A couple years back I wrote a piece about Mobile Legends Adventure, a mobile “Idle” game that kind of rewards you by not playing. For those wondering, yes, I am still playing that game, and yes, I do not know why I am still playing that game. But forget about all that, because there’s another game I’ve been playing lately that is kind of an auto-battler, and kind of a spooky action RPG. You may have heard of it, as it was one of 2022’s and 2023’s biggest indie games: Vampire Survivors.
I recently picked up a Steam Deck, and remembered I hadn’t touched Steam in basically 10 years. I looked at my catalog of games, and I was reminded of college, and the Steam Winter sales of 2012, likely the last time I really played on the platform. Looking at what might be new and fun, and thinking I don’t want to particularly spend all that much money (and the current Steam Winter sale was running), I eventually ran across Vampire Survivors. Remembering the articles talking of how popular it was and how addictive it can be, I decided to take the $3.25 plunge.
Hot damn, was it a well spent $3.25!
Vampire Survivors hits the floor running, delivering fast action and simple yet robust gameplay within minutes. The 8-bit visual style is reminiscent of NES games, and the characters are pulled almost directly from the Castlevania series. As you start dishing out death to bats and zombies, you’ll level up, select from an assortment of new weapons and abilities to enhance your own skills, and do it again and again. Surviving for 30 minutes usually means death, literally, as the grim reaper comes and quickly ends your assault. The roguelike approach works incredibly well, and is the most excellent use of this type of bite sized gameplay. Though it’s not going to top something like Hades, I think it’ll be in conversation with the likes of the roguelike juggernauts for some time.
Unlike Hades and solid roguelikes, Vampire Survivors has no buttons. There are no platforms to jump on, no enemies to slide under and evade, no button combinations to execute a huge special attack. Instead, you just move around the screen. Up, down, left, right, here and there. You’ll attack automatically with every weapon and ability you have. Whips flick on their own, bibles fly around you miraculously, and runes and lightning bolts blast enemies with no remorse. It’s a strange yet refreshing approach: it’s kind of like a twin-stick shooter, but only one stick and no shooting. This limited approach of action allows for players to focus entirely on killing and avoiding enemies. And there are dozens if not hundreds on screen at once. Mix all of this together, and Vampire Survivors becomes one of the simplest games to play and understand, as well as one of the most exciting games to master.
As you peel back the layer of simplicity, you start to discover Vampire Survivors end game. There are the inklings of a “story” happening, but that plays second fiddle to expanded gameplay goals. Eventually you will discover relics in each stage to collect, hidden coffins to uncover, and bosses to challenge and defeat. At just the right time, Vampire Survivors offers more, another little carrot-on-a-stick, to entice you to keep trying. This is where I find myself now, and just cannot believe how much added depth something so easy continues to throw at me. Further game sessions will tell how this all plays out, but I (and now my brother, who seems addicted to the game as well) am so willing to try and try again.
The genius of Vampire Survivors is the game’s best asset. It doesn’t particularly do anything new; in fact, most of what you see on screen is heavily borrowed from other games. What Vampire Survivors does is bring these things together into one extremely satisfying way. It’s incredibly cool to get your weapons levels up and to just obliterate enemies on screen. There are challenges and goals that are just within reach for each round, which makes you want to play one more time to get said goal. Perhaps the simplest controls I’ve seen in a video game makes this equally approachable and deep. It’s the type of game I really enjoy, and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing the last few weeks.