Vampire Survivors is a pure hit of dopamine
Vampire Survivors is an action RPG boiled down to its core. You walk around, you kill monsters, you level up, you get stronger, you kill more monsters. In place of story, an inventory, or even the need to fire and aim your own weapons, there is pixel art spectacle.
On my last life, I killed around 24,000 monsters in 30 minutes. I am hooked.
It starts small. I like to play as an unlockable character with a wand, and as I walk around the grass-textured level they’ll fire off a blast towards a nearby enemy every few seconds. Pew. Pew. Pew.
Defeated enemies drop gems, which are XP. I collect them and quickly level up. Levelling up lets me select an upgrade: a new attack, or a stronger version of an existing attack, or some more health. So now I have two wand blasts which fire every few seconds. Pew-pew. Pew-pew. Pew-pew.
Fast forward a few minutes more and I have a whip, a fireball, a throwing knife, a bird that fires projectiles, and a boomerang. A few minutes after that, I have four throwing knives, three fireballs, and five wand blasts. The wand blasts stream continuously now, too. The whip heals me as it hits enemies. I can run faster.
As noted, I’m not clicking to aim or fire any of these weapons. The challenge is in how you navigate the monsters around you, which scale as precipitously as your own power. In those earliest moments I was fighting five slow bats, and then not long after that there was a hundred bats on screen with one witch that seemed to me a little like a boss monster. Five minutes after that, I was fighting a hundred of those witches at the same time, plus zombies, ghosts, and a giant praying mantis.
The swarms of enemies don’t fire their own projectiles, and only do damage when they’re close enough to touch you. They’re like very slow bullets, and avoiding them as they become dense and numerous is like playing a bullet hell.
There is a direct appeal to watching numbers go up and up, but Vampire Survivors does a particularly great job of illustrating those numbers via the carnage on screen. I’m not even sure if it’s possible to view your weapon stats until the end of the game, but I don’t need to. I can tell where I am on the levelling curve from whether I’m running away from enemies, or running towards them. The shift in power feels alternately wonderful and terrifying.
Is there actual skill involved in any of this? I’m not sure. I am sure I don’t care. Vampire Survivors could almost be an idle game, and that’s fine. I am happy to watch more monsters die, take my unlocks, and then do it again.