in the mood for great monsters, good story, and a dose of brain food stress, Blood of the Werewolf is a great place to start. For more information visit bloodofthewerewolf.com.