The Art of Game Crossovers: How Art Defines Expectations

Mega Cat Studios
5 min readMay 14, 2024

Art has always had an interesting effect on the people who view it. Depending on the subject matter, good art can make a person feel all sorts of different emotions. It can make someone pause and reflect or feel passionate and motivated. It can make a person feel angry, dejected, happy, or sad. It’s part of the reason why good art is so important; the ability of an artist to connect with their audience is a rare but beautiful talent.

In the case of video games, a game’s art does more than affect someone’s emotions. It also gives its players an idea of what to look out for. This psychological technique, called “priming,” helps in tempering people’s expectations and can be useful in setting up a game’s atmosphere. While it’s useful for most video games, it goes double for crossovers. Conflicting art styles are a killer when it comes to mood, and nothing’s worse than having bad art in a game stick out like a sore thumb. Thankfully, we have releases like Operation Guns to show us how it’s done

For the unfamiliar, Vampire Survivors: Operation Guns is a DLC that combines the characters of Konami’s Contra with the rogue-like bullet hell world of Vampire Survivors. While their genres may differ, this collaboration gives us the chance to examine just how important a game’s art style can be in managing people’s expectations.

Classic Contra — Running and Gunning with Style

For the unfamiliar, Contra’s a 2D classic shoot-em-up originally released on arcade cabinets. Reveling in its high-octane gameplay, Contra’s all about moving and shooting. Enemies were fast, aggressive, and dangerous. Only quick movement and quick thinking would let you win the day.

Contra | Courtesy of Pinterest

To emphasize its fast-paced nature, the visuals in classic Contra were crisp and well-defined. Enemy projectiles stuck out from the foreground, and power-ups were bright and colorful, making them easier to spot. Stages were short but sweet, and the clean, crisp nature of the sprite work meant that Contra wasn’t sacrificing looks for function. It looked good and played well, and at no point did the visuals mess up its gameplay.

Contra III | Courtesy of tenor

Even with the release of its sequels, Contra has managed to keep its style consistent! The Character sprites of heroes embodied the spirit of the quintessential action hero, often being badasses with big guns fighting against the enemies of the free world. From blasting away at urban levels to exploring bunkers, forests, and jungles, Contra’s managed to stay true to its run-and-gun setting while varying up the environments.

Contra | Courtesy of Konami

Even today, its style hasn’t faltered. While later releases made good use of new technologies to vary the lighting, perspective, and gameplay, its presentation, feel, and tone all stay true to its classic style.

Vampire Survivors — Classic Love Letter to Dark Fantasy

While Contra’s managed to stay visually distinct, Vampire Survivors instead revels in its classic inspirations. Its characters and visuals are clear homages to the classic SNES games of old. Many of its characters and stages pay tribute to franchises like Castlevania.

Vampire Survivors Character Screen

The base game characters all embody its gothic medieval themes of knights, warriors, mages, and barbarians. Stages have players navigating haunted forests, monster-infested libraries, and forgotten haunts infested by bats, zombies, ghosts, and beasts.

Antonio in the Mad Forest in Vampire Survivors

Where Contra leaned heavily on its action gameplay to complement its style, Vampire Survivors’ slower gameplay is complemented by its more serious tone. Even during its most ridiculous, its unique style leans more heavily on its sinister atmosphere. It’s a distinct style that few games can truly capture.

Vampire Survivors | Courtesy of tenor

Knowing this, how does one manage to blend a fast-paced SHMUP with a slow-paced rogue-like?

Operation Guns — The Best of Both Worlds

Combining both styles is not an easy task, but it’s one that Operation Guns has managed to pull off. Visually, it takes the character list of the classic Contra games and interprets them in the Vampire Survivors style. The enemies, weapons, and unlocks you’ll encounter are all familiar sights to a Contra veteran!

Operation Guns Character List

Bats, ghosts, and vampires have been replaced by an array of Contra enemies. Enemy soldiers, mutant dogs, and mechanical bots all move to stand against the Contra cost. Power-ups are all Contra-inspired as well, with tons of projectiles, laser shields, and explosions that will make any SHMUP fan proud. And all of it is done in the addictive, replayable nature of Vampire Survivors’ rogue-like gameplay loop.

Operation Guns

They say art can give people impressions of what they’re about to experience. Operation Guns’ art and sprite-work tell potential buyers all they need to know. The DLC is quite literally the best combination of both worlds. Contra’s art, feel, and style, with the gameplay loop of Vampire Survivors. And what’s not to love about that?

Vampire Survivors: Operation Guns is out now on Steam, Xbox, Switch, IOS, and Android. At an affordable price of $2.49, it’s a drop of new content that any fan of both games should consider picking up. It’s cheap, full of content, and pays homage to the classics in all the best ways.

About the Author

Alexander Cuaycong is a writer with a passion for history and video game. When he’s not busy buried in dusty books, he’s out there trying to make his fantasy worlds come true. For him, gaming isn’t a hobby so much as a calling, and it’s one he’s been doing his best to follow. Whether it’s reviewing games, or writing about their history, he’s on a mission to spread that love with others.

Originally published at https://megacatstudios.com on May 14, 2024.

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Mega Cat Studios

Mega Cat Studios is a creative first company based out of Pittsburgh, PA. We love creating games. From retro cartridges to PC & VR, come play with us.