Originally released on PC in Early Access in December 2021, Vampire Survivors is a game in which players fight off waves of enemies using weapons that automatically fire in distinct patterns. The player is primarily responsible for moving their character into a position where their attack patterns will successfully hit enemies, and selecting which weapons and upgrades to equip to create their final build, which will need to stand up to an overwhelming onslaught of incoming creatures.
Vampire Survivors has since left early access, with the game available for less than £5 on PC and Consoles, while being free to play on mobile, with DLC content packs costing around £2 each.
Vampire Survivors releases this week on Nintendo Switch, as well as receiving a new Co-Op mode update, and as such I thought this would be a good time to revisit the game from an accessibility perspective, as well as discussing accessibility aspects of the new update, and the game’s newest available port.
Starting at the basics, Vampire Survivors can be played with a single button and a single analogue stick on a controller, with the analogue stick controlling character position and menu navigation, and button presses only needed to confirm selections in menus, and never during real time gameplay.
While the default on consoles is left analogue stick to move and A to accept, system level button remapping can place these controls closer together for one handed play. On Nintendo Switch, for example, you could use the D-Pad or Analogue Stick for character movement, and one of the triggers to confirm selections, to play one handed with a single Joy-Con.
The game can also be played one handed with touch controls on mobile, and the Switch version when undocked supports touch controls as well if those are preferred.
Vampire Survivors as a game is very much about creating overwhelming builds that feel hugely rewarding as they prevent hundreds of enemies from getting anywhere near you, but this does inherently make it a very visually overstimulating game. There are options to turn off flashing VFX and damage numbers, as I have done in this video’s gameplay, but there is still a degree of risk if you find flashing visuals overwhelming.
While the game as default features a pixelated text font, you can alternatively switch this to a more legible alternative.
While the game does contain some features that may be useful for accessibility, such as a map pointing to certain items in a level, modifier cards that can help make runs easier, and a menu to check what weapon and item combinations make a new evolved weapon, these are not available at the start of the game as default, and will require some time investment to unlock.
While some people had concerns before release how well Vampire Survivors would run on the Nintendo Switch, the port is surprisingly stable. It is possible to induce some slowdown if you push for a particularly broken build, much as it is possible on PC, but the experience is comparable with that found on other platforms. The Switch’s Joy-Cons work well for one handed play, and the inclusion of touch screen control makes this one of the more versatile places to play the game.
In terms of the new co-op mode, Vampire Survivors allows up to four players to play at once, progressing through stages as normal in terms of unlocking progression.
In order to balance co-op difficulty, the game gives higher player counts fewer weapons and accessories per player, and splits levelling so that each player levels up more slowly.
Where a single player character gets six weapons and six upgrades, two player provides 4 weapons each for a team total of 8, three player grants 3 each for a total of 9, and 4 player grants 2 each for a total of 8.
In a four player game every four level ups will be split equally between those four players, in player order – level one to the first player, level two to the second, and so on – meaning that each player will need four times as long to max out the level of a weapon, but this is also somewhat mitigated by a new item called the Friendship Amulet, which grants all four players a level up to one random weapon, helping to fight back against the slowed levelling curve.
While each individual player is weaker than a single player, in combination the team of players are theoretically more powerful, if they stick together.
Co-Op mode features a number of design choices and settings that in some ways make it more accessible potentially than single player, which somewhat caught me off guard.
In co-op Vampire Survivors, if a player runs out of HP, and they do not have an item to instantly revive, rather than end the run instantly or remove that player from the game, they instead are placed inside a coffin, which will over time fill a meter and cause them to respawn. These coffins are unlimited, meaning that so long as at least one player stays alive, there’s one player not in a coffin, a new player dying won’t end the experience for them unnecessarily. This meter also fills more quickly later into the run, making it so that less time needs to be spent fighting with reduced damage output as a party in harder sections of combat.
In addition to level ups being evenly shared between co-op players, treasure chest rewards are also randomly distributed, meaning that a player who is quick at reaching chests doesn’t monopolise chest rewards.
Lastly, unlocked later in progression, there’s an option to pass a level up to another player, meaning that if you’re offered a weapon or accessory that another player desperately needs in their build, you can offer it to them rather than have it yourself, which makes creating an ideal build more achievable.
When playing in co-op, each player has a colour that’s used for their user icon in menus, as well as to outline their character. By default, coloured outlines appear around your character when the game resumes after a pause such as a level up menu, to allow you to at a glance more easily find who you’re playing as and where they are on screen. To assist with this, in co-op all enemies are paused momentarily after you unpause gameplay, to assist in having time to find your character. These colours can be customised to make sure that they’re decently visible to you, and can be changed to be permanent outlines always present around your character during all gameplay, to assist in the hectic later sections of levels.
The game’s new co-op mode is definitely a bit more challenging than solo play in some regards, having to stick near your fellow players, and having to follow player 1’s camera position make some things at bit more tricky, but on balance I was surprised that co-op didn’t add too much more chaos to a game that’s already pretty overwhelming. The co-op mode may be more accessible for certain players, and has features of its own to balance progression for players of varying skill levels.
Honestly, I wish that character outlines wasn’t a co-op mode only feature. Please put that in single player so I can always have a character outline in single player.
Vampire Survivors isn’t going to be an accessible game for everyone, but its ease of setup as a single handed play game, particularly on the new Switch port, paired with the thoughtful design of the new co-op mode, have reminded me what I love about this game.
There’s an initial skill hurdle to overcome, and the visual elements will be overwhelming for some, but Vampire Survivors is a surprisingly accessible game in a few different regards.