Vampire Survivors


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5 stars
Unleash bullet hell upon thousands of monsters in near-perfect minimalist action

Vampire Survivors by indie developer Luca “poncle” Galante was released in December 2021. It only costs $3 and is still in early access, but has already racked up tens of thousands of “overwhelmingly positive” reviews on Steam.

The game’s formula is simple but brilliantly executed, once you look past its rudimentary 16-bit style pixel graphics. Your goal is to survive for 30 minutes against ever-growing mobs of monsters. You start with a single weapon, but as you defeat monsters, you level up quickly. So far, that sounds like many twin-stick shooters.

The game-changing part of the Vampire Survivors formula is this: There’s no need for button-mashing, as your character auto-fires all weapons at their maximum firing rate.

As someone who quickly gets controller fatigue from many action games, I found it surprisingly chill to play, in spite of the amount of stuff happening on the screen. You avoid enemies, destroy them with an ever-growing arsenal of weapons, collect experience gems, and level up.

Power-ups from hell

Level up enough, and the game’s promise that “you are the bullet hell” becomes fulfilled. It’s hard to convey just how insane things can get. Consider that this shows only a mid-level build:

Character “Krochi” facing an onslaught of monsters in the first stage. (Credit: Luca Galante. Fair use.)

To make it through 30 minutes, you need to continually improve your build, and combine items into ultra-powerful “evolved” weapons. You can also use collected coins from a run to buy persistent power-ups that will help you with all future runs.

It won’t take you more than a few hours to master the first stage, but Vampire Survivors has lots more to offer. You can unlock many different characters (who may have their own unique weapons), additional stages, and additional difficulty levels.

While the maps are generally super-simple, there are a few surprises. For example, the “Dairy Plant” map features new mechanics, such as little carts you can push in the direction of oncoming enemies, and special floor tiles that trigger enemy waves to spawn.

Challenging but not limitless

Even though it is still in early access, Vampire Survivors easily offers 10-20 hours of frantic play as of this writing; content updates have been forthcoming at a rapid clip. If you like action games and don’t find the visual intensity offputting (or worse), you’ll definitely want to check it out.

Unlike roguelikes that offer nearly endless challenges, most players will eventually hit a ceiling as they accumulate persistent power-ups and develop ever-more successful builds. But for $3, that’s still a hell of a lot of entertainment (no pun intended), and anyone trying the game now should revisit it again in a few months as it continues to be expanded and balanced.

I played Vampire Survivors on Linux using Proton without issues (I did have to set the launch options to PROTON_LOG=1 %command% as recommended on ProtonDB).

Additional reading

  • In February, NME published a nice interview with developer Luca Galante.

  • As usual, a Fandom wiki has quickly popped up; if you don’t want to discover every combo for yourself, the weapons evolution guide in particular is indispensable.