As far as I can remember when it comes to books, games and movies that deal with fledgling or newly-turned vampires, there comes a point where they will need to satiate their thirst for blood. More often than not, these noobs will initially find the act disgusting and vile but after experiencing the benefits and highs of feeding on that sweet nectar that is human blood, they get addicted to it.
I found myself in a somewhat similar situation when it came to Luca “poncle” Galante’s 2022 smash hit, Vampire Survivors. It was plastered on almost every gaming site and YouTube thumbnail shortly after it was released, but the idea of an old-school bullet hell roguelike did not sound like a fun time to me at that point.
However, since it was recently released for the Nintendo Switch, I thought it would make for a good portable pick-up-and-play game especially since the base game is priced at only USD4.99 (~MYR23 / ~SGD6.70), while the two DLCs, Legacy of the Moonspell and Tides of Foscari, are priced at USD1.99 (~MYR9 / ~SGD2) each.
Little did I expect myself to abandon every other game I have on my PC, PlayStation 5 and Switch but that is just what has happened as I have been sucked into this unassumingly addictive game. So much so that I have had to force myself to not touch my Switch so I can write this review and tell you why you should (and maybe should not) pick it up for the Switch.
Just a trickle of a story
Honestly, if you come into Vampire Survivors hoping for an epic saga that pits forces of good against Dracula and his evil hordes, you would be very disappointed. That is not to say that this game does not have a story, though–it does; it is just very barebones.
Basically, the game is set in rural Italy where the evil Bisconte Draculó has summoned hordes of demons, monsters and other forms of nasties to torment its inhabitants. The heroic Belpaese family and other survivors then set out on a quest to vanquish the evil from the lands.
That is pretty much all you get. There are no thought-provoking conversations or decisions that alter the game’s ending. In fact, the ‘dialogues’ you do get are just two to three sentences long.
This bloody engaging gameplay loop
The lack of a story is really no big deal in my opinion because Vampire Survivors aces the gameplay department. It might seem simplistic at first because all you will be doing is jumping into a stage and trying to survive for 15- or 30 minutes against a constant wave of monsters that rapidly get tougher and greater in numbers. But the combination of roguelike and shoot ‘em up mechanics plus a load of unlockables create an engrossing amalgamation that will keep you coming back for one more round.
Vampire Survivors sticks to the tried and true roguelike formula. So, when you complete a stage or if you die, the character you chose does not keep all the weapons and passive items but you do keep the gold, weapon evolution recipes, relics and other unlockables. The gold you have accumulated can then be used to unlock new characters or spent on PowerUps that permanently improve stats such as armour, damage, health regen, attack speed and more of all the characters in your roster.
As for the shoot ‘em up side of things, the twist Galante has made to the formula is the fact that instead of surviving a bullet hell, your aim is to become the harbinger of bullet hell. Most enemies will rush you and whittle down your health when they touch you, so the best thing to do is to keep them at bay with a constant barrage of attacks.
And how do you get this barrage of attacks? Monsters will drop experience gems when killed and by collecting enough of them, you will level up and have to choose one out of three or four random weapons or passive items. Each time you level up, you will then have to choose whether you want something new or upgrade what you currently have in your arsenal. Upgrades can also be obtained from chests when you defeat a miniboss. Chests contain gold and can give you one, three or five weapon or passive item upgrades for ones that you already own.
Depending on how challenging you want the game to be, you can hold up to six weapons or just the one starting weapon of your chosen character and up to six passive items. Choosing the right combination matters because with the right weapons and passive items, you can evolve weapons into more powerful ones which will usually fill the screen with projectiles and most evolved weapons come with useful effects such as healing you, cutting enemies’ health in half, freezing them and more.
Keep coming back for another bite
As I mentioned in one of the previous paragraphs, there are a lot of unlockables in this game such as new characters, items, gameplay features, stages and one-time rewards. Each of these is unlocked when you hit a certain achievement and these vary from simple things such as reaching a certain level or upgrading a weapon to a certain level or more challenging ones such as defeating a total of 100,000 enemies in a single run or even uncovering secrets in certain levels.
This is how Vampire Survivors makes you come back for more because the moment you think you have seen or done everything, a new achievement or content is placed in front of you. If you purchase both DLCs, you will have a total of 57 playable characters; 41 standard characters (four unlocked at the beginning), 16 secret characters and 16 more from the DLCs; with different stats, starting weapons and passive bonuses. That alone kept me playing over and over again just to unlock new characters and their starting weapons.
And if you love experimenting with different combinations of weapons and passive items just to see how quickly the map can be filled with experience gems and projectiles while damage numbers constantly pop up above enemies’ heads, you will easily spend hours on this game until your Switch’s battery runs out.
Cue the sensory overload
However, as fun as this game is, if you cannot handle constant flashing or are prone to sensory overload, then it might best to steer clear from Vampire Survivors because the number of projectiles, numbers, and bleeps and bloops will no doubt make you feel uncomfortable. It might be better if you play it on a larger screen but since I played it mostly on the Switch in handheld mode, I can only handle two to three sessions of the game. Any more than that and I will need to go lie down for an hour.
Furthermore, if you decide to purchase the game for the Switch, during the later stages when things get very hectic, you will notice frame drops and slowdowns when all you see is just projectiles flying out of the wazoo of your character. The game is also available for the PC, Mac, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S so the performance dips might not be so noticeable. I would not even want to imagine playing this game on an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet.
At the end of the day though, Vampire Survivors definitely deserves all the accolades it has received because it is an extremely affordable game that is packed with content and has an addictive gameplay loop. Not to mention the game is also easy to pick up and play as you essentially only have to move the character using the left analogue stick and the game now supports 4-player couch co-op so you can have three friends experiencing the madness with you.
- Low price for loads of content and long hours of fun
- 4-player couch co-op
- Soundtrack is filled with good tunes
- Gameplay that rewards experimentation
- Charming character designs and old-school graphics
- Aural and visual sensory overload
- Frame drops when things get hectic
- Might cause controller drift on your left Joy-Con
Once you get started on Vampire Survivors, it will be very hard for you to put it down especially if you love bullet hell games and seeing damage numbers constantly popping up over an enemy.