Monday, January 16, 2023

GAME PASS:: Vampire Survivors

The game doesn't always look like this, BUT IT CAN.

I’m a bit late to the party on this, I know. But I’m not a PC games and if you think my low-vision ass is in the market for a Steam Deck, you don’t know how bad eyes (don’t) work.

But a couple months ago, Vampire Survivors hit Game Pass, and on January 2, I “beat” it. Meaning I unlocked all the unlocks, completed all the secrets, and amassed enough gold to buy all the powers. Including everything in the DLC. I played this game a LOT, which is honestly one of the reasons why I haven’t posted about it. Too busy playing it.

If I had to describe it as anything, I’d call it Robotron Tactics. It’s a top-down shooter, like Robotron 2084 or Smash TV or, if you’re an embryo, Super Stardust or Geometry Wars. But unlike those twin-stick shooters, Vampire Survivors is a one-stick not-shooter, because all you do is move. Your weapons fire automatically based on their characteristics and stats, and you move around, trying to get the enemies in your sights for when your weapon goes off while not getting touched.

 But  again, it’s less skill-based and more tactical, because the enemies keep getting more numerous and stronger until waves of them fill the screen in pure 16-bit chaos. Thousands and thousands of enemies will attack you during a (max 30 minute*) run, and the only way to stop them is to choose… wisely.

VS is not, despite what many Internet sites will tell you, a roguelike. The level layouts and monster patterns never change. But it does borrow one element from roguelikes, especially Hades. Every time you level up, you get a choice of three or four weapons and powerups. You can hold up to six of each*, and matching the right weapon with the right powerup allows you to evolve the weapon into it’s ultimate* form. Of course, some powerups are very useful while the weapon they pair with might be better served by something else, so it’s a constant dance of decisions among what random chance gives you* to build a working loadout before you get overwhelmed.

Each weapon can also be leveled 8 times*, each powerup 2 to 5 times*, and you have to max out a weapon before you can evolve it, so the decision making just gains more and more depth.

There are five stages and five bonus stages*, dozens of characters to unlock each with a different starting weapon, and bonus systems stacked on top of bonus systems, and all of it clicks together like a LEGO masterpiece that you wouldn’t expect from the delightfully janky presentation.

Vampire Survivors is gloriously low-budget Italian, and everything is janky and weird, but in a charming way because it never, ever touches the quality of the gaming experience, which, as mentioned, is rock-solid. 

It’s also VERY low-vision friendly, because the pixel art is bright, most everything is high contrast, and most importantly, you’re not playing tiny sprite vs. tiny monster, you’re playing an aggregate of you all all your weapons and effects vs. the aggregate of each monster wave. So missing details really doesn’t affect your ability to play. I’m deep into the late game now, and just recently beat the final boss.

And it’s five bucks. And it’s free on Game Pass. And the DLC is two bucks, discounted slightly if you have Game Pass. I’ve spent way more on games I’ve been way more disappointed by that then ended up on Game Pass where I could have been disappointed by them for free. I’m looking at you, Guardians Of The Galaxy. I’m always looking at you.

*One of the fun things about Vampire Survivors is the way it breaks more and more of its core gameplay rules 

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