I remember booting up Vampire Survivors for the first time a few months ago and feeling genuinely confused as to what I was doing, why I was doing it, and why people were raving about it. Here was this pixelated, barely animated game where the only control I had was movement, making for a digital version of ‘keep-away’ that didn’t seem engaging or particularly interesting. Fast forward to 20 hours later, and that silly little game turned into a genuine obsession of mine.
Vampire Survivors is a fairly simple game that as mentioned, only allows you to directly control the movement of any of the characters you select, making your only goal to bob and weave your way through endless hordes of enemies as your weapons and magical effects automatically fire. The key to survival and success lies in gobbling up as much XP as you can so you can unlock and upgrade as many powers as you can, from multiple projectiles, increased health, speed and range augments, and so much more.
Finding the right build is necessary to tackle the endless swarm of enemies that descend upon you, increasing in strength and numbers as you grow and spend more time in a level. From run to run you’re earning money that you can spend on permanent upgrades like health regeneration and speed boosts, along with new characters and mods that augment the general flow of a run. Think of the ‘skulls’ in the Halo games, except they aren’t brutal like Halo‘s were.
The game is fairly simple in terms of minute-to-minute action, but in that simplicity I found a game that perfectly slots into my lifestyle and what I’m looking for. Vampire Survivors can run on basically anything which is good considering I like playing it on the couch, away from my console and desktop, on a laptop from that barely runs Windows. Runs are also pretty short and consumable, lasting 30 minutes unless you beef it sooner. After 30 minutes elapses, a giant Grim Reaper appears, explodes all other enemies on screen and rushes at you, killing you in an instant. I do believe you can defeat the Reaper if you have the right build, but I haven’t achieved that just yet.
I think what really made Vampire Survivors earn a spot in my regular game rotation is how good it is at making you feel incredibly powerful without actually having to do much of anything aside from choosing which upgrade to take when you level up. That feeling is doubled when you unlock an evolved version of a power, which happens if you choose two complimentary weapons or boosts and level them up, eventually leading to an ‘evolved’ version of those weapons, some of which can feel genuinely overpowered in the best way possible. For instance, levelling up the garlic weapon, which projects a damaging shield around you, along with the health restoration buff, turns into a massive black zone around you that saps enemy health and gives it to you.
Even better is when you stack up a couple of these evolved abilities and instantly become this whirling dervish of death, clearing out swaths of enemies and projectiles who dare to approach you. And that feeling lasts for a good ten levels or so before you realize that because you’re so efficient at mowing these ding-dongs down, they’re getting stronger and heartier too.
I’ve probably put in about 15-20 hours into Vampire Survivors at this point, and just when it was starting to feel a bit too repetitive, I discovered a new character with completely new weapon that I had never seen before. It doesn’t sound like much, but after spending that much time with the same handful of abilities, seeing a new one completely changes things for me. Like, what does that one evolve into and how do I accomplish that? How many more things are there for me to discover? It turns out there’s a whole lot of stuff hidden away in Vampire Survivors just waiting to be found.
What’s really nice about Vampire Survivors to me is the feeling of progress it gives me from run to run. So far the basic structure of the game has been involved me heading into a level and trying to follow the big green arrow that points towards some objective, usually an item or some boss to fight. Once I clear the handful of objectives from a level, all of which do not have to be completed in a single run, the next level is unlocked and I can move on to tackle that one. All the while you’re drowning in coins that you can use for more buffs and characters, adding slight variations into each subsequent run.
I guess this is how other people feel about roguelikes, but I’ve never had one resonate with me in this kind of way. Usually I get frustrated by the lack of progress or I get caught up in this feeling of futility by constantly failing, but Vampire Survivors allows me to feel like I’m doing so well they have to literally cut me off after 30 minutes before I destroy the universe or uncover the secret of why a game called Vampire Survivors contains no vampires.