HoloCure’s major update cements its position as a Vampire Survivors beater

The strictly unofficial, completely free arena survival game HoloCure, based on the Hololive lineup of VTubers, has been in a great state for a while now, but creator Kay Yu has been continuing to work on the game ever since its original release, with each new update bringing major improvements.

We’ve already seen one major update to the game, which brought us additional characters and new material to enjoy, and now we’ve had another. And this one really is fantastic: it shakes up the game quite considerably in some ways while still keeping it pure to its intentions. And, at this point it’s feeling less like a demo or proof of concept, and more like a full-on game that I’d have been more than happy to spend money on were it an official Hololive product.

HoloCure title screen

But no, it’s still completely free, which is both a good and a bad thing in some ways; the “good” side should be self-explanatory, but the negative side of it being free is that it’s inevitably going to get less attention than commercially available indie darlings in the same genre such as Vampire Survivors. And that’s a real shame, because at this point, HoloCure is indisputably a better, more polished game than Vampire Survivors is.

Let’s back up a moment for the benefit of those who haven’t yet hopped on the arena survival trend. The concept of the genre is that you play one of a selection of characters, each of whom begin a round with a unique starting weapon. Your job from thereon is to survive for a fixed amount of time against increasingly intense incoming waves of enemies, most of which take the form of fairly dumb hordes that simply home in on your position.

As you defeat enemies, they drop items that allow you to gain experience points, and with every level up you’re offered a choice of upgrades randomly drawn from the available pool. These upgrades can improve a weapon or item you already have, add a new one to your loadout or provide passive abilities and stat increases. There’s a cap on how far each weapon can be upgraded, along with how many weapons and items you can carry, but there’s also the opportunity to fuse weapons together to create extremely powerful new means of attacking.

HoloCure gameplay

As you play, you earn currency, which can be used to unlock various game elements or increase the base stats of your characters. Thus, the more you play, the more powerful your characters become, and by extension the more they’re able to survive tougher challenges. The “endgame”, such as it is, is to collect all the characters, all the weapons and items and be able to reliably clear each and every stage.

HoloCure doesn’t deviate from this basic formula, but it does build upon it in ways that make it a lot more playable and enjoyable than its great rival. For starters, the simple change in stage length from Vampire Survivors’ 30 minutes to just 20 minutes makes a single play session feel much more comfortable; I tend to find that Vampire Survivors really drags a bit once you’re past the 20 minute mark, because by that point you’ve probably upgraded everything you have to the max, making most level ups largely pointless. This is rarely the case in HoloCure.

On top of that, while Vampire Survivors concludes each stage by hurling a near-invincible Death enemy at you, which usually kills you immediately, HoloCure’s stages conclude with a satisfying boss fight, providing a much better sense of closure to the experience.

HoloCure gameplay

And these bosses aren’t just normal enemies with huge amounts of HP; they have their own unique mechanics that you’ll have to learn how to deal with. The first is a giant “smol Ame” who leaps into the air and attempts to ground pound you, meaning you’ll have to dodge her shadow while she’s airborne. The second features some definite bullet hell tendencies, with intense bullet patterns and fast movement. And there are plenty more to discover from thereon.

The latest version of HoloCure at the time of writing also adds some additional elements to the mix. One particularly interesting one is the sticker system, which allows you to add stickers to one of three slots in your main weapon, adding additional effects or buffing its effectiveness in various ways. These stickers can be swapped out and upgraded, and they provide an interesting extra layer of depth to character progression during a single playthrough, as well as some welcome variety.

There’s also a new “Fandom” system, whereby each individual character has their own lineup of objectives to accomplish, with additional rewards on offer for successfully achieving these. This adds more depth to the overall metagame and sense of game progression across multiple sessions, giving HoloCure plenty of long-term value as well as rewarding you for exploring its playable characters fully.

HoloCure sticker mechanic

Other welcome additions include excellent controller support, with the ability to use two analogue sticks to move and aim independently giving the game a twin-stick shooter feel, depending on the character you’re using; this is particularly effective when playing as characters who use projectile weapons, such as Amelia Watson.

The in-game interface has been tweaked to make it much easier to keep track of your character’s status and things you might want to pay attention to while playing, and there’s never a sense that the game is hiding anything from you. There’s a pleasant sense of discovery as you unlock new game elements, yes, but the game is never wilfully obtuse about explaining how things work.

And then there’s just the fact that the whole thing still feels way more polished than Vampire Survivors. The pixel art is well-scaled to full-screen resolution without artifacting, the animations are excellent and the whole thing is put together with great professionalism.

HoloCure gacha screen

By comparison, Vampire Survivors’ rough-edged, poorly scaled pixel art and amateurish menus look like you’re running a ’90s DOS game on a modern system without correcting the pixel aspect ratio. And there’s still a few sprites in the mix there that are a little uncomfortably close to those seen in classic Castlevania games for my liking — though to the game’s credit, many of these have clearly been redrawn in later updates.

Vampire Survivors is still an excellent game, don’t get me wrong, and it deserves credit for popularising (not inventing!) the arena survival genre of gameplay. But HoloCure is just better in pretty much every single way aside from tight Steam integration and general visibility to the game-playing masses.

So regardless of whether or not you’re a Hololive fan — you certainly don’t need to be — I urge you to check out HoloCure if you haven’t already. It’s sure to become your new addiction.

HoloCure is available for free download from itch.io.

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Pete Davison
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