A smash hit indie game has made its way across from Windows PC to Xbox, and it's absolutely blowing up — in more ways than one. Say hi to Vampire Survivors.
Vampire Survivors launched last week into Xbox Game Pass, having been available on Steam and PC Game Pass on Windows 10 and 11 for a fair while. The game's premise is so utterly simple; survive waves of nasty retro-styled beasties armed only with auto-firing power-ups. You'd be forgiven for thinking Vampire Survivors was overly simplistic looking at it in stills, but behind its pixelated veneer beats the heart of a true monster, keen to sap every shred of your willpower as it demands "one ... more ... game."
No matter who you are or your preferences, you absolutely have to try Vampire Survivors, the unlikely $5-dollar Xbox hit of the quarter.
Vampire Survivors: A monster is born
Initially launching in early access last December, Vampire Survivors is the brainchild of Luca "poncle" Galante. Inspired by mobile games like Magic Survival on Android, Galante reportedly spent around $1500 initially on the game's development, before it became an unexpected hit on Steam and itch.io. The game went from a few dozen players to a few thousand players in a short space of time, peaking at almost 80,000 concurrent players according to Steam Charts. I suspect the game is seeing similar throughput on Xbox as well right now, where it is currently enjoying a stint of console exclusivity.
In an interview with Vice, Galante explained that Vampire Survivors came about because he missed having a community to manage. Galante had previously been an administrator for a private Ultima Online server, and Vampire Survivors was supposed to form the basis of a weekend hobby.
Fast forward to now, and Vampire Survivors is utterly blowing up. At least anecdotally, my timeline on Twitter is awash with clips of the game, as Xbox players join PC players for the first time in their efforts to survive the night.
A relentless delivery of fire, freaks, and fun
Vampire Survivors revolves around ... well, revolving around an infinite map with revolving area attacks that grow exponentially in power for each run. This is essentially an automated bullet hell game at its core, with players asked only to move using a joystick or arrow keys around a variety of gothic Castlevania-inspired layouts.
Vampire Survivors wears its Belmontian heart on its sleeve, with retro visuals that look plucked right out of the NES era. Although, the sheer amount of creepy creatures and violent laser beams on screen would probably turn an NES into a small volcano — and hey, turning yourself into a small volcano is practically the goal in this game.
The game's roguelite elements kick in after every death, showering you with various unlocks, new characters, and gold to spend on permanent upgrades. Each character has a unique set of traits and power levels to weave into your playstyle. The starting characters are weaker, but there are challenges associated with performing higher-level content with this as a handicap. And at the same time, other weapons and power ups might elevate a "weaker" character more so than previous as you ascend up the game's grisly ranks.
The waves in each level aren't wholly randomized either, meaning that you can learn to some degree what to expect up to a point. Every enemy felled grants you a chance to get a gem, which contributes to your EXP bar. Once filled, you'll get a choice of 3 to 4 power ups, which themselves can also power up and combo with other power ups, turning you from a humble level 1 dagger man to a level 100 cyclone of death, throwing gigantic scythes and fiery laser beams into swarms of enemies descending upon you.
The sound effects, visuals, and satisfying "pop" of each enemy speaks deeply to those with nostalgia for the classic 8-bit era. Even younger gamers will appreciate Vampire Survivors' satisfying simplicity, though. Its restless reward loop feels truly endless when you initially start out, drip-feeding 5G Xbox achievements every few minutes. Since I got my hands on this game, I've been unable to put it down. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 brushed aside, Overwatch 2 into the backlog — we're a Vampire Survivor now, armed with health-draining whips, holy fire grenades, and garlic.
The truly marvelous thing about this game is that it's literally $5. Quite honestly, there's no better way to spend $5 right now, gaming or not.
Vampire Survivors is the best $5 in gaming
In a world where AAA publishers are pushing us ever further towards $70 games (or higher, in certain countries), there's something almost absurd about the fact this $5 indie game has already taken up a good 25 hours of my life across my Xbox Series X and my Steam Deck. And I feel like I've barely scratched the surface.
The potential for ongoing content, DLC drops, tie-in content with other franchises, and additional levels and powers are huge. It runs excellently on Xbox Cloud Gaming, and is a great timewaster paired with a Steam Deck or even the most budget-grade gaming laptops. And it's all just $5 (or even less, if you're already an Xbox Game Pass subscriber.)
Cannot emphasize enough how much I recommend you go out and grab this game immediately. Be warned, though, it'll crater your productivity.
Vampire Survivors $5 at Microsoft (PC, Xbox)
Unashamedly addictive, Vampire Survivors is an automated bullet hell with a Castlevania visage. Take up arms and battle wave upon wave of murderous monsters, unlock dozens of powers, and ascend through increasingly tough levels in this indie roguelite I simply cannot put down.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!