I know exactly which game Vampire Survivors reminds me of and it’s Geometry Wars, which is a wonderful thing. And yes, I know it doesn’t look like it, and yes there’s a crucial difference in that, here, you’re not in control of your own attacks – and I’ll come onto that in a moment. But it’s absolutely Geometry Wars in the way that really matters to me. In that screen-filling spectacle of being utterly overrun by an endless wave of enemies while you scrabble to find any gap to escape through. That thrilling, never-ending headlong pelt while fireworks go off around you. Vampire Survivors packs that thrill.
Now, the not-being-in-control-of-your-attacks bit. This is the game’s quirky ingredient, the part you notice early on and maybe wrinkle your nose at. I did; I honestly thought the game was broken and restarted it, silly sausage. But what happens here is the game attacks for you. Say you’re equipped with a whip, which you will be, then every so often, the whip flashes out and hits. It goes something a bit like whip, beat, beat, whip – it’s not a long wait (although it’s agonising later on if you don’t improve it).
You don’t control the direction of the attack either: the whip always attacks the way you’re facing. And the same is true of all weapons in the game, in that they attack with their own unique rhythms and in their own ways. What you’re trying to do is layer them up to a deafening, destructive cacophony, because you are by no means limited to only one. You get the option of adding another weapon or attack, or ability, whenever you level up (or get a free one from a chest), which you do by collecting experience gems enemies drop. And there’s a lot to choose from.
You can choose hefty axes to throw, smaller knives to fling, or floating Bible-like books that fly around you. There are also fireballs, magical attacks, holy water flask-grenades and even pigeons that barrage enemies like Apache helicopters – there’s definitely a sense of exuberance and fun here. There are all kinds of buffs to things like speed, armour, health regen and amount, too. There’s loads – that’s only a fraction of what’s on offer.
What adds strategy is your ability to further improve each attack/ability each time you level up. This might unlock an extra axe projectile, for instance, or buff axe damage, or make the axes pass through more enemies, which is very useful. You don’t have total control because you choose from what’s offered, but considering how often you level up – you’ll get to 20 in around 10 minutes – it won’t take long before you’ve got multiple attacks and abilities going.
It’s in this way that you start thinking about builds. Double-down on a few attacks and they’ll really start doing the heavy lifting for you, but spread yourself thin in other areas and you’ll be exposed when the hordes come. I mean, it’s hard to get it too wrong, because you’ll feel powerful whatever you’ve chosen if you survived for more than five minutes, but there’s definitely a sense of – and exhilaration in – getting it very right.
The only other things to keep an eye out for while playing are dropped power-ups like health pick-ups and enemy freezes and mega fireball attacks, which can save your life. Otherwise, that’s pretty much the loop, with a bit of unlocking and slight powering up in between runs, as in any Roguelike/lite.
Suffice to say that I’m struggling to put this game down. It’s giving me the Castlevania slay-the-undead-masses fantasy in concentrated shots. It’s no wonder the game has rocketed up the charts on Steam. The real question is, can you survive until dawn?