Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness – Review
Follow Genre: Survival horror, point-and-click adventure
Developer: Indiesruption
Publisher: Blowfish Studios
Platforms: Switch, PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Tested on: Switch

Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness – Review

Site Score
Good: Fantastically unsettling psychological horror story
Bad: Obtuse puzzle logic
User Score
(1 votes)
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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

‘You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover’. It’s a saying we’ve all heard before, but in the case of Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness, that cover actually captures the game’s atmosphere incredibly well. It’s a compelling image: the grotesque visage of a tormented clown, somewhat reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s most famous painting The Scream. If this image, shown below, is intriguing to you, then you’ll definitely love what follows once you get past that cover image. Vlad Circus’ in-game pixel art doesn’t carry the same gravitas as that painted art, but the haunting story and unsettling atmosphere do so all the more. With the Halloween season in full swing, what better time to take a look at Indiesruption’s circus-themed horror story?


Set in the 1920s, Vlad Circus opens with a tragedy: a fire breaks out in the titular circus, razing it to the ground in the span of mere minutes, before the eyes of its troupe. Eight years later, eccentric owner Vlad Petrescu invites the survivors to his mansion with the hopes of restoring the circus to its former glory. Among the invitees is Oliver Mills, aka clown Lazy Ollie, who is dealing with his own inner demons. Ollie is our protagonist, and the reunion with his former colleagues might just be more than he bargained for. You see, after the fire Ollie had to spend some time in an asylum, and even now his doctor has to accompany him to this ill-fated reunion. As the evening progresses, the lines between reality and the inside of Ollie’s head become more and more blurred and it doesn’t take long for things to spiral out of control. Headless corpses and worse things stalk the corridors of Petrescu’s mansion, the ghost of Ollie’s dead mother haunts him, and the circus artists all seem to have a hidden agenda of their own… Will Ollie be able to overcome the evening or will he need to head back to the asylum?

A story-driven experience first and foremost, Vlad Circus isn’t afraid to mislead players. Ollie is the archetypical example of an unreliable narrator, and the deliberate vagueness between what is real and what isn’t doesn’t help here. Still, it’s difficult not to empathize with our tragic protagonist, not in the least thanks to the amazing writing. The supporting cast is inherently likable as well, with each character providing important contributions to the overall story. Vlad Circus’ story unfolds like a good book that you can’t put down, and it is the main driving force that will keep you playing.


As we mentioned in the introduction, Vlad Circus does not utilize that same gorgeous art style from its key art in the game itself, instead relying on pixel art. However, the in-game visuals stick to the same uneasy aesthetic. Character portraits in dialogue and cutscenes in particular are highlights, but even the lighting is masterfully rendered, with the way Ollie’s lantern illuminates the dark corridors, which in turn contributes to the creepy atmosphere.


With a very minimalistic soundscape, you’d expect Vlad Circus to underwhelm us, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Vlad Circus’ soundtrack may not be particularly memorable and the voice acting is very limited, but the game makes masterful use of immersive sound design by implementing certain sound elements in its gameplay. The howling winds will make your controller rumble, and Ollie’s own heartbeat and the faint whispers in his head signal incoming danger. We highly recommend playing Vlad Circus with headphones, as this will take the audio immersion to the next level.


Although Vlad Circus serves up a rather interesting and unique blend of survival horror and point-and-click adventure gameplay, the game doesn’t impress from a technical perspective. This is because things are deliberately kept simple, allowing the storytelling to take front stage. Stepping into Ollie’s clown shoes, players are tasked with taking on simple tasks from the different characters inside Vlad’s mansion. Completing these requires exploration, and simple puzzle solving, typically using your limited inventory in a way that will feel familiar to fans of point-and-click titles in the same vein as Lord Winklebottom Investigates or Fire. Three of your inventory slots are occupied by Ollie’s lantern, rosary, and diary. The lantern is a survival horror staple of course, and you’ll need to carefully choose when and where to use it, as it requires refilling fairly frequently. There are two fixed kerosene tanks where this can be done, and as you can imagine, there is a lot of backtracking involved. Fortunately, there are constantly new surprises at locations you’ve visited previously, so the necessary back-and-forth never feels like padding.

The way Ollie’s broken psyche is handled is what makes Vlad Circus such a special and memorable game. The aforementioned diary and rosary are the two main items through which this is represented. Ollie jots down his objectives in his diary, giving players a handy way to track what to do. However, he also writes down his own insights, providing players with a direct insight into his broken mind. This fleshes out Ollie as a character as well as adding depth to the story, and attentive players will also find clues to solving puzzles and mysteries in Ollie’s writings. Meanwhile, the rosary is your main tool to preserve Ollie’s sanity. In addition to health points, Ollie’s health is represented through his stress level. The more stressed he becomes, the more he loses touch with reality, and in turn, he’ll start to see apparitions like headless corpses and other dread visages. These will further spike Ollie’s stress levels. To maintain Ollie’s sanity, he’ll need to use the rosary to pray.

While we won’t go into detail as to how ‘real’ the apparitions that Ollie encounters are, they are still very capable of hurting our poor clown. He’ll need to defend himself using tools that he picks up throughout his quests, like a butcher’s knife or a shotgun. There is also a special tonic that he can drink to fend off the apparitions, and while there is an unlimited supply of these available, Ollie can only carry one with him at a time. That said, combat is fairly easy, and you’ll likely lose sanity rather than hit points when encountering enemies. In this regard, Vlad Circus isn’t overly difficult nor is it brutally punishing, but it doesn’t need to be either. Most of the horror happens in Ollie’s head, supposedly, which is why it makes sense that even if you do pass out, there are no real negative consequences. Ollie will simply wake up, with his inventory intact, and after a snide remark from the ghost of Ollie’s mother, you can get straight back to business. That might make it seem like combat is irrelevant, but don’t let this deter you from giving Vlad Circus a try, as the way things are handled here makes perfect sense within the game’s context.

Where Vlad Circus does drop the ball occasionally is with its puzzles. It’s not that these are poorly designed, but what the game asks of players from a gameplay perspective doesn’t always align with the story. As an example, one specific quest asked us to collect rainwater. It was raining in the game so we put a jug on the ground under the assumption that it would fill up gradually, but instead, we had to find a leaky pipe and collect our water from there. This obtuseness can be aggravating at times, especially since it can really take the pacing out of the wonderful storytelling. This is one of the rare occasions where we’d recommend having a walkthrough on hand just so that you don’t get discouraged figuring things out. Clocking in at roughly 5 hours, Vlad Circus isn’t going to eat up a whole lot of your time anyway, but with a wonderful cast of characters and a story that is as compelling as it is disturbing, you’re best off not letting the puzzles get in the way of the experience as a whole.


What Vlad Circus lacks in gameplay depth, it more than makes up for through masterful storytelling, immersive sound design, and a genuinely unsettling atmosphere. We do recommend keeping a guide within arm’s reach because of the obtuse puzzle design, but if you’re looking for a game to really get under your skin this Halloween, look no further than Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
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Vlad Circus: Descend into Madness - Review, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

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