I just love it when an indie game comes from nowhere and slaps me in the face with how good it is. From developer/publisher Poncle comes, quite simply, the most addictive and playable game that I have enjoyed for a long, long time. Vampire Survivors is both bare basic and simple and yet, unbelievably varied and deep too.
“Mow down thousands of night creatures and survive until dawn! Vampire Survivors is a gothic horror casual game with rogue-lite elements, where your choices can allow you to quickly snowball against the hundreds of monsters that get thrown at you.”
The first time I played Vampire Survivors, I did have a WTF moment. I loaded up and started the game. It looked good, a nice retro 16-bit aesthetic that put me in mind of a SNES/Castlevania-type of title. I honestly didn’t know what to expect as I had managed to avoid any and everything to do with this game. Just from the opening few seconds, I thought I was playing some kind of retro RPG. It soon became clear that was not the case, it was more like a twin-stick shooter… without the twin-sticks. I was pressing all the buttons on my pad to see what they did… nothing. All I could do was move my character around as the game auto-fired for me.
I lasted about 1 minute before dying and really thought that it was shit. I couldn’t do anything other than move around as the game did most of the work with little input from me. The gameplay was light, too light but I wanted to understand the point. So, I started again. I got to grips with the bare minimal controls and lasted a bit longer. I unlocked some single-run weapons and I managed to nab some gold to buy early permanent upgrades and new characters. That was when it hit me, I’m playing a rouge-lite, and I do love a good rogue-lite. Once that snapped in my head, I understood the point.
The aim is to survive against increasing numbers of stronger and stronger enemies. Pick your weapons carefully and experiment with different load-outs. Save up gold to buy permanent upgrades to help you last longer and longer. The premise and concept are simple, the controls even more so. You don’t aim, you don’t shoot, the game does that for you. There are no buttons to press (outside of the menu and weapon selections) and the entire game is fully controlled with the left stick alone. You can play this one-handed, or one-thumbed, to be more accurate.
The more I played Vampire Survivors, the more I learned. I got to grips with picking out the right weapons and upgrades to use. My efforts at surviving began to last longer, I was hooked. With each successive run, I would last a bit longer, I would learn and adapt to what the game threw at me. The once tough enemies became slightly less tough. Then, I unlocked a new level, new weapons, more upgrades and the game loop sucked me in. What’s this, I found a map. Hidden items appeared on the map for the levels. What are those mysterious ‘?’ symbols? I had to find out. Coffins surrounded by loads of monsters, I died (again). I wanted to know what the coffin was, I restarted and chose different weapons and upgrades. Wait, you can power-up weapons and evolve them? Get two specific weapons maxed out and you can combine them into a new all-powerful weapon. The game just kept opening up more and more. I began to last longer on the maps.
Then, I hit the 30-minute countdown (or up) and boom… Death himself darted onto the screen and destroyed me in a second. I didn’t even know what had happened at first. One second I was alive and dealing out some pretty impressive damage to hundreds of enemies via my powered-up weapons. The next second, I was dead. All of that power that I thought I had was nothing. What the fuck! Death, literal Death killed me. Can I beat him? I needed to know, I needed to experiment more with the characters I had unlocked with their varying strengths and weaknesses. I needed to experiment with different weapon load-outs and upgrades. I needed to kill Death.
Look, long story short, I put Vampire Survivors on for an hour just to see what it was like and 5 hours later, it was 2am and I was still playing. I first loaded the game up on Thursday last week, it is now Monday night as I write this and I’ve played nothing else since. I can’t stop playing this game. There is so much to this title that I’m still unlocking stuff or finding new ways to play. Just today, after 5 days of playing… I managed to kill Death! There’s still more for me to do too. There are modifiers that you can unlock that change how you can play the game, secrets to find and more.
Priced at just £4, Vampire Survivors is the most generous game that I have played this year. It could even be the best game I have played this year. A horde-bullet-hell game where you are the hell spitting out the bullets against the ever-increasing horde. You start out mild and meek and will die a lot, you can become all-powerful and even kill Death himself. Even though this is available on Game Pass, I love this game so much that bought it on Xbox and Steam. In short, Vampire Survivors is gaming crack and the best £4 you’ll spend this year. Currently available on PC and Xbox only, this needs to be on all platforms as everyone should play Vampire Survivors.