How is it that I’ve only just heard of Vampire Survivors (£2.09/$2.99 on Steam)? I must be the only one who hasn’t at this point, it has nearly 115k reviews, and an overwhelmingly positive rating. Maybe my brain filtered it out on my behalf – it’s super-generic name and pixel art style doing little to stand out or excite. In the end, I found it through our own Steam review data. I sorted the 2,500 games on record by positive review %, and filtered to games with the largest number of reviews. I expected to see the usual favourites – a Portal game or two, Hades, Stardew Valley, Rimworld etc. But sitting pretty at the very top – with a massive 99.1% positive rating – Vampire Survivors.
So this game must be incredible I thought, and I jumped straight away (although there is a version on itch.io if you wanted to see if it was for you). The gist, as described by the developer:
‘Minimiastic gameplay’ is right. There are just four buttons to learn – WASD or the arrow keys that will move your vampire around. Your character will then automatically attack with whatever weapons it has, killing enemies and making them drop little gem things (I can’t currently be bothered to research what name the game actually gives them). The little gem things level you up, giving you a choice of additional power-ups (weapons or stats boosts). Survive for 30 minutes (a big ask) and you win the level.
You can also collect gold (used to purchase new vampires and persistent stat boosts), roast chicken (for health obviously), and rare items that do various cool things like shooting out fire, drawing all gems on the level to you or killing everything on screen.
It might be minimalist design but Vampire Survivors is highly addictive. Level-ups occur frequently and it’s always exciting to see what you’re going to be given. As you level up and your build really starts to kick into gear, enemies get obliterated at a swift and highly satisfying rate. This gives an incredible feeling of power progression – from being terrified of a few bats at the start of the game, to knowing for certain that you’ll be able to escape a situation such as this:
Of course on top of any simple gameplay loop is the usual long list of achievements, unlocks, collectables, combos and, presumably, secrets to sustain long-term interest. These elements featured heavily in the run that represents both my best and worst experience with Vampire Survivors. Playing on the game’s second level, Inlaid Library, things were going swimmingly. After about level 10 I felt pretty untouchable and I was scaling far quicker than the enemy spawn rate. I’d defeated various mini-bosses/elite enemies, my weapons were getting upgraded at a ridiculous rate and the victory looked a dead certainty. I was even able to leave the game to play itself for a good five minutes as nothing could get close to me at all. I felt safe at the 27 minute mark, the 28 minute mark, the 29 minute mark – mere 60 seconds away from victory. And then at 29:30, a wave of enemies attacked that I couldn’t do anything about, and I died.
Reflecting on this loss, I still can’t see what I could have done at all differently to prevent this from happening. All of my power-ups were max level (at a certain point you just get given gold) and I was completely encircled in just a split second – with never an opportunity to evade. My only conclusion is that my base stats were not strong enough because I haven’t played the game for enough hours to level them up yet, or the optimal build wasn’t available to me because not everything is yet unlocked. A deeply frustrating way to end 20-something minutes of enjoyable carnage.
So is Vampire Survivors any good? Yes?… It’s certainly addictive as hell and in running on a 10-year old Macbook, and being playable with one hand while multitasking (I was flicking through Reddit at several points), it certainly feels like it has a place when I want something to play but don’t want to move off the sofa or fully engage. But, to set expectations, it’s a £2/$3 game. It’s well-developed but highly limited. Our Steam review data corroborates this – suggesting that it’s got satisfying gameplay, and is incredible value, but offers very little beyond that.
That said, at the price it’s sold at there’s very little reason not to recommend it. I’ve played for 3-4 hours now and have already got my money’s worth. I suspect I’ll be adding another 5-10 hours minimum before getting a little bit bored. That said, the average playtime of Steam reviewers is ~40 hours, so the game definitely has legs. Definitely worth checking out.