Vampire Survivors is like Gauntlet in epic awesome shoot em up top-down fantasy action

Vampire Survivors has big Gauntlet energy, and I couldn’t be happier. I’m not just talking about the game’s top-down perspective, either; it’s far from the only game to employ that. But after suffering through several so-so Gauntlet remakes and reboots, Vampire Survivors successfully channels the spirit of Atari’s original.

If you never crossed paths with the original Gauntlet, you missed out on a treat. It cast you as one of several characters — a warrior, wizard, valkyrie, and elf, each with the ability to hurl a never-ending stream of projectiles at their foes. It was basically a shoot ‘em up, but the fantasy setting made it feel like some grand, dungeon-delving adventure.

There was a lot to delve through, too, with the original featuring over 100 levels, but the way I played it, I rarely made it past level 50. Yes, you could waltz through some of the levels, turning your nose up at the monster-packed side-rooms, with ghosts, demons, and more spewing out from the game’s monster generators. However, if you wanted to score big, you’d bust open those barriers and start severing some spectral heads. But I wasn’t chasing a high score — what made Gauntlet so appealing to me was the frantic joy of taking on dozens of foes at once. And it’s that mayhem that Vampire Survivors turns up to 11.

Sure, Gauntlet pitched you against a tide of monsters, but there was the opportunity to slaughter your way to the monster generator and stem that tide. The more monsters that emerged, the tougher it was to cut a swathe through them, but there was a chance. Vampire Survivors offers no such mercy.

Vampire Survivors is like Gauntlet in epic awesome shoot em up top-down fantasy action

Instead, the hordes just keep on coming, and like in Gauntlet, the top-down perspective lets you watch them pile in, one behind the other. But with a bigger screen area than Atari’s title offered, you’re able to behold the horde in all its glory.

Not only is that appropriately daunting, but it also makes success or, at least, survival that little bit sweeter. There are still enemies as far as the eye can see, but all those sentient brussel sprouts that were trying to murder you? They’ve gone, fallen to your attacks. They’ve likely been replaced by a more deadly foe, but it’s satisfying to know you’ve seen the end (for now) of one enemy type.

If you count in terms of foes per minute, the bodycount dwarfs that of even Serious Sam, and you can see every single one of them coming. Some just stroll leisurely towards you, but that just adds to the tension. Compared to Gauntlet’s levels, Vampire Survivors’ arenas offer more room to maneuver, but that’s countered by the fact there’s nowhere to hide.

You have enough room to dwell on their potential menace before they finally reach you, or try and pick which foes to tackle first, but they’re coming in droves — it’s an intoxicating blend of dread and sheer exhilaration.

Vampire Survivors is like Gauntlet in epic awesome shoot em up top-down fantasy action legacy of the moonspell

So why didn’t later Gauntlet games go on to achieve something similar? 2014’s Gauntlet: Slayer Edition comes the closest to recreating the joy of the original Gauntlet games, but the reboot series seemed intent on settling into a generic hack ‘em up rut. And unlike Vampire Survivors, Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows and its prequels never really made you feel out of your depth. It was almost as if those games were ashamed of their arcade roots or just thought the name alone was enough.

Sure, the original Gauntlet’s arcade incarnation did feature a transparently money-grubbing feature that boosted your character’s health with every coin you inserted. There wasn’t so much as a Game Over to underline your failure — if you had enough cash, you could keep playing. It meant a high score could essentially be bought. But the home versions did away with this issue and were just as entertaining.

I have no doubt that, somewhere, another Gauntlet reboot is being discussed — that or a mobile game that includes a wealth of microtransactions. But while developer Luca Galante may not cite Gauntlet as one of Vampire Survivors’ influences, it channels the spirit of the absent classic. And while your character’s automatic fire takes quite some getting used to, I spent a good 75% of my Gauntlet playtime with the fire button held down.

Vampire Survivors may have landed on PC and Xbox, but it feels as if it belongs in an arcade, with people lining up to make the most of their 50 cents / pence. If the sequel would just feature a split-screen four-player mode, I may never need to leave the house again. Atari (that’s proper Atari, not Infogrames Atari) would be proud of what feels like a spiritual successor to its arcade smash. And even if you’ve never heard of Gauntlet, Vampire Survivors is still one hell of a game.

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