"Another game and then I stop”. How many times have you said it, while playing something that captivated you so much that you forgot everything around you, including your name? Vampire Survivors, developed by Poncle and published by Games Delta, is what could be called a dream come true for those who have always sees in particles a world that goes far beyond the dogmas of modern video games.
There's no need to repeat it further: the video game by Luca Galante, a talented Spanish game designer, is addictive. This might be good news for some, but it isn't for me at all. Nightmare creatures, blood, bats, werewolves and carnivorous plants that want nothing more than to slay me, possibly drinking my blood. This is the image that has been in my mind since I left the pad a short distance from the bed a few minutes ago. Now I'm here, writing, but the temptation to go back to playing, hoping to pass the thirty-ninth level, it is inexhaustible.
If with Gunfire Reborn I told you about a measured and peculiar approach in dealing with roguelite dynamics inserted in an FPS, with Vampire Survivors things are different, classic and certainly simpler. Accustomed as I am to experimenting with new productions, I approached the product attracted by the excellent reviews on Steam. Thanks to my curiosity and the desire to understand how the Spanish and independent scene is increasingly gaining ground on gamers' consoles, I started playing it without too many expectations. After almost twenty hours of gameplay, which can only increase, I found myself in front of a video game that knows what it wants.
Very few productions, in fact, reach such maturity with simplicity, reaching the goal without overdoing it. Either because the market out there is now saturated, or because there is a need for novelty and no one is ever happy, Vampire Survivors is that video game that doesn't need to declare itself innovative, and it doesn't even need to be innovative. It's a video game that refers to the past but looks to the future in an alluring way, like a nice margherita pizza just waiting to be seasoned, put in the oven and eaten. Vampire Survivors, throughout 2021, has been in early access, waiting for the right moment to present itself to the specialized press and to the players in its entirety. The wait, it seems, was all worth it.
A context of irresistible charm
Although there is no plot that tells the dynamics of the protagonist (or of the protagonists, being four), the context is actually quite clear and well defined. You are vampire hunters, called to visit pleasant places on behalf of someone who, apparently, has big problems with Dracula's relatives. Looking at the cover of the game, in fact, it seems that the features of the vampire are precisely those of the Dracula of Castelvania, the same one who impersonated himself in Lords of Shadows 2, the famous chapter dedicated to the misadventures of the cursed knight Gabriel Belmont, of which all – or almost – have a pleasant and unforgettable memory.
With these premises, VAmpire Survivors takes up the vampire imagery created by Bram Stoker, inserting within it the dementia of the Spanish culture, with deliberately ironic nicknames which, on more than one occasion, have been amusing and capable of leaving their mark. In Vampire Survivors nothing is left to chance, because it follows its own context without overdoing it, exaggerating or even boring. However, maintaining a seriousness that fits perfectly with the sarcasm and irony typical of the Bel Paese, in Luca Galante's video game, if you haven't understood it, nothing seems to be taken seriously. not even the names of the main protagonists of the adventure.
In order, in fact, there is the sinewy but loyal Antonio Belpaese, known for his blue hair; the witch Imelda Belpaese, a pixel art version of Minerva McGonagall and Pasqualina Belpaese, a sorceress pulled out of the Arthurian cycle and no, she is not related to the sorceress Magò. Last, but not least, my favorite: the muscular and charming Gennaro Belpaese, a sort of peroxide blond Kevin Sorbo openly passionate about Nino d'Angelo's songs. In short, four heroes with a single purpose: to survive, survive and survive the hordes of enemies that emerge from hell, that is, from the edges of the screen.
Believe me, among them there are skeletons, zombies, creatures of the night and giant bats, each of them with only one task: to stop our daredevils before they reach the final level, which we cannot reveal so as not to spoil the surprise. The context chosen, therefore, is excellent and original, as it proves to be mature, well-developed, treated properly and with respect for the materials from which the work takes its inspiration.
Vampire Survivors is guaranteed fun
Don't expect a top map, or who knows what interfaces you're used to. Vampire Survivors explains nothing, throwing the player into the middle of the unceremonious action, causing him to die on the first attempt. The view is isometric and the polygonal model of the protagonist, which can be selected before starting the experience, moves horizontally and vertically across the entire playing area. Yep, this is the only interaction you have with whoever you control, as each attack is already preset based on the chosen hero, therefore without the possibility of attacking directly. The good Gennaro, armed with sharp daggers, can throw them at enemies, escaping the beasts of the night while Imelda, on the contrary, uses her magic to keep the vile creatures away. It's a game system that works great, because it's all based on the build that the player chooses during the adventure, which wears out right on the battlefield, between objects to collect and discover.
Vampire Survivors is an atypical and particular roguelike compared to the others, differing for example from Hades and other works of the genre. In this sense, there are no rooms, but only a place where the vicissitudes of the heroes of this cursed land take place. Each death corresponds, precisely, to the definitive game over: there is no possibility of resurrecting, unless you've collected enough gold along the way to spend in the skills interface. Some of them are divided into a long table that is quite intuitive and easy to approach. Before jumping into the fray, it is in fact possible to upgrade the armor, its attack power and also the equipped objects. The rhythm of the game, therefore, is completely random: nothing happens by chance, not even the umpteenth repeated run, which could also last for several minutes or, as happened to me, even for an hour.
As I mentioned before, it is essential to collect what falls on the ground after defeating an enemy, that drops gold or blue gems, red and green, important for leveling up. Every time it happens the enemies increase and different and stronger ones arrive, forcing the player to take countermeasures capable of containing their inexhaustible and brutal fury. The rhythm, which manages to remain high throughout its duration, surprises and entertains to the point of continuing for several minutes. The hordes, increasing in number, will begin to be more frequent, and some will be so powerful that they will not even be able to contain the disaster. The protagonist, therefore forced to face them all, will be required to survive, to consider every single movement and to exploit what he will find during the experience.
The play area is often covered with useful items that can increase the attack power of a single weapon and, in the case of dear Gennaro, the number of throwing daggers. Combining attacks will be fun, pbecause it will allow to differentiate the build, changing it run by run, and none will ever be the same as the other. It's an intelligent game design choice because, in addition to pushing the player to face one after another and to differentiate their moves, it is passionate for its quality. It is a strong, simple and functional game structure for what it intends to pursue, and it is by no means a foregone conclusion, especially in a work which, in reality, it's not exactly aimed at a casual audience, but to those who love independent and challenging video games.
If on the one hand the game structure works, on the other it could leave you stunned at the beginning, forcing someone to have to spend several hours before fully understanding it. In this sense, Vampire Survivors leaves no references of any kind and has no tutorial whatsoever: you have to survive, you only know this, and I understood it after dying five consecutive times, endlessly repeating the same section. In this regard, the work contains three areas to be addressed, and to conclude all of them it is necessary to reach a pre-established level, unlocking the next area.
Luca Galante's work exaggerates but still remains faithful to his approach, never taking different and dangerous paths, focusing on providing the player with hours of endless entertainment. Furthermore, the demanding difficulty, typical of any self-respecting roguelike, is the real spearhead of the production: while never exaggerated, it is in any case well implemented, giving the player the possibility to enjoy the experience in a carefree way, even if could push many players to move away from the work before reaching the end credits. By combining the items obtained during exploration, it will even be possible to combine them, defining its attack power accordingly.
One pixel art to rule them all
Vampire Survivors is, precisely, a video game in which each build elaborated with intelligence. Choosing to be quick but lethal is in fact the best option, because it allows you to interface with enemies more instantly. Moving the protagonist continuously is the best tactic to avoid the enemy hordes surrounding him, although it is the riskiest method, since he can expose him to unnecessary risks. In Vampire Survivors, much more than luck, it's your chosen strategy that wins battles and advances your journey through these nightmarish territories. Every decision must be considered and made conscientiously. The originality of Luca Galante's video game lies precisely in this unique feature of its kind, which lays the foundations for a bright future.
When I first started Vampire Survivors, I immediately jumped at the initial menu. It reminded me of video games from the past, the ones I've never tried in arcades but still remember with great pleasure and a lot of passion. The pixel art of Poncle's production, intelligently implemented, it offers a graphic sector that is certainly not mind-boggling, yet knows how to fascinate and enchant, giving the feeling of being one of the most successful parts of the production, in addition to the polygonal models of the enemies, different from color to color and attack power. In addition to bats and many other fairs, there are ghosts and ghosts, threats that should not be underestimated at all.
On the technical side we have nothing to complain about, so much so that the production performs admirably from start to finish. It is obviously a well-optimized work, and how could it not be, after all? Although it doesn't offer anything new, Vampire Survivors is an example of a video game that works with simplicity, without exaggerating and swelling the chest. He is true to himself, to what he wants to communicate and how he intends to express himself. Very few productions can be said to be so lucky, but here only talent has to do with it. Really so talented.