Vampire Survivors review

Vampire Survivors is a bullet hell-like shooter and then throw in rougelike mechanics to create a surprising and very satisfying game, one that will likely bring you back time and time again.

For a game that’s called Vampire Survivors, it’s surprising that you don’t play as a Vampire. There are loads of monsters in the game; bats, beasts, mummies, and other scary things. The one thing I haven’t seen yet is a vampire… That doesn’t matter though, because this is a gem of a game, and is right up there with other fantastic rougelikes like Hades and Dead Cells.

The objective of the game is to survive, and there’s an increasing number of enemies coming your way trying to kill you, and it gets quite frantic quickly. It starts out with only a few enemies, but it the screen fills up pretty quickly and soon hundreds of enemies are circling you trying to eliminate you. The game is played from a top-down perspective and the map appears to go on and on, so you can choose to run away if you wish… but there’s only so far to run before you have to get stuck into battle.

There are a wide array of weapons to use in the game to fend off all the nasties coming your way. As well as the weapons, you also have a bunch of unlockable characters. First of all, you start out with a whip, much like Simon Belmont. The whip itself extends and whacks enemies at regular intervals while you manuevre your way around the map. The more enemies you kill, the more experience you’ll gain and you’ll be able to level up abilities. For example, you have Holy Water that you can put on the floor to trap enemies and create death traps, you have holy books that spin around your character creating a protective shield, plus garlic that damages enemies if they get too close to you. You can also get power ups that increase your range and damage of your powers, plus increase the currency you can acquire and health.

The unique part of the game is that you don’t control the powers, which I alluded to earlier with the whip. All powers and abilities are on a set timer, and they fire off periodically. You start out fairly vulnerable, but after a few minutes of a run you’ll be a holy water throwing, garlic-munching monster killing machine. It feels slightly counter intuiative, it feels like you should be running around activating powers and abilities, but even though at first it feels foreign, you’ll get used to it quickly.

One of the challenges with Vampire Survivors, and one element it shares with other successful rougelikes, is you need to find decent combo of items that are a) going to help you survive and b) a combination that you enjoy. Sometimes these things don’t come at the same time, but once it clicks and you have that perfect build, then the game is an absolute joy. You can pick of enemies at range, or you can dive in there and get up close and personal, it depends on the drops per run, but also how you want to play. Vampire Survivors give you plenty of choice and there’s an array of tools for you to use, it’s up to you how you use them.

As you are making progress through levels you’ll be able to pick up gold, which is the main currency in the game. Save up your gold because at the end of runs you’ll want to spend this on permanent upgrades, which are going to make your next run hopefully a little easier.

You can level up weapons as you progress, although there’s a ceiling on the weapons and abilities, meaning you can only level up so much before you hit a limit. Unfortunately, this is where much of the fun in a rougelike comes from, increasing your numbers and watching the process of your little 8-bit character getting more powerful over time. When that stops, I wouldn’t say the fun stops, but it gets a little more laborious. As you progress and the difficulty ramps up, there are so many enemies on screen that quickly moving out of the way no longer becomes an option and you have to face down everything in your path.

There are a couple of additional modes in the game to keep things feeling fresh though. There is Hyper Mode which offers additional gold to collect if you are able to take on quicker enemies. This is also a nice way of getting through the earlier levels, which feel obviously sluggish compared to the mid-tier and later levels. You can also evolve your weapons by adding particular upgrades that pair well, however, the evolved weapons are fun, they’re not a real incentive for me to keep coming back and doing that time and time again.

Vampire Survivors is currently in early access. It shows a LOT of promise early on. If the team gets it right, listens to the feedback from the community then this one could hit the heights of another very successful game from early-access called Hades. It’s fairly unique in that it blends bullet-hell and rougelike mechanics, and the core gameplay loop is great fun. There are a few issues with the starting and later moments of runs, but there is this goldielocks zone in the middle where the game feels amazing. If the team can tap into that and expand upon it, they could be onto a winner.

Developer: poncle, Luca Galante
Publisher: Games Delta, poncle, Luca Galante
Platform: Android, iOS, Linux, PC, Mac
Release date: 17th December 2021 (Early Access)