Vampire Survivors is an Early Access roguelike on Steam that has completely sunk its teeth into me.
Each round starts out simple: you only have one weapon to take on a few bad guys. The weapon activates automatically, so all you have to worry about is moving your character to dodge enemies and scoop up experience gems. But as you level up, get more weapons and fight more monsters, your screen will soon be filled with a medley of magical weapons and terrifying enemies that cover almost every inch of the screen. Like so:
The sensory barrage of colors and sounds can almost feel like you’re in an arcade or a casino – and that’s what Luca Galante, Vampire Survivorsdeveloper, led the way. Galante previously worked as a software developer in the gambling industry and that experience shaped his perspective when it came to creating a more traditional game.
“Slot games are very simple,” he tells The edge† “The player just has to press one button and the game designers have to find a way to get the player to press that button. [The player] is basically spending money every time they print it, which is why there is a tremendous amount of attention to detail on the sounds, the animations and the sequences because you have so few elements to work with. Actually, [the designers] try to maximize the importance and impact of those elements on the player. I just absorbed that knowledge just by being in the industry. And so when creating a game I automatically applied it to what [I’ve been] doing.”
This is all reflected in Vampire Survivors† When you start a game you are immediately thrown into the action and the only controls you need to think about are moving your character and choosing upgrades. You don’t even have to press a button to use your weapons. The charming retro graphics feel like they were ripped straight from a long-forgotten Super Nintendo Castlevania game, and you’ll hear a delightful bell every time you pick up one of the countless experience gems. Opening treasure chests seems to intentionally create the feeling that you are pulling a slot machine; pixelated weapons flow past on colored ribbons as coins fly everywhere, all backed by a catchy jingle. (If you’re lucky and find a chest with five items, there’s actually fireworks.)
Galante also analyzed other games he likes for inspiration. “The most important was Magical Survival, that’s a game on Android that plays exactly the same,” he said. “The prototype of Vampire Survivors was based on Magical Survival† When it comes to the elements that are more unique to [Vampire Survivors] – for the gameplay, for the impact and how it feels good to play – I play a lot of things like bayonetta† Devil May Cry games that are actually quite complex and require a lot of effort from the players to get strong feedback. Instead, I made it really easy for the player to get the same strong feedback.”
Concerning the Castlevanialike images, they were much less intentional. “I just took an asset pack that I liked, and that asset pack turned out to be Castlevania-inspired,” explains Galante. “I love the series, of course, I know the lore of the series. So from there it just started to become part of the game. I’ve definitely been inspired by a lot of different things, a lot of different games and there are references to a lot of other games, just because playing games is ultimately my biggest hobby.”
Vampire Survivors is a huge success, despite only being available in Early Access since December. When I checked Steam’s stats on Friday, there were more people playing it than heavyweights like Terrariums† Skyrim† Left 4 Dead 2even Rocket League† Galante started the game in December 2020 when he was unemployed, but it was big enough that he was able to leave a new job after just a week in January.
Vampire Survivors now costs $3 on PC and Mac, and Galante plans to increase the price as it adds more features. He hopes to get the game out of Early Access this year. He has updated the game many times, often with significant additions such as weapons, characters, and quality of life improvements. It looks like that cadence will continue, meaning over time you’ll probably have plenty of reasons to pull the figurative slot again for a round of chaotic monster kills. And if you just want to see what? Vampire Survivors what it’s all about, you can also try it for free on itch.io.