Bigger isn't always better. Look at Pokémon games, Marvel movies, and megaprojects and its clear that more 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 complex for their own good. Sometimes less is more. Like right now, when the most addicting game on Game Pass is so simple it doesn't even use buttons.
Vampire Survivors from 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 before. But Vampire Survivors sucks you in with simple, satisfying mechanics — before turning your brain into a dopamine factory.
If it were released in the arcade era, Vampire Survivors would’ve eaten all the quarters. It is shockingly addictive, in large part due to how easy it is to learn. There are no buttons in play. None. No spamming an attack button, no clever dodge rolls. Your chosen hero is controlled only by a single analog joystick, and your goal is simple: stay alive. A running clock at the top of the screen lets you know right away that not dying is gonna be harder than it looks.
That’s because Vampire Survivors has a pitch-perfect pace. A slow beginning has you walking in little loops as your hero automatically attacks pathetic foes like bats and zombies. You gather XP in the form of small blue gems and, almost instantly, you level up. It’s intriguing how fast you get your first win and draws you into a “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 ghouls and horrors. The first few times you level up you tend to have new skills and weapons to choose from. Get a little deeper and you’ll be offered buffs for the things you already have. There’s no loadouts or inventory to manage (at first). Your starting character has a unique skill, but everything you acquire is random.
Curiosity fuels your first few turns chasing the clock. A two- or three-minute run doesn’t sound like much, but you’ll suddenly find you did six in a row somehow. Vampire Survivors enchants you with a supple gameplay loop of frenetic visuals, fast rewards, and swift resolutions.
Progression is tied to unlocks. New levels, new items and new characters are acquired through achievement milestones and in-game currency. Eventually you unlock different buffs and gameplay modifiers in the main menu that you can stack into builds for each run.
Like all the best bullet hell experiences, Vampire Survivors changes by the second to offer endless variety. No two runs are the same. When random chance falls in your favor you’re thrilled, when it doesn’t you’re determined. It’s the epitome of “just one more run” euphoria.
Vampire Survivors is now on Xbox Game Pass. It’s also available for purchase on Xbox and PC.