I can’t stop playing Vampire Survivors. I saw the game getting buzz, and thought I’d see what all of the fuss was about. There, I saw that it’s less than the price of a sandwich* and decided to jump in and see what the fuss was about one evening.
Four hours later, I was still playing.
The concept is simple. You play as a vampire hunter in a spritey world that’s close enough to Castlevania that Konami’s lawyers are probably drafting their cease and desist, and while the vampire hunters don’t have familiar names quite yet, you are using Belmont-brand weaponry in the form of whips, holy water, crosses, axes and even a little bible that floats around your head and kills nearby enemies. You start with a single weapon and a limited health pool and get assaulted on all sides by enemies, getting XP in the form of blue, green and red gems at their feet.
Level up and you’ll get access to new weapons, level up the ones you have and get to choose between powerful artifacts. So far, so roguelike, but you’ll want to move fast because the enemies will start to swarm you and it quickly becomes a reverse-bullet hell as you kick out a ton of bullets while dancing through the enemies, desperately trying to avoid physical contact.
These spritey little fucks will kill you in just a few seconds if they make contact and they’re rolling in from all sides. The first moment Vampire Survivors truly got me was 12 minutes into a run when I found I was completely flanked by skeletons and would have to punch through the rolling mass of bones to get to anything approaching safety.
While several weapons in the game will attack all around you, I’m armed with knives, which deal a ton of damage to enemies in the direction I’m currently moving, meaning I have to weave through this vampiric tide like a shark, spewing knives ahead of me to try and cut through the wall. As long as I keep moving forwards, I’m impervious to harm, dancing through the library like a deleted scene from the bible where God gave Moses an armful of knives and told him to part the undead sea.
Although it’s only a month into its early access life, and there aren’t a ton of weapons, you can layer them together for some ridiculous combos. Garlic gives you a damage aura, and – levelled up enough – it will let you wade into most early and mid game enemies, burning them away like sunshine on, well, vampires. You can carry six different weapons – although it’s smarter to focus on one or two while you level them up – and when they’re all firing at once you’re a godless killing machine.
Vampire Survivors’ main selling point – for those who can look past that awful title – is that it provides a very unique power fantasy: that feeling of getting just the right items in The Binding of Isaac, but you’ll get it for every single one of your 10-20 minute runs, consistently hitting a point in the power curve where you snowball, felling hundreds of enemies every second under a constant stream of fireballs, axes and explosions.
The game seems to be getting active development: in the few days I’ve been playing there’s already been two updates, one of which added an item that was mostly just a dig at NFTs, so it’s in getting lots of attention and new content, and the developer doesn’t appear to be a planet-burning shithead, either. That’s a win in my books.
*regional sandwich prices may vary, please consult with your nearest bread-based snacks distributor.
Vampire Survivors is available on Steam as an Early Access title now