Deliciously over-the-top HOG with a story that’s affected by your choices

There’s too much unintentional hilarity in Dracula: Loves Kills for it to work as a serious vampire tale, but if you can either overlook (or embrace) the hackneyed character art and voice acting, and don’t mind some rather uninspired bits of mini-gaming, you’ll find that it’s a very entertaining and surprisingly lengthy hidden object game with an unexpected and most interesting twist.

Vampires are like popsicles: they come in all kinds of different flavors and sooner or later you’re bound to find one you like. Yet it seems that in the hidden object genre, we only get one flavor to pick from, and it’s purple. Or, to describe it in more vampiric terms: grey skin, ruby lips, chiseled cheekbones and long hair offhandedly yet perfectly tied back, all wrapped up in a regal, slightly haughty package that exudes menace and sensuality in equal measures.

 Love Kills

But the funny thing about flawless pretty-boys is that the illusion tends to slam to a halt the second they open their mouths, and our Dracula in Love Kills is no exception – not because he’s an airhead but because of his abominable accent, which is pure, pedal-to-the-metal Count Chocula from start to finish. The voice of Igor, his intensely Marty Feldman-esque servant, is possibly even more cartoonish, as is nearly every other incidental character who passes through the game. The only exception is Doctor Van Helsing, the game’s obvious straight-man, who sounds like he’s doing his best to inject some semblance of serious drama into the affair, to absolutely no avail whatsoever.

I’m harping on the voice acting because it’s one of only two particularly noteworthy aspects of Dracula: Love Kills. If you ironically enjoy overwrought performances you’ll probably get some good laughs out of it; if, on the other hand, you’re looking for a weighty tale of romantic doom, it’s just distracting. It sticks out like a sore thumb either way, enough to have a potentially serious impact on your enjoyment of the game, so be prepared to turn your speakers down if you’re not up for the classic “I vant to suck your blood!” schtick.

The other feature of note is something I haven’t previously encountered in a hidden object game: at a few critical junctures you’ll have to pick a course of action which essentially breaks along a good vs. evil line. The game warns that “your decision will cause consequences” and sure enough, the story will play out differently depending on the choices you make. It’s not a complex, multi-threaded plot with 27 possible endings, but it’s the first hidden object game I’ve run into where the illusion of choice didn’t eventually just spin you around to the same point regardless of your decisions. Even though there’s not a lot of flexibility involved, it’s still very cool to be able to “Choose Your Own Dracula.”

 Love Kills

And what’s the great Transylvanian Count up to this time around? After sleeping for what is implied to be a number of years following a rough encounter with the famed Van Hesling, Dracula awakens to find the world around him has changed. His castle is in ruins, ransacked by villagers who believe he is dead. His beloved Mina is gone. Worst of all, a self-proclaimed Queen of the Vampires has arisen and threatens to supplant him at the top of the blood-sucker food chain. Clearly, there’s only one thing to do: he must kill the Queen! (And anyone else who steps out of line along the way, too.)

Gameplay focuses heavily on hidden object searches, with lots of mini-games and a little bit of standard adventuring thrown into the mix. HOG scenes are plentiful and challenging, and there are quite a number of inventory items and a few fragmented objects stashed throughout the various levels as well. Some of the free-floating objects can be pretty had to pick out but Igor is always standing by with a hint, and a “location complete” indicator makes it easy to know when it’s time to move on.

The mini-game situation isn’t quite so good. There are a lot of puzzles to solve (44, to be precise) but it’s a bland and largely uninteresting mix that seems to be either time-consuming exercises in tedium or simple little activities that barely register as a challenge. Two difficulty levels are available, with “hard” mode offering tougher puzzles along with the usual increases in difficulty – no tutorial, longer hint recharges and so forth – but given that most of the puzzles aren’t terribly interesting in the first place, I’m not sure it’d be worth the bother.

And there’s quite a bit of challenge and an awful lot to do even at the “easy” setting. With an admittedly high number of puzzle skips (they really just did not turn my crank at all, and there are so many of them) I still sunk about five and a half hours into this thing, including the obligatory Collector’s Edition bonus final chapter, which does a very nice job of wrapping things up. And you know what? I enjoyed it. Dracula and Igor may have looked goofy, but their goofiness was sharp and crisply rendered; the voice acting may have been cheesy, but every last word in the game was spoken with enthusiasm and dedication; and the story may have been almost entirely nonsensical, but… well, there’s not much you can do about that except keep your head down and enjoy it for what it is.

And while it is definitely more Leslie Nielsen than Gary Oldman, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s lots of top-notch hidden object searching, plenty of puzzle solving (if that’s your cup of warm blood) and finally, for once, a chance to play the bad guy as a really bad guy. That alone is almost worth the price of admission, and Dracula: Love Kills is definitely worth a look.