^Stay tuned for Jim’s video essay on the genius of Vampire Survivors.
Teasing around the edge of the mob, moving in concentric circles so as to maximise the surface area of your garlic aura’s damage zone. An instinctive, brushing motion. Methodically scrubbing arcane horrors from the world as you would coffee stains from tooth enamel. Since the mobile release, both rituals conducted at once, either side of bed time. The life of a Vampire Survivors Enjoyer is, in essence, spiritual.
And once it sinks in, it rarely leaves your thoughts. I’m reminded of that summer long ago, when me and my childhood best mate whose name I can’t remember got obsessed with the then newly released WipeOut 2097 on the PS1, and spent the entire school holiday playing it religiously. Rinsing it until we’d unlocked the Piranha, fully gestated a lifelong love of The Prodigy, and conditioned ourselves to expect the family car to get a speed boost every time it went over a road marking, just like the speed pads in the game. Now, every time I close my eyes, I’m seeing experience orbs hoovering into the wee whip guy, swirling like a galaxy into his blocky chest.
Vampire Survivors is timeless in both directions. It could have been an Amiga game (it frankly would have been the best Amiga game by some distance). And yet, there’s something intrinsic about it that belongs to the 2020s – an audacity, perhaps. Some combination of its goofy horror, disaffected writing, and being a spiritual embodiment of the meme about wanting shorter games, with worse graphics, made by people who are well compensated for their time (one hopes).
It does so much with so little, that it almost makes big games, with enormous budgets, teams in the thousands, and development creeping toward measurement by decades instead of years – games that I absolutely love, just to be clear – seem kind of… silly? Folly? An unnecessary amount of fuss? Because the inescapable truth is that, for all the time and money that’s been leathered into rendering Kratos down to individual skin follicles, or recreating the entirety of Ptolemaic Egypt as an elaborate playground for stabbing men, or whatever absurd technological marvel you can think of that a AAA studio has lavished untold toil and treasure on, those games rarely have moments that feel as good as getting a five-item chest in this daft little roguelike doesn’t even have an attack button.
For someone who adores those big, spectacular games, obsesses over them, considers them the jewels of the medium almost, Vampire Survivors is a mockery. An affront. A thumbed nose and raspberry at a very high percentage of the things I love. And, for someone who is middle-aged, and starting now to properly grapple with the idea of ceasing to be, Vampire Survivors is abruptly on the nose about the inevitability of Him coming to take you away. How you can make all the right choices, and have the luckiest run possible, and still, in the end, you must succumb.
It may be the greatest game of all time. Ugh.