Vampire Survivors is the deepest simple game since The Binding of Isaac.
Twin-stick shooters are everywhere. This is likely due to the fact that the concept is quite easy to put into action: one stick moves your character, the other shoots, slap a theme on it and you’ve got a game. That’s not to say I don’t like them, in fact I have some that I thoroughly enjoy. The question though, is how do you make yourself stand out from the crowd, and Vampire Survivors offers up the strangest, yet most interesting answer: do less.
Vampire Survivors has you selecting a character and a level before setting you off to fight off absolute hordes of enemies. You’ll level up, select upgrades, and try to survive as long as possible before your inevitable demise. The difference here is that you only have one stick — or set of keys in my case. You can move but all your attacks are automated, meaning the only thing you really need to focus on is evasion and where you want to go next. On its own, this seems incredibly reductive, but there’s an incredible amount to this game thanks to how mechanics interact with each other, and what the developers have done beyond that simple gameplay.
Your choice of character comes with a weapon, and during a stage’s duration — normally thirty minutes maximum — you’ll find new weapons and passive items, as well as level up your current ones as you collect XP gems. Initially there won’t be too much difficulty as you take out those basic bats and groups of ghosts, but it won’t be long before you’re up against swarms of tough to take down terrors. If you’ve just chosen some items and weapons randomly, you probably won’t last long, but with careful thought you can make yourself an absolute death machine.
In those moments where I’d put together an absolutely killer build, playing Vampire Survivors scratched that itch that only the likes of Dynasty Warriors can reach. It’s immensely satisfying to mow down acres of monsters simply by walking towards them, knowing that they don’t stand a chance against your might. Garlic can give you a damage aura, whilst a magic wand randomly blasts nearby enemies at the same time your ring doubles the number of attacks you make. But even this won’t be enough. You will be overwhelmed.
But your items hold more power if you select them well. Certain weapons can be evolved, so long as you have a trigger item at the same time. Level the weapon and item up enough before collecting a box dropped by an elite enemy and they will unlock a super powerful version of that weapon. Suddenly, the garlic that damages enemies also heals you, your knife attack no longer has a cooldown, or your pentagram wipes out everything on the screen and auto-collects all their drops. It’s such an impressive system that adds an absurd amount of depth to what is otherwise a very simplistic game, and with the sheer number of weapons and items at your disposal you’ll have no end of options to experiment with.
Initially it appears as though Vampire Survivors has a few heroes to select and a small handful of stages, but as you play you’ll unlock more and more to play with. Unlock pretty much an achievement and you’ll have something else added to your selection, from new characters, to items and weapons, to new stages. This leads to that dreaded “just one more go” feeling that will pull you back in over and over. Even failing to unlock something new doesn’t leave you empty handed, as any gold you find can be spent on permanent power-ups for future runs in classic rogue-lite fashion.
All this alone would more than justify the ludicrously low entry fee, but the devs at Poncle haven’t stopped there. Vampire Survivors contains secrets galore. Hidden bosses, secret codes, items that break the fourth wall and open up a huge array of new opportunities to explore further and find more, even on those stages you may feel you’ve mastered. I simply cannot overstate how much there is to discover. That, combined with the ultra-simple yet supremely satisfying gameplay loop means there’s absolutely nothing I can do but recommend this without any reservation.
This is even before I’ve mentioned the lovely, varied pixel art that makes almost any foe easy to identify in the midst of an absurd melee. The art style has been used in so many creative ways to create an interesting world that pays homage to Castlevania in countless different ways (well if Konami aren’t going to do anything with the series…) through characters, items, and descriptions. It’s fair to say that there are quite a lot of palette swaps with the enemies as well as a couple with the heroes, but that’s hard to complain about too much. Poncle have put in a killer soundtrack too that also evokes Castlevania, one that I’ve been listening to when not playing the game too, which is always the mark of a well-crafted score.
Even before having discovered everything this game has to offer, I can very easily recommend Vampire Survivors to gamers of pretty much any type. It seems to have the scale of a puddle put is secretly ocean deep, and if you have even a passing interest in games then this is absolutely worth your time. Load up on garlic and vanquish some vampires!
Vampire Survivors is available now on PC.