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Vampire Survivors-likes need to cut through the clutter

Kudos to the OG

Vampire Survivors is a game where you control a little pixellated person who auto-attacks periodically. Your aim is to survive for as long as possible as hordes of slime and bats close in around you, and it's an excellent time. So excellent, in fact, that it's already seen a few spin-offs.

And having sampled a couple of Vampire Survivor-likes, it's made me appreciative of the game's visual clarity. Yes, things can get messy, but at least you're able to make out what's happening on screen. I don't think it's something the subgenre has quite grasped yet.

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When Steam Next Fest was a thing, I tried out a Survivors-like called Extremely Powerful Capybaras which is as you'd expect: you play as a capybara who must survive against hordes of enemies. Aside from a few differences, like being able to choose your class and the power-ups on offer, I couldn't hack its visual clutter. When chaos ensued, enemy attacks and coins and explosions would overlap with each other to the point where it was, like, genuinely difficult to see whether my pissing capybara was even still alive.

Recently, I tried out another Survivors-like that's got this early 2000s MOBA look to it called Soulstone Survivors. It's a pretty decent attempt at iterating on what makes VS so moreish, while trying to add its own spin on things. There's lots of currencies that unlock different things in lots of different skill trees, which then ties into its mission structure, where you're actively working towards a checklist of objectives that net you these rewards. And my favourite thing: the ability to summon in massive rock golems that rupture the earth with each slam.

A character gets lost in hundreds of explosions in Soulstone Survivors.
What in tarnation is happening here?

While Soulstone Survivors might be one of the most polished Survivors-likes I've played, it still frustrates when stages erupt in a frenzy of fireballs and poison gas. Again, it's impossible to make out what's happening on screen, whether that be thanks to the camera angle or the art style; something about Soulstone Survivors doesn't allow the game to present you with vital information.

Not that Vampire Survivors is perfect, but I find that I know where my little person is positioned almost all the time. I know how much damage they're taking or whether to weave out the way of the that darned group of skeletons. In a game bursting with visual noise, you are the one who's both creating it and cutting through it at the same time. In other Survivors-likes, it seems like you're incapable of doing both and, ultimately, it means that the act of survival isn't entirely in your hands.

I know this post has been a bit of whine, sorry! I just think that Vampire Survivors is a cracker of a game that probably doesn't get enough kudos for its excellent clutter management. Have you played a decent Survivors-like that isn't the visual equivalent of a carpet bomb? Do let me know.

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About the Author
Ed Thorn avatar

Ed Thorn

Reviews Editor

When Ed's not cracking thugs with bicycles in Yakuza, he's likely swinging a badminton racket in real life. Any genre goes, but he's very into shooters and likes a weighty gun, particularly if they have a chainsaw attached to them. Adores orange and mango squash, unsure about olives.