When I first saw Vampire Survivors pop up on the Xbox Store I wasn’t expecting great things. Even Microsoft themselves tried to temper my expectations with a store page blurb reading that the game features “minimal gameplay”. That’s not a glowing advert, is it? Well, hold on tight, because what the developers at Poncle have created is something of utter simplicity but something that is hugely addictive. Vampire Survivors is basic but gripping, straightforward but amazingly complex at the same time.
At risk of shortcutting this review, it’s a game that you’ll want to go and play. You can come back and read the rest, thanking me later.
Back now? Awesome. Right, as for the story and Vampire Survivors doesn’t really have one. We are a survivor, and to make sure we stay that way, we have to kill evil creatures. Millions of ‘em. And that is pretty much it – kill stuff, level up, plough your hard earned XP into new attacks, then at the end of each run, spend your gold in a rogue-lite kind of way, hoping that it might make things a bit easier for your next run. And now you know everything you need to know about why we are playing Vampire Survivors. It’s all about that one more run…
Graphically, the game carries on its theme of simplicity with some nice pixel art style graphics, depicting both the hero we choose and the enemies. The basic look of the game places our hero in the middle of the screen as enemies close in from the outside in an attempt to make you dead. Obviously, we need to prevent this, and so weapons come into play. The screen can be absolutely packed with enemies yet Vampire Survivors holds up really well; there is no stutter or slow down at all. Now, while the game looks simple, there must be some graphical horsepower going on behind the scenes, not just to track the enemies but also your many and varied attacks, as well as the interactions between the two. It all works swimmingly.
The audio is great too, each weapon having a nice sound effect, and the tinkle of XP gems nearly always being sweet music to your ears. All in all, the presentation is absolutely perfect for what Vampire Survivors is trying to achieve – which is pretty much the take over of your life.
So, what about the gameplay, this so called “minimal” thing? Well, it is astounding, to not put too much emphasis on it. The premise is simple – stay alive by making the minions of darkness dead. As you level up and get more powerful, so do they, and they increase in number until the screen is absolutely heaving with baddies. Each level lasts only around thirty minutes, and if you make it that far, and manage to kill the boss of each stage that turns up as things start to come to an end, then the Grim Reaper rocks up and kills you, without so much as a by your leave. However, getting to that thirty minute mark is no mean feat.
Luckily, as you kill baddies, they drop gems that give you XP when you pick them up. And as you collect that your level rises and you are given the chance to choose a weapon to either acquire, or to make one more powerful if you have it already. So, let’s start from the beginning – you choose your hero, from an initially small selection, and spawn into the only level that is open. Each hero has a base weapon, be that a whip, a knife or a magic wand, and this starter weapon can be added to, or made more powerful. So, for instance, there are weapons to choose from, like the Ebony Wings, which fire beams of energy in a circle around your character, or the Santa water that drops a holy water explosion on the ground, damaging nearby enemies. There are lots of choices to go with, and while it appears to be luck based which weapons appear, you will soon develop favourites.
But there’s more and the support abilities can help, from a powerful garlic stink that will incinerate weaker enemies that draw near, to an orb that lets you pick up XP gems from further away. I can’t recommend Garlic enough, as with enough levels, you can just walk through enemies and melt them.
This isn’t the end though and you can evolve new weapons by levelling the old ones enough. So the knife becomes something called the Thousand Edges, which is basically a complete stream of blades that shoot whichever way you are looking, and the whip evolves into Bloody Tear, which not only destroys enemies but heals you at the same time. The sheer inventiveness of the weapons is fantastic, and with each run being different, it seems to be impossible to get bored.
Another fun unlock sees you get new characters by performing certain tasks, like killing a certain number of a certain enemy, whilst there are also additional levels to unlock. There is a lot of content here and Vampire Survivors will keep dragging you back.
As you adventure through you also pick up gold and this can be used in the main screen to unlock new abilities that all characters share. Starting with more health or armour, for instance, or even getting a revival should you fall, all feel within your grasp and it’s easy to ensure you have the necessary funds. They make a huge difference to the runs.
Vampire Survivors feels amazing value. It is ridiculously cheap and has a gameplay hook that refuses to let go. I worry that many may take a look at the simple visuals and the Xbox Store description before fast turning away, but I urge you to please try this game. Vampire Survivors is without doubt up there as one of the finest indie games of the year.
Vampire Survivors is on the Xbox Store