It’s not bigger always better. Look at the Pokémon games, Marvel movies and megaprojects and it’s clear that bigger size or star power or budget doesn’t always deliver the quality you’d expect. This is especially true for video games where bloated AAA worlds and triple-digit playtimes can be too complicated for their own good. Sometimes less is more. Like right now, when the most addictive game on Game Pass is so simple it doesn’t even use buttons.
Vampire Survivors by Poncle doesn’t look like much at first. Its retro style isn’t unique to indie games, and we’ve seen plenty of busy bullet-hell-style shoot’em ups in the past. But Vampire Survivors it sucks you in with simple, satisfying mechanics — before turning your brain into a dopamine factory.
If released in the arcade era, Vampire Survivors I would have eaten all the quarters. It’s shockingly addictive, largely because of how easy it is to learn. There are no buttons in the game. No one. No spamming an attack button, no smart dodge rolls. Your chosen hero is controlled only by an analog joystick and your goal is simple: stay alive. A ticking clock at the top of the screen immediately lets you know that not dying is going to be harder than it looks.
This because Vampire Survivors it has a perfect rhythm. A slow start has you walking in little loops as your hero auto-attacks pathetic enemies like bats and zombies. You collect XP in the form of small blue gems and level up almost instantly. It’s interesting how quickly you get your first win and it gets you into “where is this game going?” frame of mind.
It doesn’t take long to assess your trajectory through the endless and increasing waves of gothic gore and horror. The first few times you level up you tend to have new skills and weapons to choose from. Go a little deeper and you’ll be offered buffs for the stuff you already have. There are no loads or inventory to manage (at first). Your starting character has a unique ability, but everything you get is random.
Curiosity fuels your early turns chasing the clock. A two- or three-minute run doesn’t sound like much, but suddenly you’ll find you’ve done six in a row somehow. Vampire Survivors enchants you with a malleable game cycle of frenetic visuals, quick rewards and quick resolutions.
Progress is tied to unlocks. New levels, new items and new characters are acquired through milestone achievements and in-game currency. Eventually you unlock different buffs and game modifiers in the main menu that you can stack into builds for each run.
Like all the best bullet hell experiences, Vampire Survivors changes every second to offer endless variety. No two routes are the same. When random chance falls in your favor, you get excited, not determined. It’s the epitome of “just one more run” euphoria.
Vampire Survivors it’s now on Xbox Game Pass. It is also available for purchase on Xbox and PC.