need to know
What is that? A Castlevania-themed roguelike where you try to survive waves of draculas, werewolves and skeletons.
Expect to pay $5/£4
Release date October 20, 2022
The developer poncle
Publishing house poncle
Review Steam Deck, Core i5 12600K, RTX 3070, 32GB RAM
link steam (Opens in a new tab)
Like many PC gamers, after all these years I’ve managed to spend single digit dollars for games on Steam. I managed to get Deus Ex: Invisible War for 40 cents, which I’m pretty sure is what video games were worth during the Great Depression. I never played but still the value.
Given that exposure to cheap games, I say Vampire Survivors is one of the best deals you can get on PC. Bala is an amazingly inventive and amazing inferno who will do anything and at one hour in the morning he muttered the disastrous mantra “one more run” to me after everyone in the house was asleep. As PC Gamer editor Robin Valentine said on Twitter on Tuesday, “It’s dangerous to have on your hard drive.”
Vampire Survivors is built around a horde mode on simple, expansive maps. In Belmont you select a character from a selection of peers as you try to outlast a horde of ghouls and ghouls, growing in power and numbers over a 30-minute timer. Vampire Survivor’s first great curveball is how it handles gunfire. Each weapon is mechanically unique, with different AoE, rate of fire, and damage profiles. Instead of aiming directly at enemies, weapons have a timed firing pattern that is affected by the position of you and the enemy.
Take my character, Arca Ladonna. The early game starts with a pretty unforgiving weapon: a stick that shoots fireballs in the direction of a random enemy on the screen once or twice a second. I have no say in where these fireballs are going, so I have to follow their trail in whatever direction they clear from the already claustrophobic mob of enemies, picking up the level-up gems in their wake.
Contrast that with another heroine, Imelda Belpase (the vampire names are Castlevaniaworthy). It starts with a magic wand that shoots the nearest enemy. Imelda can hit her enemies directly from the start, allowing for a more instantly familiar and aggressive playstyle. I still prefer the high-risk, high-reward randomization offered by Arca, which is something unique to Vampire Survivors, but you have a lot of options right from the start.
I enjoy the way these preset shooting patterns encourage me to build an additional arsenal. For example, unlikely but powerful fireballs pair well with something more consistent and precise, like Imelda’s wand or boomerang crosses. This measured early game build pays off in an explosive power fantasy that perpetuates itself in the final third of a run, and I think this gets Vampire Survivors’ secret sauce.
With six weapons that can be upgraded and at least some of them evolved through item combos, your character unleashes a constant stream of projectiles while pushing back an endless wave of enemies. At this point it almost plays itself out, but that’s part of the fun. The closest thing I can compare it to is when you take out a unit deathball in a more tactical RTS or RPG. I get the same pleasure center in my lizard brain as I do when I click on an enemy and watch sparks fly as I drag to select a set of mages with Battlecruisers in StarCraft or Melf’s Minute Meteor in Baldur’s Gate.
This runs the risk of getting boring, and the few times I’ve been lucky enough to steamroll late game into an easy transition early game has dragged Vampire Survivors. Fortunately, there are game speed and enemy challenge variables to keep things moving, and Vampire Survivors’ array of hidden characters, challenges, and levels reignited the fun for me once I got into a groove. It reminds me of the big iceberg of the sequential final level of Binding of Isaac or the secret levels and amazing bosses of Ultrakill and Cruelty Squad. The secrets of Vampire Survivors help you feel generous and amazing.
One challenge that blew me away requires killing a seemingly invulnerable boss, more of a game rule than something you can actually beat. Collecting special items requires going to the far corners of the map. These items, along with the two specific armaments offered upon leveling up, when fully upgraded, unlock a pair of uber-weapons, and unlock a hidden character.
I made two attempts on this run to no avail before I lucked into two parts of the RNG side of the build a day later in a casual game. I drastically changed my ride to run the gauntlet, picked up everything I needed and completely revamped it in just two minutes. It was awesome to finally collect everything, although you can even fight standing in one place for 30 minutes with this innovative farm. (Opens in a new tab). In my opinion, it’s the sheer strength of Vampire Survivors that allows for such silliness.
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I certainly enjoy Vampire Survivors on my desktop, but I think it really sings on Steam Deck (or, failing that, on a thin and light laptop). I did most of my gameplay for this review on the couch or porch. Untethered from a desktop-quality CPU, Vampire starts to shake a bit during those late-run steamroll sequences, but the game doesn’t really require reflexes and I honestly like the effect – I feel like it’s tightening my Deck. the weight of all these meteors. Creator Poncle plans to switch to a new and more stable engine (Opens in a new tab) by the end of the year
Vampire Survivors is a killer little game, a fun roguelike that totally hooked me, a guy who’s pretty tired of the genre at this point. Also, it will only kill your free time, not your wallet. On sale for $4 until November 1st, you’ve got a choice between this awesome indie game or one of the three cheapest beers from my old job.