Ever since it hit Early Access on Steam last December, the cult of vampire survivors has grown and spread its gospel far and wide. Over the past year, the seemingly simple game has expanded with a steady stream of free updates adding a surprising amount of depth and content. The great gameplay and compelling progression system combined with the ridiculously low price point make Vampire Survivors highly recommended. This tradition continues throughout game releases, making over 50 hours of pure gaming enjoyment accessible to a large audience.
Vampire Survivors starts off quite simply. You only use the left analog stick to move around, and your attacks are automatically timed at regular intervals. Monsters approach non-stop from all directions as you avoid gaps and make sure they are within range of your attack. The Castlevania influence is palpable as you start with the whip and take on creepy creatures from classic gaming horror in addition to imaginative original creations. If you can last 30 minutes, death will come for an instant kill, but you can “beat” that level.
Each attempt starts you off at a base level with only your character’s starting weapon. While they may seem insufferable at first, almost all offbeat options can be built up to feel amazing. Have a firehose blast of knives in front of you to clear a path. As you moult a colony of bats with a circular area of garlic. Take refuge in a cloud of fighting cats. Every type of weapon I could imagine and many things I could never even dream of were at my fingertips.
You’re constantly making decisions, weighing the pros and cons of each random item presented during the leveling process. At most, you can have up to six weapons in addition to six accessories that modify the weapon and gameplay, such as increasing the size of the projectile, reducing the cooldown time, or increasing the rate of experience gained. On top of that, certain weapon and accessory combos provide ultra-powerful evolutions that can turn the tide in your darkest hour. It’s hard to express the supreme satisfaction you feel when your incomparable barrage of attacks makes it impossible for enemies to hurt you, no matter how hard you try to swarm the hornets’ nest. I rarely take screenshots or videos of the games I’m playing, but Vampire Survivors puts on such a great show based on your smart choices that I couldn’t help but share it.
Developer Poncal has expertly balanced the rollout of unlocks so that you’re never overwhelmed by the mix of weapons and powers, but you also never tire of them. There’s always a new character, weapon, sidekick or mechanic to make you wait all the way to the very end. The initial rough list of objectives gives you direction and inspires you to experiment outside your comfort zone. In one run, I’ll blow it or make a bad mistake at level-up options and die without ever checking an objective, but the next, I’ll have a perfect run and complete a dozen tasks. Unlocks/achievements rain in a gratifying barrage of dopamine hits. Even when you fail, you learn something and get more gold to unlock permanent upgrades at the in-game shop.
Almost every rule you know (including many of the mechanics mentioned above) is completely reversed or twisted as you move deeper into the game. Vampire Survivors loves setting your expectations and completely shattering them. On several occasions, I’ve said, “What’s up? Wait, so I can This Now?” Everything is built in such a way as to make it impossible to resist the next run. “Well, I’ll have to see how this crazy looking new character goes.” Is it?” “This second strategy has to work. It can’t wait till tomorrow.”
My only hesitation in recommending this to Xbox players is the unwanted presence of launch bugs that unlock the stage and achievement for a few more other weird odds and ends. The patching has helped so far, and I hope it will be relatively problem-free as of the PC versions soon.
Despite these early console failures, Vampire Survivors has quickly become one of my favorite games. Consider this me grabbing the sides of your head and yelling, “Play Vampire Survivors, you moron!”