Review: Vampire Survivors

What a horrible night to have a curse.

Posted 16 August 2023 by Zoey Handley

With its full release on PC happening back in October 2022, Vampire Survivors has quickly become a runaway success. Already, there are imitators popping up trying to duplicate the game’s special sauce. As with many games that have spurred a sudden explosion of similar titles, it tantalizes developers with its simple but malleable gameplay.

I did play the PC version a few months back and was lucky enough to eventually claw my way from its grips. But with the Switch version dropping, I felt it was time to fall back into its embrace for the sake of the review. Hopefully, I can one day escape again.

Vampire Survivors Horde
Screenshot by Destructoid

Vampire Survivors (PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Switch [Reviewed])
Developer: Poncle
Publisher: Poncle
Released: October 20, 2022 (PC), August 17, 2023 (Switch)
MSRP: $4.99

Vampire Survivors looks like a bootleg. It has an appearance like someone took one game, then changed all the characters to look like another game to capitalize on people’s affection for the property. In this case, it looks like a bootleg with Castlevania sprites.

The character movements also feel like they’re unchanged from that game developer milestone of putting a sprite on the screen and having it react to input. They just glide across a sparse, repetitive background. It’s minimalistic. Extremely so. Your character attacks automatically based on a growing number of cooldown timers, and you’re just left in charge of navigating the enemy-infested environments.

You don’t even have to press a button unless you want to skip the chest-opening animation. You just slide your character around the background, having them pick up items and slipping through the cracks that open between groups of enemies. It’s dead simple, but weirdly, there’s a learning curve and strategizing to be done.

Holy water, Batman

For the main levels, you pick your hero and get dropped into a big open area. Enemies start streaming in from all sides. As you defeat them, they drop XP crystals that you pick up. Each time you gain a level, you get to choose an upgrade between a number of passive and offensive abilities.

As the level progresses, larger groups of more powerful enemies start piling in. The goal is to power yourself up faster than the enemies can grow in strength. Ultimately, you need to last 30 minutes before the Grim Reaper takes things into their own hands.

While this is an incredibly simple formula, a lot of strategy develops in a lot of areas. You need to experiment and discover what sets of weapons work best for you. Since the upgrades are somewhat randomized, you then need to figure out what to prioritize. Then there’s a bit of risk and reward. Do you take a new weapon now or spend the upgrade on boosting the level of an existing one? If you decide to skip on a specific upgrade now, is it going to reappear later on when you need it? Do you need more attack power now, or can you spend some points on boosting stats like luck or attack strength?

And that’s before you incorporate the rather clever combination mechanic, where if you’re carrying two particular items and improve them to their maximum level, you can evolve the weapon into something more powerful.

Vampire Survivors Bursting Chest
Screenshot by Destructoid

Cerebral bore

Then, after each run, you can spend money that you collected on permanent upgrades and new characters. There are also achievements you can aim for that unlock additional weapons and characters for each run. Both during a run and in the gaps between, you’re always improving.

It’s quite a well-executed mess of progression that creates an addicting experience. I don’t use that word lightly, and I don’t necessarily mean it as a positive. Vampire Survivors employs some pretty devious tactics to dig into your brain matter and make it difficult to stop playing. You’re constantly making progress, and you’re perpetually on the cusp of bigger and better things. Every upgrade promises some advantage for your next run, and every run provides a learning experience to employ.

And then luck is a factor, which means that after a bad run, you’re not necessarily going to want to take a break. Sure, maybe things didn’t go your way last time, but this time is statistically more likely to go better. It comes as no surprise to me that developer Luca Gallante has a history of working in the gambling industry, as Vampire Survivors incorporates a lot of the same tactics to keep people glued in place.

That would be awful, but Vampire Survivors doesn’t seem to have that much interest in your money. The price for the base game is relatively low, and the only microtransactions are DLC expansions. Even then, the DLC is very cheap and not essential. If Vampire Survivors had the clear goal of getting you hooked and sucking you dry, I’d be disgusted, but that’s obviously not the intent here. Instead, it just cracks open a can of dopamine and pours it over your brain. The only thing you’ve got to lose here is your time.

Vampire Survivors Combat
Screenshot by Destructoid

Lots of math

The Switch port is exactly as it says on the tin. I played the PC version previously, and this isn’t really an upgrade. It’s just the same game on a new platform, which is fine. There is some slowdown when the enemies envelop every pixel of screenspace, but I didn’t find it to interfere with the gameplay. Cut the Switch some slack. There’s a lot of math going on in any one moment.

There’s also the new co-op mode for up to four players. It works better than you may think, as XP is pooled between players, and upgrades cycle between them. It’s a surprisingly laid-back multiplayer experience, and I’m actually tempted to break it out next time I’m visiting my parents. Although, I’m afraid everyone would just delegate upgrade choices to me since I’m the experienced one.

As an added challenge, you could just play co-op by yourself. Since you only use the left stick, that’s one for each thumb. Quite a brain tickler.

Normal horde of monsters
Screenshot by Destructoid

Brain tickler

Vampire Survivors is also not content to just accomplish the bare minimum either. A lot of love has gone into crafting it, even if it’s not immediately reflected through the bootleg aesthetics and simple presentation. There are lore entries for each character and enemy, and there are plenty of bonus levels and secrets to tackle. There’s some depth an meat here.

I think it would be very difficult to dislike Vampire Survivors. Typically, I hate when a game just drills into my brain and starts pressing all the feel-good buttons. I usually feel manipulated. However, the fact that it doesn’t ask for money beyond the admission fee, and the fact that there’s something of a clear endpoint to the entire game, makes it feel benign. It wants to entertain you for a while but will eventually let you get back to your life.

Vampire Survivors is well worth checking out, whether you’re playing it on Switch or any other platform. Its simple gameplay hides an irresistible depth. Just keep in mind that once you’re in its clutches, it can be a struggle to get free.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]



Impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.

About The Author
Zoey Handley
Staff Writer - Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.
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