Brocula review

After a car smashes into a notorious vampire’s castle, rudely interrupting their 500-year slumber, the fanged-fellow awakens in the modern era to find that a bustling city has been built around their now-crumbling abode. Try as they might, Brocula – as they’re known – must now adapt to the modern way of living, paying his extortionate rent bill by working part time jobs at the city’s garage, coffee shop, and restaurant – much to the blood sucking brute’s chagrin.

It’s a fun and inviting premise, and it’s one backed by a relaxing vibe with soothing music and a heavily muted colour palate consisting of pastel hues. You’re mostly free to explore and progress at your own pace, albeit with a day-to-night system in place – with townsfolks and businesses having their schedules to abide by – and a stamina bar to govern the amount of busywork that can be carried out before needing to return to the castle to sleep. Consuming food will also restore stamina, but the use of this is negligible – a cup of black coffee, for instance, restores enough stamina for a two second run. Who knew vampires have such a fast metabolism?

Brocula review

The first port of call is the mayor’s office. Despite the necessity to sip a little blood occasionally, the mayor welcomes you in with open arms. The other townsfolk are curiously accepting too, and during the extensive tutorial, you’ll get to meet all the major players, including the owners of the businesses offering part time work. Additionally, the farmer will let our anti-hero sell produce on his stall at the farmer’s market, while the librarian is eager to publish Brocula’s stories – which involves heading into a forest for inspiration. These aren’t simple throwaway quests, but rather parts of multi-staged ongoing missions, with some sources of revenue requiring expensive permits before you can get your hands dirty. This means you’ll have to start out small, before taking on greater and more lucrative enterprises.

Brocula breathes the same air as Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon and Story of Seasons, with tree chopping, forest foraging, farming, animal husbandry, cooking, and fishing all featuring as vital daily activities. You’ll need to create crafting benches and tools, while also juggling the limited inventory space by storing surplus items in trunks. These elements aren’t too time consuming, in the grand scheme of things, with a bigger focus on working part time.

The restaurant, garage, and coffee shop all function similarly but have their perks and cons. The garage entails not repairing cars as you may expect, but merely grabbing car parts off shelves and handing them to customers. Barista work is a bit more involving, with brewing and grinding playing a part, and there’s also the incentive of tips. Working at the restaurant meanwhile is demanding to the point of fatigue – shifts last 15 minutes, and most dishes have a long list of ingredients to retrieve from fridges and cupboards to prepare on the stove. Work performance is ranked in stars, and money can go towards new equipment and permits. Hilariously, after ending a shift at the restaurant, any leftover items remain in the inventory. I was even able to fulfil quests by exploiting this oversight. Fill your coffers!

Brocula review

Structurally, Brocula is sound enough. There’s a lot to focus on despite the city being cramped with just a small number of interactable NPCs. Days end quickly, and Brocula has just enough stamina to run a few errands per day. It’s doubtful anyone will be at a loss how to spend their time. The castle and church – where sermons can be performed in return for tips – need to be upgraded with resources, crops must be sown and birds shooed, the mayor often needs a helping hand, plus there’s also a mine, dungeon and a magical forest to explore once these areas unlock. You can even take a bus and visit outside the city.

The task list tracks current objectives, while mission locations are highlighted on the HUD. Your bat companions, who talk in garbled tones, also provide pointers – while serving as your loyal servants, ferrying resources to their locations.

On paper, then, Brocula sounds like a winner – a novel twist on the life sim genre with many elements to explore. Combat even plays a part much later. However, it’s never long until a glitch or game breaking bug comes along to ruin your enjoyment. I couldn’t progress past the tutorial the first time I played it. An update went live, and I could get a little further, but it wasn’t long until I realised that if you play for more than fifteen minutes, the NPC’s pathfinding essentially breaks, resulting in nobody able to reach their destinations. At one point the mayor turned up for work at night and spent literally three seconds behind their desk before heading home. Perhaps that’s ironically apt. Saving and reloading resolves this issue, but only temporarily. It won’t be long until something else fails to function correctly.

Brocula review

A bunch of peculiar design quirks are present currently too, such as the restaurant mini-game utilizing the regular inventory, meaning it’s essential to empty your pockets before starting a shift or risk having to throw away valuable resources while on the job. The titular toothy one can’t even walk in the road, forced to stick to the pavement. NPCs are also often observed shuffling down the street while facing backwards, some dialogue doesn’t display correctly, and resources can end up out of bounds making them unretrievable. This happened far too often.

While not an ugly game, the basic pixel art and simple animation would suggest Brocula has been made on a minuscule budget by a small, albeit enthusiastic, team. It has clearly been made with the best intentions…but there are also numerous, impossible to ignore, signs that the team has bitten off more than they could chew. I’ve never played a game before that routinely stops being functional after fifteen minutes. I found myself trying to focus on simple quests that didn’t involve NPC interactions as these were the only ones manageable. If it wasn’t for quitting and reloading, which puts all NPCs back to their starting zones, Brocula wouldn’t be playable. I can’t vouch for the PC version, but on Xbox this was my experience.

I can’t recommend Brocula right now, and that’s a shame. The idea of a vampire waking up in today’s world and being forced to work zero-hour contracts is amusing, and there’s enough depth to this quirky premise to create a fully-fledged experience around it, juggling time and resources while diverting attention into a dozen other areas. It’s easy to see it offering something a little offbeat while being humble with it. Maybe in a few months things will be more stable.

Like Dracula himself, Brocula needs to go into hibernation and revitalise.

Destroyer Doggo’s Brocula is out now on PC and Xbox formats.