HoloCure is better than Vampire Survivors, even if you know nothing about Hololive

Ah, Vampire Survivors — a game I have mixed feelings about. A great game, for sure, but also one that is somewhat symptomatic of the more negative aspects of modern gaming. I’ll be up front with you right now: for me, Vampire Survivors has pretty much gone in the bin, since new Hololive-themed clone HoloCure offers pretty much everything that it offers, is a more polished product and is completely free.

HoloCure makes no attempt to hide its inspirations: its itch.io page outright states that it is inspired by Vampire Survivors and the very similar mobile game Magic Survival. But that’s no bad thing; this is how subgenres are created, after all, and so long as a “clone” isn’t just reskinning the original without doing anything interesting, there’s nothing wrong with it existing.

Thankfully, HoloCure does plenty of interesting things. Initially casting you in the role of one of HoloMyth, the first generation of English-speaking Hololive VTubers, your job is to battle against fans and mascots that have been driven mad by an unnamed “evil force”. The game can either be played in a structured mode where you have to survive up until a final boss and then defeat that boss to “complete” it, or a score attack “endless” mode with online leaderboards. (Note: At the time of writing, the leaderboards have been temporarily switched off, as the unexpectedly huge number of people playing overwhelmed the servers!)

HoloCure is the creation of Kay Yu, an animator and artist whose previous work includes working on key animation for anime series such as Mushoku Tensei, Boruto, Castlevania and Sword Art Online, plus the cinematic animations for Shantae and the Seven Sirens and spritework for River City Girls. This background might go some distance to explaining exactly why HoloCure is such a consistent, clean, polished-feeling production — Yu is clearly a professional who has done this as a passion project, and it shows.

HoloCure

Each of the playable characters in HoloCure starts with their own unique weapon that is thematically consistent with their character concept. Ninomae Ina’nis, for example, summons a tentacle in front of herself; Mori Calliope performs a wide swinging attack with her scythe; Takanashi Kiara swings her sword; Gawr Gura pokes in front of her with her trident; and Amelia Watson, as the character who is conceptually the most “human” of the HoloMyth crew, attacks with a pistol.

It doesn’t stop there, though. As you level up your character in HoloCure by defeating enemies and gaining experience from the Hololive logo tokens they drop, you’ll have the opportunity to select from several new weapons, skills and items. While some of these are available to all characters, each character has several of their own unique upgrades which only they can use.

For example, Amelia is able to call upon the assistance of her dog Bubba, who will rush excitedly around the screen attacking random targets, while Gura is able to summon the Power of Atlantis to suck enemies into a whirlpool. Each character is also able to upgrade and “awaken” their starting weapon to become considerably more powerful than its initial form — often changing its behaviour somewhat in the process.

HoloCure

The five playable characters offer plenty of variety from the outset, but there are also, at the time of writing, six additional playable characters to unlock, drawn from the holoCouncil second generation of English Hololive VTubers, as well as IRyS, who is considered part of a sort of sub-generation called “Project Hope” by herself. Future updates for the game will include Hololive members from both the Japanese and Indonesian branches of the organisation; odds are good we’ll see fan favourites like Inugami Korone and Kureiji Ollie in the not too distant future.

Characters are unlocked by collecting coins in the game and then spending them a thousand at a time on an in-game gacha mechanic. Yu is keen to emphasise that the gacha is purely in-game currency and does not involve any sort of monetisation — you just need to play the game a few times to unlock the additional characters.

As in “real” gachas, sometimes you will draw a duplicate of a character you already have; if this is the case, you’re not completely out of pocket, since doing so will boost that character’s starting stats by 1%. It can be a little frustrating to gain enough coins to do another gacha pull only to draw a character you already have — but it at least gives you reason to experiment with the other characters rather than just sticking to your own favourite.

HoloCure

Outside of the gacha, coins can also be spent on upgrading all characters’ starting abilities, as well as unlocking unique manually triggered special actions for each character. It’s textbook roguelite, in other words; the more you play, the more powerful your characters will become overall, which should, in theory, make the game gradually become easier over time if you’re not skilled enough to survive until the end right away.

Probably the best thing about HoloCure is that there’s absolutely no need to know anything whatsoever about Hololive to appreciate it. If you have never explored VTuber culture at all, the game’s intro sequence provides a brief bit of context, and from there the playable characters can all simply be seen as cute girls with unique abilities. At the other end of the spectrum, however, if you are deeply immersed into VTuber culture — and Hololive culture specifically — the game is absolutely rammed full of references and in-jokes that will continually delight.

The most obvious of these are, of course, the enemy designs, which are all based on the mascots and representations of fans that the various Hololive members use. To give the game variety and a sense of progression, you’re not thrown all of these at once, either; you’ll start out battling against mascots obviously inspired by the HoloMyth crew, and it’s only later that you’ll start being swarmed by, for example, Hakos Baelz’s army of rats and Ouro Kronii’s sentient alarm clocks. This keeps things interesting and prevents the game from becoming boring.

HoloCure

This also shows how beautifully well the game is balanced, too. There’s a gradual but noticeable escalation in difficulty as you encounter new types of enemies and shoot ’em up style predefined formations, and at no point do you ever reach the stage you sometimes get to in Vampire Survivors where you can simply walk away from the keyboard, safe in the knowledge that your lineup of skills and weapons will simply obliterate anything which as much as looks at you. You’ll always need to be an active participant here.

Other references can be found in the weapons and skills. Vampire Survivors’ area-effect Garlic attack has been replaced by Haachama’s spider cooking, for example, while the dearly departed Kiryu Coco is honoured with her buttplug-type Asacoco making for a formidable high-speed ranged weapon. The game is riddled with delightful little references like this, and the deeper you’re into the Hololive rabbit hole, the more you’ll find to appreciate — with doubtless more to come in the future.

I was previously critical of Vampire Survivors’ perpetually unfinished state, and the fact that we’ve found ourselves in a situation where the community continually demands often unnecessary updates to existing pieces of work lest they demand a project “dead” or “abandoned”. I find myself feeling a little more lenient in this regard when it comes to HoloCure — primarily because its existing state is already so satisfying and polished, but also because it’s not asking me to pay up for an unfinished project.

HoloCure

It’s valid to question the morality of Hololive, in turn, monetising videos and streams featuring their talent playing HoloCure — and there have been a lot of those over the course of the past few days! — but it’s clear that Yu put this together with the intention and the hope that people, including the Hololive members themselves, would simply play and enjoy it. Plus this makes for an amazing portfolio piece should Yu want to branch out and sell other projects on Itch — or find additional work in game development beyond their aforementioned prior contributions to River City Girls and Shantae and the Seven Sirens.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is simple: I like HoloCure a lot more than Vampire Survivors, even though at the time of writing Vampire Survivors technically has more “content”. Passion projects like this are worth supporting and celebrating, particularly when they’re as high quality as this — and who knows? This could be just the thing to get those of you who have so far resisted the allure of VTubers to dive down the rabbit hole at last. Come on in, it’s nice and warm down here…

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Pete Davison
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