Genre: Walk-em-up | Developer: poncle | Year: 2021

If games like Fortnite are increasingly an elaborate digital storefront that incidentally have a game attached, mainstream indie games are now increasingly elaborate layers of progression system that incidentally have a game attached.

No game understands this quite like Vampire Survivors, which is chiefly about picking things from a menu until you don’t have to play the game any more. Complete a run to earn currency to pick things from a different menu that bolsters the things you pick in the first menu – the aim being to get to the point where you don’t have to play all the quicker. All us right-thinking people love to grouse about meta-progression, but can we really say with a straight face that one of these menus is good and the other is bad?

I may sound cynical, but truthfully there are things to admire about this game. A lesser developer would have given the game some concept of “aiming” and instantly do away with the fun of how the different weapons interact to control the play area differently. A lesser developer would do away with the traced splash art of Bayonetta as soon as the game sold more than one copy. A lesser developer wouldn’t name everything in odd, slurred Italian that gives the game some spicy bootleggy appeal.

There are all sorts of touches that this game didn’t need – the concept was already a money-printer – but there they are. Props for those. Bad luck to indie developers trying to sell any idea of a refined, balanced action game next to Heroin: The Game