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Vampire Survivors is no thoughts, just spells

Vampire Survivors is a small indie game that’s moved from obscurity to success in what feels like overnight. I started seeing the game, created by solo developer Luca Galante, on social media last week — a few scattered posts before a sharp rise in frequency. As it turns out, that’s the trajectory the game itself experienced after a slow launch in December, according to Vice. For most of Vampire Survivors’ first month, it had a handful of players. But on Jan. 6, it reached 1,000 simultaneous players — and began growing rapidly from there.

Now, more than 30,000 people are simultaneously playing Vampire Survivors on Steam — the peak is 36,546 at the time of writing, according to Steam Charts. That’s on top of an unknown number of players accessing the game for free or downloaded from itch.io, with thousands of viewers watching streamers play the game on Twitch.

Maybe you haven’t seen anything about it yet. (You probably will soon.) Here’s the gist of it: In Vampire Survivors you move a character around the screen, and the game does all the shooting and spell-casting on its own. As you level up, by killing things and picking up stuff, you can upgrade weapons and other special moves to help fend off monsters like bats, skeletons, and ghosts. If I had to categorize it, I’d say it’s something like a bullet hell roguelike meets AutoChess. At first, it’s a pretty chill game — no thoughts, just spells and monster hunting. But it also quickly descends into chaos, with thousands of enemies piling onto the screen from every direction. With its Castlevania-esque pixel graphics and a knot of spells being cast, it’s a lot to take in. But it’s also a ton of fun.

There are two versions of the game: a free version you can play in-browser on itch.io and another that’s $2.99. Galante wrote that the Steam version will get regular content updates, while the browser version is basically a demo. (But still a full game.)

It’s simple — no clicking — which lets the challenge of weaving through a field of Medusas or extra-large praying mantises take center stage. There’s always something flashing on screen, always a sound denoting your wracked up score. Because of that roguelike element, too, each time you play could be different. There’s multiple characters and room for variation in builds and build order. With each round played, you earn coins, which add new elements to Vampire Survivors.

Like plenty others, I’ve started this game and now I feel like I can’t stop. When I’m not playing, I’m watching streams of Twitch, where it’s been increasingly popular in a way that’s surprising to me. Being so chaotic, it’s hard to watch. Exhausting, almost, to keep up with everything going on-screen — more so than playing it, even, where you’re the one controlling the action. But what I like about watching Vampire Survivors streams is seeing what builds others are putting together. No one streamer I’ve watched played entirely the same, which is neat to see in such a simple game.

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