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[Rapid Review] Vampire Survivors

Posted on August 26, 2023 by in Reviews, Switch eShop

Vampire Survivors review

System: Switch
Release date: August 17, 2023
Developer: Poncle
Publisher: Poncle

Every now and then a game will be released that breaks away from the labels that we use to define titles and will become a thing entirely unto itself. Vampire Survivors is one such game, having been met with massive success when it first launched last year. Part rogue-like, part bullet-hell, and entirely self-contained, it has already inspired several other titles that have tried to capture its unique magic. It is magic, I am very pleased to say, that is a perfect fit for the Switch, and a game that is more than worth your time.

At its core, Vampire Survivors is relatively simple: you choose a character, choose a stage, and waves of enemies will come at you from all angles. Your character will attack them automatically with their starting weapon, only requiring you to move around to avoid having them walk into you. Defeated enemies will frequently drop small crystals that serve as experience points, and once you level up, you’re taken to a screen with a minimum of three choices of randomly selected weapons and power-ups. Once you’ve picked one to add to your arsenal (or upgrade) you’re thrown back into the game and the onslaught continues.

As time ticks on, enemies come in greater strength and frequency, and if you somehow manage to last for 30 minutes you will be faced with the Reaper who will kill you instantly in most circumstances, giving you a time limit on runs for the majority of the game. Once you die you’re taken to the results screen, allowed to keep your gold and anything else you might have unlocked, and the process repeats. It’s a loop that anyone who has played a roguelike or roguelite will be intimately familiar with by now, but with Vampire Survivors the stages are not randomly generated and there is no particular end goal to work towards or story to watch in-between runs. This might make it sound less appealing to some, but I found this to be remarkably refreshing and a perfect game for just switching off my brain and idling away a few minutes (or often hours) between doing other things.

Vampire Survivors review

Weapons are fantastically varied, ranging from the usual things you would expect such as swords and guns, to other surprises like waves of cats and a force field powered by garlic. Power-ups are a little more straightforward, and provide effects like improving your weapon’s area of effect, or your character’s movement speed. These can completely alter the gameplay flow of each run: the Garlic will often allow you to walk right into weaker enemies to kill them due to its shorter range, and is better able to utilize power-ups like the Candelabrador, which augments the area of attacks by 10 percent per level. In an enclosed stage like the Inlaid Library, the Runetracer suddenly becomes a much more attractive choice, as it ricochets between walls and catches enemies that are more tightly packed together than they are in larger, more open levels.

Each weapon can also be combined with a passive ability to create a stronger weapon: the King Bible, for example, can be combined with the Spellbinder to create the Unholy Vespers, which will orbit your character permanently rather than temporarily. To upgrade a weapon you will first need to fully upgrade its base form and acquire the corresponding power-up, and then defeat a stronger enemy that will drop a chest. Chests are comically overdone, giving you a small amount of gold, a randomly chosen upgrade to any acquired weapon or power-up, and an immense amount of satisfaction if you happen to hit a lucky chest that will give you an extended sequence that will make you feel like you hit the jackpot at a slot machine.

Vampire Survivors review

What appears to be a relatively simplistic, almost idle game suddenly becomes a lot more nuanced and complicated the more that you play it: which weapons should you pick for the stage you’re on to maximize your chances of survival? For a game that only requires the use of the left analogue stick and a single button to pick your power-ups or open a chest, Vampire Survivors is extremely involving and requires quite a bit of strategy to last for longer than a few minutes, as the enemy frequency and strength spikes quite dramatically after a few minutes, forcing you to do a fair amount of preparation or die instantly when you’re overwhelmed.

The RNG nature of power-ups can make the game feel slow in its opening hours, especially if you’re trying to acquire a specific weapon or power-up and the game just refuses to present it as one of the options upon leveling up, forcing you to take a sub-optimal choice. With a maximum of six weapons and power-ups your choices can make the difference between life and death as enemies get progressively stronger, and being actively hampered in survival by RNG mechanics is more than a little frustrating. Thankfully there is never a wasted run: the gold you acquire in each run can be spent on permanent power-ups that apply regardless of which character you pick, and the game has over 100 achievements which will reward you with additional characters, game mechanics, and weapon options. Once you start unlocking new stages and options, things progress at a much smoother pace and become much more enjoyable. The game will tell you what you need to do for each of its achievements, allowing you to make the best use of your time if you choose, and you can also refund your gold spent on permanent power-ups at any time.

The soundtrack is excellent, and put me in mind of Michiru Yamane’s work on the DS Castlevania titles, with an added techno flare that complements its retro visual style perfectly. The Hyper variants of each track give stages an added level of urgency, and the Forsaken variants feel either comically sluggish or distinctly more ominous. Each level has an accompanying unique theme that plays by default, but you will eventually unlock the ability to select tracks. Explosive sound effects complement weapons perfectly, making them far more satisfying to watch as they mow down waves of enemies. You can also opt for “Blast Processed” sound effects if you’d like something that feels a little less retro and a little more arcade, which is a nice option.

Vampire Survivors review

Vampire Survivors has decidedly low budget sprite-based visuals, being reminiscent of the classic Castlevania titles on the NES, although its visual effects are extremely flashy and satisfying: enemies will die in an enjoyable little puff of pixelated dust, and your weapons all have a unique visual effect. The visual chaos on screen can be overwhelming at times, especially after around 20 minutes, when you literally cannot see your character on screen due to the sheer number of enemies, damage numbers, and weapon effects. As fast as you kill them, more will appear, and it’s difficult not to die simply from not being able to see what you’re doing. This was no doubt intentional, but it can feel a little cheap at times, especially if you’re trying to survive the full 30 minutes for a particular achievement.

What surprised me the most about Vampire Survivors was just how well it runs on the Switch. Having played the game for well over 50 hours on Steam and experiencing a lot of slowdown during the last few minutes of levels, I was expecting the frame rate to drop into single digits. Thankfully the experience was relatively smooth throughout, with only a few slight hitches and some longer than average pauses when selecting my next power-up. The game is an absolute blast on Switch and a solid choice even if you have the means to experience it on a different platform.

The Verdict

Vampire Survivors is more than deserving of the praise it has gathered since its release last year on PC, and is an absolute blast to play on Switch. Despite its relatively simple gameplay loop (or perhaps because of it) it is frighteningly addictive, with a “just one more run” feeling that can result in you spending several hours on it if you’re not careful. It nails progression perfectly, and does an excellent job of making you feel as though every minute you put into it was worth your time, and that there are no failed runs. It also comes at an absolutely fantastic price point, at a time where prices are on the rise and not necessarily reflective of the quantity or quality of the content available. Whether you have a few minutes or a few hours to spare, this is a game well worth your time.

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