Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
By all rights, this week’s installment of What Are You Playing This Weekend? should probably be about something new, instead of a game that’s been out in Early Access since late 2021, and which has had several peaks of popularity in the intervening months. Shouldn’t I be talking about the mixture of innovations and familiarity powering the 1.0 release of Rogue Legacy 2? Talking up the Scrabble-based battles of the demo of Writer’s Block, a spiritual successor to my beloved BookWorm Adventures? Preparing some trenchant thoughts on this weekend’s new samurai game, Trek To Yomi?
Probably! But also: Screw it. I just want to play Vampire Survivors. You may be able to relate.
Released back in December, Vampire Survivors is, on the surface, a hilariously blatant, copyright-skirting parody of the Castlevania franchise. The twist here is that, instead of crawling through massive castles filled with every ghoul known to mortal imaginations, in Vampire Survivors the monsters come to you. And come to you. And come, in hordes, filling the screen with sometimes hundreds of sprites at a time.
Rather than Konami’s castle-based cash cow, Survivors is, in fact, a very slick and smart spin on the old Robotron arcade franchise, tasking you (and your chosen hero) with gunning, or boomeranging, or holy watering, etc., your way through endless armies of largely mindless opponents that arrive in treasure-packed waves. Created by Luca Galante, it has the paradoxical feel of being a port of a mobile app that doesn’t actually exist, with big, goofy buttons, extremely simple controls, and a progression scheme that feels lifted straight from the likes of Pac-Man 256.
All of which probably sounds pretty lousy on paper, but, get this: It is not lousy. It kicks ass, actually, in the most addictive of ways.
The most obvious point in Survivors’ favor is its wide array of weapons, almost all lifted (visually, at least) from the Castlevania franchise. You can hold six of them at a time, which sounds like a mess, except that every weapon in Vampire Survivors fires automatically; rather than manage a bunch of different attack controls, you just walk your little hero around while their whip whips and their axes go flying and birds drop bombs, and the monster hordes press in. Add in another six slots for passive upgrades, and you have a surprisingly deep set of build options, even before you begin factoring in the bonuses that different unlockable characters bring to the battle, or evolving weapons unlocked by particular combinations of item and armament. For a game that looks mindless from a distant view, there’s a remarkable amount of strategy in crafting each run through the game—with good item selection the key between getting quickly ground down to the dust or becoming a functionally unstoppable engine of screen-obliterating death.
And god, but do those runs pop. Vampire Survivors isn’t necessarily a quick game—if you get on a roll, a game can last up to a full half hour. But it still feels breezy, as you watch mountains of monsters melt away under a particularly powerful strategy. (Or crush in on you in massive waves if your build isn’t up to snuff.) Galante also has an almost comical knack for giving players regular kicks of dopamine, whether it’s the triumphant moment of leveling up and getting a new weapon, or the ridiculously over-the-top animations that play when you open a chest after killing a mini-boss.
The end result is a game that’s compulsively playable, of the kind that can be absolutely focus-destroying in the wrong circumstances. After all, why should I write a full ending sentence for this column? Vampire Survivors is right there, right now, waiting down in my Steam tab for me to just