Over the last few days, I’ve been consumed by a game called Vampire Survivors. It’s cheap, both in terms of price (only $3) and presentation (giant buttons that look more suited to mobile than PC), while very obviously lifting most of its aesthetic inspiration from the Castlevania series. But I can’t get enough of this weird, obsession-driving little game.
I’ve found myself playing Vampire Survivors—originally released on Steam and itch.io last year—just about any time I get a free moment. Draft being looked over? Time to boot up Vampire Survivors and see how far I can get before my editors get back to me. Waiting on Final Fantasy XIV login and raid queues to pop? Might as well waste some time with Vampire Survivors. Crazy as it sounds, I’ve even started to spend my precious free time getting in a few more runs.
Vampire Survivors, as the name suggests, is all about survival. It’s a pseudo-roguelike wherein you traverse an arena that rapidly begins to fill with all sorts of creepy monsters. Bats, skeletons, mummies, and giant praying mantises all relentlessly converge on your location from the edges of the screen. Luckily, the only thing you as the player need to concern yourself with is navigating this throng; your character auto-attacks with whatever gear you manage to acquire through level ups and item drops.
As with most roguelikes, there are multiple characters to choose from when you start a new Vampire Survivors run. Antonio is the game’s Belmont, starting out with a whip that grows stronger as he gains levels, whereas Imelda wields a magic wand and gradually accrues more experience over time. That said, these differences only really matter in the early game, as you’ll quickly gather more weaponry and passive items over the course of a run.
No matter who you choose, Vampire Survivors does everything it can to make them into a bullet hell boss. In addition to the whip and magic wand, you can augment your character with Bibles, crosses, holy water, axes, and more, all of which act just like their obvious Castlevania counterparts. Choosing multiples of these items will grant improvements like larger hitboxes and more projectiles. With passive items that further bolster offense as well as stats like movement speed and defense also in the mix, you quickly begin to understand the necessity of ramping up your abilities before the hordes become too much to handle.
Vampire Survivors’ true power, however, is in its near-constant dopamine rush. It feels like a mobile game without all the mobile game bullshit, or maybe one of those mindless Flash distractions you used to secretly pull up on your school’s study hall computers. Not only is clearing the screen of baddies satisfying, but every so often rare, stronger enemies reward you with a treasure chest that showers you in additional items and money for unlocks with a flashy sequence that rivals even the best loot boxes.
I mean, just look at this:
I’m just going to come out and say it: Vampire Survivors is the perfect game. No, it doesn’t have the sprawling vistas of Death Stranding or the narrative chops of Disco Elysium, but when it comes to pure playability and moment-to-moment texture, this strange project rivals some of the best experiences in the medium. I feel like I’ve finally found a game to rival The Binding of Isaac in that it’s something I’ll be returning to year after year for a quick hit of feel-good brain juice between massive AAA distractions.
And hey, even if you don’t come to the same conclusion, Vampire Survivors only costs a few bucks on Steam. You can even play an early access version right in your browser courtesy of itch.io, no purchase or download required. Just be careful: It can be addicting.