Launching on Steam Early Access in late 2021, Vampire Survivors became a notable indie hit by the end of January 2022, reaching an impressive 30,000 concurrent play sessions on the platform and receiving rave reviews from gamers. And within a year the project turned into an incredible phenomenon that took two hundred and thirty-three hours to complete Phil Spencer himself (Well, either Phil had the console with the game running for a long time). Besides this certainly impressive feat, there are many others: the game left Steam Early Access and was released on other platforms (including mobile), received high marks from the press and garnered insane sales, and more obsolete such powerful projects as Elden Ring, Stray, Neon White and God of War according to the conditional indicator of people’s love calculated by SteamDB. Vampire Survivors couldn’t avoid prestigious nominations, including Game of the Year, at prestigious events such as the Golden Joystick Awards, DICE Awards and The Game Awards. And all this will surely surprise a person who hears about what kind of game this is for the first time …
Now there is meat!
A hero stands in the middle of an open field, and creepy creatures of darkness approach him from all sides, only starting weapons (for example, a whip, a charming wand or “evil cats”) will help protect himself from them. We cannot (almost) use a weapon of its own accord – it deals damage on its own at certain intervals. At the mercy of the player is only the hero’s movement.
Our task is simple – to stretch for thirty minutes (strictly by the timer) and, if possible, do it as charmingly as possible. Which isn’t difficult though: the level of entertainment grows in proportion to the number of defeated creatures, from which experience points fall, leading our heroes to new levels of power. With each new level, we either acquire a new defense, reinforcement or attack option, or we improve the existing one. And so on until death. Well, not before either heroic deathwhen death itself comes upon our souls.
The formula sounds pretty simple, but the devil is in the details, and there are plenty of them here. For example, the pumping process provides an interesting nuance: the right pair of items – such as a throwing knife and a bracer – turns the original weapon into a “Thousand Blades”, a combat unit of special power and splendor. And if you attach, for example, spinach to a fire stick, you will get a very powerful infernal flame. And there are a few dozen such combinations, and I want to try them all. In addition, with each run, additional opportunities for further improvements open up: new heroes with special game nuances appear, other modes (for example, double acceleration of the action). Arcana – special passive abilities – and secrets in locations also fuel interest. It’s fair to say that elements like these are the standard for any game in this genre, rooted in Crimsonland and beyond. What then sticks to the screen?
First of all it’s nice…
Vampire Survivors is far from the first game to discover the mysterious formula of addictive simplicity. History knows many “simple” games that could simultaneously take away from life dozens, if not hundreds of hours. This is immediately reminiscent of the aforementioned Crimsonland and recent Loop Hero. And all three projects have a lot more in common than it might seem at first glance. The first thing that literally catches your eye is an incredibly subtle study of visual aspects.
Like other outstanding companions of the genre, Vampire Survivors has a style that is thought out to the smallest detail, where each of the elements is pleasing to the eye and even the most insignificant little thing seems organic without breaking out of the overall visual canvas. In addition, despite the intimacy of the project, the entertainment of what is happening is always kept at the highest level. Various effects of abilities or influences flood the battlefield, but at the same time its image remains legible.
If you play Vampire Survivors for a while, you’ll start thinking about the golden ratio, the underlying beauty of geometry, and other harmonic things that the authors knowingly or unknowingly weave into the game’s visual structure. Its outward splendor lies not in gigabytes of photorealistic textures and ray tracing (none of that is here), but in materialized mathematics that have taken the form of a dazzling dance that circles the screen.
Just doesn’t mean easy
Another seemingly insignificant feature is the phenomenal ease of development. Once you are here you will literally immediately understand what to do and how. But in order not to die in the first ten minutes, you have to become a bit more skilled and get used to it. However, this research is cleverly woven into the gameplay and takes place as organically as possible.
As I mentioned before, the game constantly throws up something new: characters, different weapons or passive abilities. Not a race goes by without you discovering something you want to try right away. And that in turn motivates experimenting with skill combinations and the effectiveness of one tactic or another at each level.
This process, simple in its ingenuity, causes an ever-increasing arousal that won’t tear you away from the screen. My colleague Ivan Byshonkov described it like this:
“AT vampire survivor Everything is set up so that with each race you open something, which helps open something else, which ultimately leads to the discovery of something else. And every time there is a specific goal – the goal is to try something new, to discover something never seen before. As a result, you find yourself in that exact state of “well, one more run and that’s it for sure”. Yes everything…”
The perfect formula is complemented by an appropriate and lively musical accompaniment – not brilliant and definitely unable to capture players’ playlists, but perfectly complementing the visual and gaming feast on screen. The sound design also contributes to this: For example, each weapon is assigned a special, recognizable sound, precisely separated from the others.
And there are also many very successful references to gaming classics, new releases and even Italian culture. Yes, and the humor here is simple, sincere, and understated. But there is no direct narrative, but rather an integral development of the “story” from place to place. And the detailed and witty descriptions of various creatures in the bestiary try to add some integrity to what’s happening. All these small details do not make the picture, but definitely give it a pleasant shine.
So is there really no secret, and the success of Vampire Survivor is only due to a competent and tested combination of well-known elements? Yes and no. I’ll venture a hackneyed cliché and say: In my opinion, the key ingredient to such resounding success is an invested soul and genuine love. The creator does not hide his awe for his offspring, and this is reflected not only in the quality of the game, but also in how warmly Luca Galante communicates with the rapidly growing community and how attentively he listens to the wishes of the players. By the way, the Maestro does not rest on its laurels, but actively releases updates and improvements.
Lukas’ attitude towards Vampire Survivors and their fans is also reflected in the game’s Democratic price on Steam (and on Xbox it’s available in Game Pass). The author just seems happy when people play his idea – even for free. Also, everyone has the opportunity to try it for free for quite a long time demo version or even enjoy the full version of Vampire Survivors on your mobile device without paying a dime. If you haven’t tried it yet, give it a try – you won’t regret the time you’ve spent. About the wasted time…