Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: Vampire Survivor

Vampire Survivors begins with you in a field armed with a state-of-the-art vampire hunting whip. The monsters should appear any second. You see a few bats approaching and dispatch them with ease. Cake. This vampire will be no problem to slay. More thralls approach. Skeletons and zombies. Tough but doable. Then more bats and more skeletons and a praying mantis and more zombies and some bigger bats. And more skeletons, and at least two hundred bats. Then two hundred skeletons. And are those praying mantises getting bigger? Oh, God. There are so many. Thousands. Tens of thousands of vampire thralls. Too many. Is this even possible? We haven’t even seen one vampire yet and already death is approaching…

Conceptual Meta-Wank:

I’ve played a number of games that have tried to capture the Castlevania magic. Shovel Knight and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Hollow Knight are a few of my favorites. But although they do this timeless formula with incredible skill, they don’t really change the formula all too dramatically. Vampire Survivors is of another genre entirely, yet might be my newest Castlevania-esque game. 

This game is a bullet hell without the bullets. So it’s really just Hell. Vampire Survivors is so simple it should not be so impossibly fun. You collect weapons and survive against waves of monsters trudging slowly towards your character. I’ve never been one for bullet hell games. But this one has enthralled me more than any I’ve ever played. The terrible stress of weaving through crowds of skeletons while praying for your weapon cooldown to save you while calculating how to collect all that delicious XP makes for some incredibly deep strategizing in this stunningly basic and straightforward game.

Non-Wanky Game Recap:

Vampire Survivors is a game played almost entirely with the arrow keys. Played as a top-down survival, weapons auto-attack in their various patterns and all you do is walk around, dispatching creatures. They drop XP in the form of crystals, which allow you to collect a new perk or weapon or upgrade previous ones. But not all upgrades are able to save you from the eternal vampire horde, and with only six weapon slots and six passives, you must carefully choose how you will build your vampire hunter in order to survive the night.

What Works:

There are two stages of the game. The first is being hunted, the second, as the hunter. Vampire Survivors is a very tough game at first. You must bob and weave through hordes of monsters in a desperate attempt to collect as much XP as possible, as at some point you may not have enough firepower to break through the hordes. This is the stressful part. 

Then, you reach a point where you overcome. The items synergize, sometimes turning into new weapons entirely, and give you such power that it’s tough to even tell what’s going on. The Vampire Survivors character looks like a biblical angel and/or disco ball of weapons, a gyrating mass of crosses and scythes and fireballs and knives and lightning and a dove shitting magic bombs and holy water vials raining from the skies that consume enemies at a rate of hundreds every few seconds. My favorite is the King Bible. With the spellbinder item, it turns your already overpowered bible barrier into a vampire-slaying angle grinder flap disk disintegrating enemies so fast they can’t touch you. Indeed, it is a lot of fun. I was playing it with a friend nearby and certainly sounded like I was in some kind of paranoid psychosis, saying “If I stack enough bibles and spinach I can stop all these gorgons and werewolves.” 

What Doesn’t:

One issue with Vampire Survivors is that a number of the items are completely obsolete throughout the whole game. Health and armor are moot when you are in the face of ten thousand Mucinex guys running straight towards you. The only way through is by force, and a health recovery item simply lowers the pool of items you actually need. So too are there some aspects of the game that are a little underdeveloped. Every single enemy just walks straight towards you. Even the ones with bows and arrows will attempt a melee attack, which is more amusing than a downside, but still. Adding some variety would be interesting. 

How To Fix It:

As for the obsolete items, I would either remove them in favor or something else or allow the player to remove them from the active item pool. I think Binding of Isaac has something like that, if memory serves. The enemy variety I don’t think can really be changed without fundamentally altering the gameplay. Vampire Survivors is so cool because of the lack of bullets in this bullet hell. Adding something like different enemy paths would spice it up, but I am strongly against adding projectiles of any sort. But these two things are incredibly small problems in the face of a tremendously cool and fun game. 

Wanky Musings:

When it comes down to it, Vampire Survivors is a game about faith. Faith that the Lord will give you enough XP to collect all the bibles, crosses, and holy water to stave off the demons. But more than that, it’s proof that a simple concept can go a tremendous distance. This title certainly may not look like much compared to many games, but it might already be my GOTY. Elden Ring has some tough competition.