Since launching Early Access on Steam last December, the Vampire Survivors cult has grown and spread its gospel widely. Over the past year, this seemingly simple game has expanded with a steady stream of free updates that add incredible depth and content. Great gameplay and an engaging development system combined with a ridiculously low price make Vampire Survivors extremely recommended. That tradition continues in the full game release, giving a larger audience access to over 50 hours of pure gaming fun.
Vampire Survivors started out simple enough. You just use the left analog stick to move around and your attacks will automatically go at regular intervals. Monsters approach relentlessly from all directions as you squeeze through gaps and make sure they stay within your attack radius. Castlevania’s influence is evident when you start with a whip and take on terrifying creatures from the classic horror game alongside imaginative original creations. If you last 30 minutes, Death will swoop in to kill instantly, but you can think of that as “smashing” by level.
All attempts start at the base level with only the character’s starting weapon. While they may seem inadequate at first, almost all attack options can be built to feel great. Fire a salvo of knives in front of you to clear the way. Melt the bats as you wade through them with a round garlic field. Take shelter in a cloud of fighting cats. Every weapon I could imagine and some that I never dreamed of was within my reach.
You’re constantly making decisions, weighing the pros and cons of every random item given out during leveling up. At maximum, you can have six weapons that fire at the same time, along with six accessories that help modify weapons and gameplay, such as increasing the size of the projectile, reducing the cooldown, or increasing the percentage of experience gained. In addition, certain combinations of weapons and accessories provide extremely powerful developments that can turn the tide in your darkest hour. It’s hard to convey the overwhelming sense of satisfaction you feel when your puzzling barrage of attacks keeps enemies from hurting you, no matter how hard you try to kick the wasp’s nest. I rarely take screenshots or video of the games I’m playing, but Vampire Survivors put on a great performance based on your smart choices so I couldn’t help but share it.
Developer Poncle has expertly balanced the unlocking implementation so you are never overwhelmed by the combination of weapons and powers, but you also never get tired of them. There’s always a new character, weapon, accessory or mechanic to look forward to until the very end. The initial list of difficult goals provides a sense of direction and helps you experiment outside of your comfort zone. In one run I’ll screw it up or mess with the level up and die options without ticking any targets, but next time I’ll have a perfect run and finish the row dozens of tasks. Unlocks/achievements rained down in a series of gratifying dopamine hits. Even if you fail, you still learn something and earn more gold to unlock permanent upgrades at the in-game store.
Almost every rule you know (including many of the mechanics described above) gets completely altered or distorted as you progress further into the game. Vampire Survivors love to set your expectations and completely subvert them. At some point, I exclaimed, “What the hell is going on? Wait, so I can do this now?” Everything is built to make you irresistible to the next run. “Well, I have to see how this crazy-looking new character plays.” “This disturbing new phase What is it?” “This other strategy has to work. This can’t wait until tomorrow.”
My only hesitation in recommending it to Xbox players is the unexpected presence of launch bugs that hinder the stage and unlock achievements for some other odd odds and endings. So far, patching has helped, and I hope it will soon be relatively crash-free like the PC versions.
Despite the initial flops on console, Vampire Survivors has quickly become one of my all-time favorite games. Think of this as me grabbing the sides of your head and yelling, “Play Vampire Survivors, you idiot!”