It costs as much as two scoops of ice cream and is already a real surprise hit: The indie insider tip Vampire Survivors is currently being played all over the place on Twitch, and there are also positive user reviews on Steam. But is there actually a good game behind the hype?
So there we have it, the first surprise hit of the year. Vampire Survivors is played more often on Steam than Stardew Valley or Red Dead Redemption 2. The insider tip seemed to come out of nowhere, according to Steam the game was only released on December 17, 2021. Since then it has collected around 14,000 user reviews (99% of which are positive) and Vampire Survivors is also extremely popular on Twitch. Is it all just hype, or is there actually a good game behind the coarsely pixelated retro façade?
The indie game could hardly be simpler. You play one of eight unlockable hero characters, which you only control with the WASD keys (alternatively with the gamepad). Up, down, left, right – that’s all you need. Monsters are coming at you from all sides, like in a bullet hell shooter you have to keep moving, dodge and mow down the opponents. Your character attacks fully automatically, so all you really have to do is walk around. It’s terribly tough at first, but after a very short time the speed really picks up: Every defeated opponent leaves behind a blue jewel that gives you a few experience points. With each level up, you can then choose from several upgrades and weapons, which you can continue to expand in this way. So you learn to throw crosses, fireballs, throwing knives and magic, and there are also plenty of passive upgrades that you can use, for example, to reduce the cooldown or increase the number of projectiles.
At the latest when you look at the icons, the parallels to the Castlevania series become all too clear: the simple 8-bit graphic style, the character design and, above all, the look of the weapons and upgrades could all come directly from Konami’s whip-wielding series. By the way, this shouldn’t automatically be taken as praise: Even for a retro game, Vampire Survivors isn’t a pretty game. But it doesn’t detract from the fun of the game.
If you stay alive long enough and combine the right weapons and upgrades, your measly pixel figurine will transform into an all-destroying fighting machine after just a few minutes: While unbelievable amounts of enemies are raining down on you, you mow down the hordes mercilessly with your automatic attacks and pump fill you up with experience points like there’s no tomorrow. From this point on, Vampire Survivors is the power fantasy in play, incredibly simple but also refreshingly honest and satisfying. Oh yes, there is also a goal: You have to last 30 minutes – and that’s it for now. A boss appears at the last moment, but before the fight can even start, you automatically bite the dust. The boss fight will only be installed with a later update, until then the 30-minute rule will remain. This makes Vampire Survivors ideal for a short game in between, after all you’re done in half an hour at the latest – and have killed more than 30,000 monsters without any problems.
It’s frighteningly fun, but after a few runs it loses its appeal. However, Vampire Survivors still has an ace up its sleeve, namely its rogue-lite mechanics: Every now and then we encounter particularly tough opponents who leave behind treasure chests full of gold. With the money you can then unlock permanent improvements in the main menu, for example more XP gain, regeneration or additional projectiles. You should plan a few hours until you have scraped together the necessary gold and unlocked everything.
Vampire Survivors is still in the Early Access phase, the project will be completed in a year at the earliest. In the meantime, the developers want to add significantly more levels, upgrades, mechanics and a story mode.