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Vampire Survivors


Developer:  Poncle
Publisher:  Poncle
Platform:  PC

Roguelike dungeon crawlers are a dime a dozen.  Most of them aren’t really my jam.  I like the big hits like Hades but that’s all.  But then I played Vampire Survivors.  And for various reasons – some that I can quantify and others I struggle to put my finger on – I was immediately hooked.

This game costs five measly bucks.  It’s also on Game Pass.  But honestly its worth ten times that.  The game art appeals strongly to my fondness for Fighting Fantasy, Hero Quest and the kind of stuff Games Workshop were known for in the Eighties.  At face value this game kind of looks like Gauntlet.  You choose one of four character classes and start the first map.  It’s actually a big open field with a couple of small enclaves which aren’t really worth visiting.  A handful of enemies on the screen (barely animated), march towards you.  Thats about as complex as the enemy AI gets.  You kill them, collect some XP gems, and then prepare for the next wave of enemies.  There’s a counter on the screen.  Every minute, on the minute, a new type of enemy.  This goes on until you are either killed or if you make it to thirty minutes, an unstoppable creature (think Ski Free) emerges and kills you in five seconds.  Then you spend the money you accumulated on your run unlocking either new characters or some permanent perks.  Then you go again.

I guarantee you it is impossible to play this game for less than an hour when you first try it.  The basic tenants of the gameplay loop can be learned in three minutes.  You kill enemies, accumulate XP and every time you go up a level you can choose from three or four new weapons and items.  Maybe you have a melee weapon and need to add a ranged attack.  Or maybe you’ll choose an item that helps you level up faster or absorb more hits.  It’s simple but it gets its hooks into you fast.  It didn’t take me long to realise ohhhh this is going to be one of those games I will regularly come back to and never uninstall.  It keeps the same sort of company as Slay the Spire or Rocket League.  If you got a little bit of free time, you may as well do another round of Vampire Survivors.  Those big, bloated AAA adventure games with a hundred hours of gameplay can wait.


So whats the secret sauce that makes Vampire Survivor so good?  I’ve thought long and hard about it.  There’s a few things that stand out.  Firstly, it doesn’t require the ability to aim.  I’ve heard it described as “a twin stick shooter without the second stick” and it most certainly is that.  So for players like me who are dreadful at aiming, thats a big part of the appeal.  I think the best thing by far is the power fantasy.  Remember in Half-Life 2 where the game is of a moderate difficulty until the very end of the game where you get the gravity gun and the game lets you have fun laying waste to all your opponents?  Vampire Survivor is like that.  When you first play the game you might have a few tense runs and you might not make it to the thirty minute mark straight away.  But once your strategies start to click you basically become an unstoppable force of nature, decimating swarms of opponents.  Sometimes your buffs are so powerful that merely coming into contact with an enemy is enough to wipe them out (thanks evolved garlic and king bible).  The final ten minutes of the game throws hoards of enemies at you in the hundreds and even though the game has graphics that look like they’d run on an Amiga 500 and its barely animated, it still feels supremely satisfying in a way that few games can match.  What you see on screen during these moments of madness is a spectacle.  It looks like the final stage in a bullet hell shmup except you’re the boss.

Other stuff that feels good/satisfying:  The pop sound enemies make when they die.  It sounds like bubble wrap or popcorn.  Whichever way you interpret that sound, its nothing but endorphins for the brain.  It’s also great when you level up the magnetism your character has for attracting the XP gems and a whole bunch of them fly towards you at once, causing you to level up in seconds.  Finding a roast chicken on the floor to replenish your health when you’re nearly dead is great.  The wide array of characters are great.  The weird items (including flying bibles, hoards of cats amongst other things) is great.  The paucity of exposition is great.  There’s a mystique surrounding the game that works for me.  Perhaps I haven’t unlocked/uncovered them yet but I’m not entirely sure if the game even has any vampires?  Honestly, if thats the case, that’s great.  Another clever bit of design is that Vampire Survivors can potentially have two hundred enemies on screen and yet I could always tell what was going on, perhaps due to the distinctive colour palette in the enemy design, or the pace of the enemies, or maybe its something else, I’m not sure.  All I know is that it works.

Basically Vampire Survivors is a masterclass in game design.  The central conceit is executed marvelously and then what makes it an S-tier game is a million and one little things that the game does smartly to ensure a pleasant gameplay experience every time.  An instant classic that I suspect will inspire many, many imitators.

A budget dungeon-crawler game where fantasy heroes battle hoards of other-worldly creatures.

Review Overview


Summary : It's probably one of the most addictive rogue-like dungeon crawlers ever devised. A marvel of modern game design.

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About Edo

Edo currently lives in Australia where he spends his time playing video games and enjoying his wife's cooking.

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