2022 has been a hectic year for gaming. Between the release of major titles like Elden Ring, Dying Light 2, and Horizon Forbidden West in rapid succession, and a flurry of (not always great) news, it’s been a tough year to keep up with. Now that things are slowing down a bit, though, it’s finally time to start catching up on games you may have missed. Specifically, it’s time to finally play Vampire Survivors if you haven’t already had the pleasure of doing so.
Though technically released via Steam Early Access in late December 2021, most people didn’t find developer poncle’s Vampire Survivors until 2022. It’s honestly amazing people found the game in the first place. It is, after all, a visually simple and mechanically odd game that may come across as a kind of Castlevania rip-off. To be blunt, it looks like thousands of other games that clog the Steam library.
Vampire Survivors is so much more than that, though. It’s not just one of 2022’s best games; it’s a reminder that there are still times when great titles can rise above the noise and make a name for themselves. Here are a few of the reasons why you should finally see what all the Vampire Survivors hype is about.
Vampire Survivors Is a Kind of Reverse Bullet Hell Shooter
It’s surprisingly difficult to describe Vampire Survivors‘ gameplay despite the fact that it looks like a pretty simple title. However, the game’s trailer sums up the basic experience rather nicely by stating it allows you to “Be the bullet hell.”
In Vampire Survivors, you play as one of several selectable characters. Each character starts off with a basic item that allows them to perform an attack. While every attack is different, they all share one key quality: the fact you can’t directly control any of them. Instead, character’s attacks are dealt at automated intervals and produce a variety of effects. The only direct control you have over the moment-to-moment action is the ability to move your character around. Of course, you’ll need to move your character around quite a lot. Not only will your movements help you avoid the mobs of enemies that are constantly trying to get close to you; they allow you to pick up valuable health items, currency, and resources for attack upgrades.
As you level your character and acquire more items and upgrades, your attacks become much more frequent and significantly more powerful. Properly upgrading your character often means finding ways to attack as often as possible and from as many angles as possible. Ideally, you’re trying to turn your character into a swirling vortex of death. In other words, you’re basically slowly turning into the boss from a bullet hell game.
It’s a true joy to watch your character go from “just better than helpless” to an overpowered endgame boss over the course of one of the game’s 30-minute runs. Upgrades are handed out often enough that you always feel like you’re making progress but not so often that there isn’t an element of risk. The mobs of enemies that surround you grow larger at about the same rate that your arsenal improves. What feels like an unstoppable horde one moment soon becomes butter to your hot knife. The sheer chaos of the average late-game scenario should be too much to process. However, it’s all kept in check by one of the game’s best qualities…
Vampire Survivors Boils Roguelike Games Down To Their Simplest Form
I completely understand if the idea of slowly moving a character around while attacks happen around you doesn’t sound appealing. After all, if you’re going to play a game where you slowly upgrade your character over the course of a “run” why not play roguelikes like Hades or The Binding of Issac that let you actively participate in the action?
Well, it’s because Vampire Survivors‘ lack of active combat isn’t a hindrance; it’s one of the game’s best assets.
The joy of the best roguelike titles comes from gradually feeling more powerful in a situation that initially seems hopeless. The frustration of many roguelikes comes when you lose all your progress in little more than an instant. It’s a concept that is notoriously tough to balance. On the one hand, the tension of losing it all is key to the thrill of the entire roguelike genre. On the other hand, it can be unsatisfying to realize that your fate is sometimes subject to the will of a digital slot machine that dishes out random digital loot and random dangers.
It may sound strange, but by severely reducing your direct control over a situation, Vampire Survivors removes much of the frustration that comes from the roguelike genre. To put it another way, it removes some of the illusions other roguelike games live by. If you have a bad run in Vampire Survivors, it’s rarely because you did something wrong. Maybe you could have picked a better series of upgrades or avoided certain mobs, but death is often the result of things just not going your way. It’s strangely comforting to play a roguelike game that embraces its slot machine elements. The thrill of hitting that jackpot run is immense. The dread of a bad spin is quickly washed away by the pull of another lever.
Mind you, Vampire Survivors isn’t just a game about luck. Once you learn how certain upgrades interact with each other and how to purchase permanent upgrades, you start to appreciate the value of the choices you are afforded. Do you go with the upgrade you need right now, or do you run the risk of going for that super upgrade down the line? Do you stick with what you know or dare to try something new and possibly better? In a game all about trying to build the most overpowered character possible, there are a surprising amount of viable ways to become stronger. Because you rarely need to worry about the mechanics, you get to enjoy the simple pleasures of the character building process.
Vampire Survivors Is An Addictive Time Killer That Doesn’t Want to Be The Only Game You Play
In the age of massive open-world titles and live-service multiplayer games, more and more titles feel like an investment. If you’re hesitant to start a new game because you’re worried it will demand too much time or too much money from you, you’re not alone. So many games want to be the only game in your life.
Vampire Survivors isn’t that kind of game. It’s a game that demands no more than 30 minutes of your attention at a time. Sure, you can make multiple runs at once, but the only incentive to do so is the fact that you’re having so much fun you don’t want to stop.
That shouldn’t be a novel concept, but it kind of is. While you’re playing Vampire Survivors, you’re entirely locked into the experience. When you’re not playing Vampire Survivors, the game isn’t trying to call out to you with anything more mischievous than the allure of another run. It’s rare to find a modern game that feels so engrossing in the moment but doesn’t demand more than the moments of your time you’re willing to give it.
Despite its relative simplicity in that respect, Vampire Survivors has enjoyed quite a few notable updates. New content and balance patches are added to the game frequently enough to ensure that there’s usually a pretty good reason to check back in with it. In a game like this, even a few new items can drastically change the options available to you.
Of course, it’s the fact that you can ignore Vampire Survivors for as long as you’d like that makes it so oddly appealing. It’s a game that respects your time rather than demands it.
Vampire Survivors Costs $3 on Steam and Will Soon be Included With Xbox Game Pass
I really didn’t want to lead with Vampire Survivors‘ low price as a selling point. The game could be significantly more expensive and it would still be one of the easiest recommendations of the year.
Yet, it’s especially hard to overlook a great game that happens to cost less than a cup of coffee. Actually, Vampire Survivors is will be added to the PC Xbox Game Pass collection on May 19th, so you will be able to try it for the cost of what you’re already paying for your Game Pass subscription. While there’s no word on whether or not Vampire Survivors will come to other platforms, hopes are high for additional ports. It’s certainly an ideal handheld or mobile experience.
It’s rare that we get to recommend spending less than $5 on one of the best games of the year without having to worry about microtransactions, but that’s just the kind of rare game Vampire Survivors is. It’s a pure, well-crafted, and delightfully simple cure for some of the worst aspects of the modern games industry that so happens to be the perfect game to finally try during an especially dry time for new releases.