Title: Vampire Survivors
Release Date: 10/20/22
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, iOS, Android, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Reviewed on: Xbox One via Xbox Game Pass
Y’know, one of the good things about Xbox Game Pass is how much they push indie games on you. There’s no corporate overlords crashing down on you about sales performance and numbers. It’s just you, picking away at your passion project on the weekends or late nights after your shift at the Fast Food Egg Factory. They don’t have that strong of a flavor, but dammit, the consistency works on a croissant for some reason. So when small games get featured on big platforms, it’s just about win-win for everyone. I’m sure I’m wallpapering over real issues, but you try to come up with a funny intro bit. So let’s take a look at one of the newer indies to hit big: Vampire Survivors.
You play as one of the titular vampire survivors, fighting through swarms of monsters in an attempt to survive the night, which, for the most part, you won’t. You have a handful of familiar yet legally distinct characters, each with their own style, fighting to survive against an unending horde of every monster possible. Bats, zombies, werewolves, and praying mantises. Hey, they freak me out, man. Bugs aren’t supposed to be that big!
Honestly, Vampire Survivors will not blow your socks off. With sprites and visuals that look lifted right out of the 16-bit era Castlevania games, it appeals to those older gamers who love the retro era who didn’t mind constant load times. It honestly looks like a ROM-hacked Flash game you would play after school on Newgrounds, if I’m allowed to date myself. And honestly, the maps and stages are not great. Imagine a flat plane that goes on basically forever, with a few markers for artifacts and items, and that’s basically it. It’s not really a maze to get through or anything like that, you just point in a direction and start walking. If you’re looking for set pieces or land markings, this is not your adventure.
Hmm, I don’t really have that much to say. There’s music that plays in the background, but that’s about it. It hearkens to the beginning for the PS1 era, where you have orchestral music playing not limited by a chip set or anything like that. Although, I would argue it doesn’t fit the game that well. You’re looking at an NES game the entire time, I’m sure there is a chip-tune artist out there somewhere that could do some spooky tunes for it, but they didn’t do that here.
Wow, to keep coming back to this game, Vampire Survivors must be doing something right, I guess. Imagine a twin stick shooter, like a Smash TV, except the shooting stick is broken. All of your weapons are automatic with a slight cooldown between each use. It’s a curious system with a learning curve, but once you get past the initial shock, you adapt to it fairly quickly. Once you start the stage, monsters basically swarm you immediately, so you have to dodge and weave around your attackers to position yourself to deal damage and clear them out as quickly as you can. That makes them drop little crystals, which act as EXP to help you level up your character.
This leveling up is where the game becomes your new habit. Every time you level up, you get choices of new weapons or items that increase your stats. And all of these items can be leveled up into stronger versions of themselves, given the right combo of weapons and items. Plus, each character has their own stats and starting weapons, things like upgrades to health and powers and whatnot. It’s very much like a microdose of a rougelike. It’s hitting all those specific notches those kinds of games provide.
Honestly, this has been one of the most addicting games I’ve played in a while. Small side note, I didn’t say good in that last sentence. The gameplay loop works well enough. Pick a character, try to survive to the end of each stage’s time limit, look for relics or hidden characters along the way, attempt to make the best build of weapons and powers as you can, all without being ground into a red paste. It’s the simple games you really got to be careful about. Plus, the Trophies/Achievements pop pretty easily. Having a list of those goals available on the main menu helps you decide what kind of run you could go for this time around.
Overall, Vampire Survivors offers a very basic yet very teeth-grinding experience, but in a good way? Now, I don’t hate the game. It’s a completely playable grind machine that hits 100% dopamine production when you play it. You always say, “Let’s do one more run” and then 2 ½ hours disappear. But, to me, addiction is different than fun. I’ve been able to do runs and make characters with the right blends of weapons and powers, where I can just stand in the center of the stage and let the enemies run into my death circle for 30 minutes. As fun as it is to hit this point in time, it kind of breaks the game because then you just go for the same build every time and you know it’s unbeatable. If it was me designing the game, I would have made it more of an active experience. Controlling your weapons, maybe some actual lock-and-key puzzles in the stages, things to make the player more involved and not just a small Death Star. Once you look past the habit-forming mode, it’s very much a firecracker experience. It’s very fun, but you get over it pretty quickly. I’d say it’s a 4/5.
So what do you think? Does Vampire Survivors scratch that itch for you? Come join us in recovery over at the Boss Rush Discord.
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