PC Gaming Reviews

Vampire Survivors Proves That 'Less Is More'

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Vampire Survivors - Windows PC Gameplay

Vampire Survivors

Developer: Poncle
Publisher: Poncle
Release Date: October 20, 2022

A few months ago I was gifted Vampire Survivors from a friend of mine who had recently played the game herself. She was telling me how much fun the game was and with its price of entry being a mere four bucks, wanted me to check it out. I did not check it out. At least, not immediately. I’d see the game in my Steam library and Vampire Survivors would stare back, waiting for me to press the “Play” button. What made me finally give this ‘vampire slaying’ title a shot was another friend who had echoed the same praise that my first friend gave a few weeks later. These two never met a day in my life, at least I don’t think so.

The point is, two different sources close to me mentioned this title and it’s a Friday morning with not much left in the queue this week. Now was an as good time as any to see for myself what all the hubbub was about and after playing roughly three runs, my questions were answered. But first, what exactly is Vampire Survivors? If you were like me and thought “Kill vampires, heck, fight Dracula!” then you’d be mistaken. There are no ancient castles to explore or courtyards filled with skeletons to endure. There are fields of skeletons, bats, ogres, and other assortments of ghoulish threats to eliminate without pressing a single button.

The enemy formations tend to get predictable, the hard part is trying not to be greedy.

Vampire Survivors’ only controls are moving with the analog stick on a gamepad, WASD on a keyboard, or pointing and dragging with the mouse. The game begins with one character, a non-Belmont using his whip to fight bats. Totally nothing that anyone’s seen before. While the Castlevania influences are there, the main appeal is how little investment is required of the player. Need to sit idly in a Discord call and looking to do something to pass the time without requiring much agency? Vampire Survivors is there. Want to have something idle in the background while you’re occupied with something boring? Vampire Saviors.

To put it lightly, this game joins the ranks of other “idle games” including Cookie Clicker, arguably one of the most popular games of its type. Originally released in 2013, the browser-only game was released on Steam in 2021, which I had no idea was even on Steam until I started to write about Vampire Survivors. The objective of that game is to click a cookie, much like the objective is to “move around” in Vampire Survivors. Obviously, it’s not that simple—there are modifiers and outside events that influence the state in which the player counters via simplistic inputs. However, the premise of both games is so basic that anyone can enjoy it.

The DLC adds a bonus map with different enemies, yet the core gameplay remains the same.

Depending on who the player chooses, each character has a different starting weapon. The first character the player controls, for example, has a whip that shoots in the direction the character is facing. Upon leveling up, the character can choose one of three weapons and upgrades, similar to almost all roguelikes with a leveling system. Each weapon activates automatically with its own little quirks. The axe, for example, fires upward with a wide hitbox. Holy Water—Santa Water, in this game, rains from above and deals area-of-effect damage.

Each weapon acts separately from the other and that was part of the fun for Vampire Survivors. Going at it blind, there’s no way to determine which weapon or item does what, aside from a vague description of the item. Eventually, the player will find what works for them at any specific run given at the time. There was a weapon I had that fired a salvo of missiles in a clockwise arc. This meant that I had to position myself and kite the enemies, ensuring as many enemies would get hit as possible. After a run, a stat menu will appear showing the player which weapon did the most damage along with its DPS. 

There are many unlockables that help makes each playthrough bearable.

The player uses the gold earned to unlock permanent buffs and characters, effectively building their arsenal to the point where they’re taking on hoards of enemies with ease. Vampire Survivors is a bit of a slow burn, but the player will reach the “end game,” eventually. The only thing that’s required from the player is to move, avoid taking unnecessary damage, and find a way to pick up experience gems dropped by the enemies as safely as possible. The success of Vampire Survivors is a brilliant reminder that accessible games, or titles with the minimum agency from the player, are often the more popular ones among the “non-gamer” crowd.

This is less of a review of Vampire Survivors but more of an intriguing insight as to what makes some games more popular than others. Often, it’s the simple games that initiate serotonin as seeing numbers and monsters turn into bloody pixels is always a treat. Even the endless runners I’ve played follow a similar formula, some better than others. As for Vampire Survivors itself, while the price tag may seem enticing, the player is paying less than five bucks for what essentially is a point-and-drag simulator. However, for those wanting to kill hundreds if not thousands of demons while also not having to think about builds and execution, this game proves that less is more.

Every level grants you a new item and upgrade.

Vampire Survivors is available on Steam, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Mobile devices.

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