Vampire Survivors with a friend is surprisingly slow. Typically, the indie hit feels frantic as your character automatically uses various weapons so you can defeat waves of oncoming enemies, scoop up experience gems, and race toward far-strung items across levels. The perfectly tuned colors and sounds that make the game feel like walking through a pixel-packed casino add to the chaos.
But when playing Vampire Survivors with my wife on the Nintendo Switch, I noticed that I was suddenly being a lot more thoughtful with every move I made. The game’s new co-op mode forces you to share a screen with up to three of your friends, and that meant my wife and I were constantly communicating so that we could safely inch around levels and use our weapons against the game’s ever-growing waves of enemies.
My wife loves the garlic power-up, which surrounds your character with an energy field that you can use to barrel through mobs. I’m partial to weapons that spit tons of projectiles. Working together, I’d stick close to her so that I could safely launch my bones or axes or knives toward any nearby enemies from the protection of the stinky zone. If either of us got separated — perhaps getting a little too greedy for a faraway treasure chest — we learned more than once that we could be easily overwhelmed.
In co-op mode, Vampire Survivors limits how many weapons you can carry, and I found that changed my approach to the game. In single-player mode, you have up to six weapon slots, and if you know how to build a complementary arsenal, “beating” a level by surviving for more than 30 minutes can become fairly routine. With two players, though, you each only get four weapon slots, and when my wife and I played co-op in the early hours of a fresh file on Switch, I found that it’s not as easy for an individual to turn into an unstoppable force. (With each additional player, the game takes away another weapon slot, which I imagine would only increase the challenge.)
Leveling up works a little bit differently in co-op, too. When you collect enough gems to level up, the game rotates through who gets to pick an upgrade, meaning that your character ultimately gets stronger more slowly than they do in single-player mode. Occasionally, the game offers you a “friendship amulet” that levels up a randomly chosen weapon for each person, but that comes at the cost of you picking a surefire upgrade that could really get your build going. My wife and I would often take a beat to debate our upgrade choices to try and build our collective strength as best as we could.
Though co-op offers moment-to-moment differences when actually playing Vampire Survivors, the entire package on Switch has everything that made the game such a hit on PC, Xbox, and mobile. The game offers a huge number of characters to play, lots of stages to explore, and a long list of goals that each offer useful unlockables, so there’s nearly always something new to explore or strive for with every single run. The game’s two DLC expansions are on Switch, too, so if you’re looking for even more to do, you can pick those up. The only thing I’m missing from playing on Steam Deck is my custom setting that lets me use the right thumbstick to move my character when my left thumb gets tired. (I also really wish there were a cross-save feature to bring over my progress from Steam!)
I was nervous the Switch version wouldn’t perform well during the game’s more pixel-heavy moments. So far, though, even when playing co-op, the game has been pretty smooth, which I’m guessing is a testament to its new engine. I’ve noticed occasional slowdown when the screen is wall-to-wall baddies, but it hasn’t hindered my experience at all. Besides, half the fun of Vampire Survivors is trying to tax your system by making as much happen on-screen as possible.
I thought I was largely done with Vampire Survivors after playing so much of it in 2022. But with co-op mode, the game is back in my regular rotation. And this time, I get to try to survive with somebody else.
Vampire Survivors is available on PC, Mac, Xbox, iOS, Android, and, on August 17th, Nintendo Switch. The co-op mode launches on August 17th.