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Review | Vampire Survivors

I wanna live like vampires

Perhaps the indie sensation of 2022, even though the very first version is dated 2021, the genre-defining mixture of bullet hell shooter, roguelike and more that is Italian-made Vampire Survivors has finally left Early Access on Steam and Windows 10 last month, and is now available on Xbox for a ridiculously low price and even part of Game Pass. So what is Vampire Survivors, and why has such simple-looking game sold several million copies already? Find out in our review of the PC version, as we wait for the Xbox release!

Is there a vampire in the room?

This game may look basic. Too much so, perhaps. A single player game with not particularly inspired 8-bit sprites of vampire hunters and generic demons attacking them, a shallow green pasture in the top-down background, with braindead AI enemies whose only cycle is to run towards the player in an attempt to damage them via touching or, in some cases, straight-line projectile attacks. The player has to dodge all incoming foes, while trying to build up an arsenal of automatically firing weaponry that is randomly obtained and powered up via the XP gained from the kills. This at first may appear slow, uninspired, and indeed the player can find themselves literally running in circles, waiting for their cooldown-based automatic attacks to deal with as many enemies as possible. Never judge a book judge a book by its cover though, because Vampire Survivors’ depth, variety and intensity puts most games to shame.

The objective is to survive a whopping 30 minutes in this neverending barrage of enemies, whose HPs and general danger levels get higher. As is the case with other roguelikes, this likely won’t be done first try. Death is expected and part of the game, because the coins earned can be used to permanently apply boosts to every individual statistic such as health, movement speed or damage. But as the matches become longer and longer, the player can obtain a bigger and bigger arsenal of upgraded weaponry. No longer our 2D sprite is a slowly moving peashooter – before long, it can have damaging auras around it, push back enemy pressure every second via knockback effects or by freezing them, or assault-rifle-esque barrages of bullets that will not let anybody through. The intensity of the gameplay rises drastically, and soon enough the match becomes a balancing act between positioning, DPS (damage per second) and crowd control, as the enemy’s predictable AI behaviour allows them to be herded around like sheep while we get rid of them. The only breaks in this intense tango are the musical openings of chests, which always feel very rewarding.

Controlled chaos

Near the end of the 30 minutes match, the player will be surrounded by hundreds of enemies that spawn at a faster rate than they can be killed, hence the crowd management becoming key to survival. Fortunately, the variety of strategies and builds is absolutely massive, with all kinds of solutions available. My most frequent choice is using the repellent damage of the Garlic weapon, with high-damage Holy Bibles rotating around my fantasy sprite while blue flames erupt all across the battlefield, generating safe spaces where I can run to if the enemies’ attacks become too much to handle as they die when walking over there. But it’s possible to create a spam of axes and knives, have hundreds of bullet hell-like coloured bullets and laser bounce around the screen and so on. And that’s before some of the weirdest weapons like crawling cats, level scenery bouncing around as bullets or explosive flowers.

With 6 upgradeable weapons per run, it’s easy to become a real killing machine, but it’s the 6 extra perks that really customize the builds, allowing for buffs on movement or attack speed, increasing the collection distance of items and much more. Even revives can be thrown in the mix! It’s all about pivoting to an ever-evolving battlefield, with the player usually given a choice of 3 or 4 random weapons, perks or upgrades to choose from. While later in the game it’s possible to reroll these choices, skip them altogether or banish certain items from appearing again in the run, most of the first dozens of unsuccessful and successful runs alike will force player to think about an optimal strategy on the spot, trying to get the best out of the RNG.

More and more

That’s certainly a lot to absorb, but I’d simply suggest anyone to try it for themselves, because it’s a formula much easier to understand via playing than reading about it. The intensity of the battles, the amount of bullets and foes, the speed of it all just becomes higher and higher, turning what is initially a slow action game into a brutally addictive and rewarding descent into chaos. The variety of builds available rewards experimentation, the permanent upgrades make sure the player is consistently becoming stronger between runs, and as more and more objectives are met, a lot of different arenas and several dozens of characters also become available, in turn unlocking extra skills and weaponry that can then be used in any match. The green pasture of level 1 soon gives way to eerie graveyard, mysterious lands full of plants and some absolutely psychedelic zones I’d rather not spoil. The player can even unlock new game modes, mutators, special cards that change the game’s rules and so on. Once again, there’s tons of hidden depth in Vampire Survivors.

The increasingly tough and bizarre characters, who are all vampire hunters by the way despite the fact none of the enemies in the game are vampires, even get some level of humorous role via in-game explanations. Here, the game’s Italian almost sole creator Luca “Poncle” Galante injected the weapons, the characters, the stages and more with Italian-based puns and humor that, frankly, will be a bit lost on those not speaking the language. Puns on food, on swear words, on Italian TV people and more – some of the jokes land in English as well, such as the ones parodizing videogames like Castlevania, but that’s usually not the target – sorry, non-Italians! But on the other hand, the game’s increasingly esoteric and bizarre lore, stages and unlocks work regardless of your language, and the Vampire Survivors’ viscerally addictive gameplay can hit regardless of your background.

Bullet heaven

So is there a catch? An infinitely replayable and ridiculously addictive indie phenomenon with wagons of content that only costs like 5 bucks sounds like almost too good to be true, and to be fair the game does have a few shortcomings. For starters, the initial impression may not be the best, with the first stage being dull-looking and the sprite artwork not being anything special. It’s when the game is at its slowest and least exciting too, but it’s not long before the true “bullet heaven” begins. Some of the endgame challenges and unlocks are a bit convoluted too, and figuring out what to do without a guide can be complicated, but we’re talking about stuff so late in the game that I barely consider this a minus. And as a plus, since I tested the PC version, I mostly played on keyboard but the controller works exceptionally well too as an input method.

The game is so popular it garnered millions of sales on Steam alone and it spawned dozens and dozens of clones, some of which really high quality too. I personally tried over thirty of such clones myself. And while they may beat Poncle’s creation in a few individual aspects (usually the graphics at least), Vampire Survivors remains firmly at the top of the so-called “bullet heaven” genre, thanks to a highly addictive gameplay, a masterfully crafted progression and an insane amount of content and variety – all at a ridiculously low price and even part of Xbox Game Pass and Game Pass PC. You really have no excuses: go try Vampire Survivors as soon as possible, as it’d undoubtedly one of the best and most innovative games of 2022.

Reviewed onPC (Steam and Windows 10 versions)
Available onXbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Steam, Itch, Windows 10 (also on Game Pass and Game Pass PC)
Release Date2021 (Early Access on Itch and Steam), October 20th 2022 (1.0 on PC), November 10th 2022 (Xbox version)
RatedESRB T for Teen, PEGI 12

Vampire Survivors

4.99 USD | 4,99 EUR | 3,99 GBP (also available on Game Pass and Game Pass PC)




  • Shockingly addictive
  • Incredible variety of builds
  • Tons of content to unlock
  • Very low price
  • Smart humor


  • Most of the humor can only be understood by Italians
  • Visually not too appealing
  • Some endgame achievements can become a bit convoluted

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