Vampire Survivor-likes are a thing now, all trying to emulate the success of Poncle’s indie hit that became our best game of 2022. As I’ve said before, a lot of them can’t quite match the OG for all manner of reasons, but Spellbook Demonslayers is different. Despite only being in early access, it’s already got a solid foundation to work from. No, there isn’t an Old Testament that whirls around your person like a holy sawblade, but there is a revolving shield with a pistol glued onto it. Yeah, I thought that would convince you.
Spellbook Demonslayers is as you’d expect from a Vampire Survivors-like. An arena quickly fills with rotten hounds and fetid fungi, and you must steer a witch out of their way while periodic auto-attacks help keep the demonic massies to a manageable amount. What’s neat about Spellbook Demonslayers is the way it iterates on Vampire Survivors’ formula, borrowing the good bits from it but still managing to bundle it all up in a convincing witchy way.
If there’s one box that Spellbook doesn’t so much tick as smash a hole through it using a combination of a dusty tome and a mean pitch, it’s the game’s catalogue of spells and upgrades. Hoover up gems from fallen demons to level up, and you’ll get a choice of spell to imbibe your book with. Early access means it’s not quite the equivalent of the Yellow Pages yet, but there’s still plenty on offer to ensure you hit-fulfil a power fantasy sharpish. You might opt for sigils that highlight enemies and call forth deadly lightning bolts, or you’ll invest in a rotating acid spray that makes demons explode on death. It’s very hard to go wrong.
And it’s the way the game’s spells all have interesting upgrade paths, transforming them sometimes once, sometimes twice into uber powerful versions of themselves. Ice traps become towering obelisks that shatter on impact. Fizzing orbs become the equivalent of beetles that’ll scurry about and leech health. My favourite is a purple shield that I slapped two pistols onto, for a lovely guns-akimbo wall of defense. Again, Vampire Survivors features upgradeable powerups – and the option to weld them together – but many of the Survivor-likes I’ve tried don’t! So, it’s refreshing that Spellbook rewards one’s investments with similarly fun evolutions.
Manage to beat a stage’s 30-minute timer and the game will hit you with a handful of challenges: defeat all the elite enemies until the game says you’ve won, or essentially, survive for as long as you possibly can. By this point, you would’ve gained a load of “Astral Blooms” which you can spend at the main menu on a load of incremental upgrades. A bit tedious unfortunately. The real plus side of survival, though, lies in unlocking new spell books that act like new characters. Your pink-haired gal won’t change, but the book that circles her does, meaning your starting spell changes drastically depending on what you choose. There are loads.
Another way Spellbook iterates on the genre is through “Shrines”, or small arenas that’ll pop-up randomly and task you with a challenge. For instance, the “Smuggler’s Shrine” might burst onto your screen nearby, and if you slay 30 enemies within its bounds you’ll receive a special “Smuggler’s Chest” that’ll grant you an “Illegal” frighteningly strong upgrade. There are a few of these shrines, like ones centered around healing you up, or increasing your spellcasting speed. Granted, the incremental boosts aren’t too exciting, especially as these shrines seem to pop up fairly often. But I still appreciate their presence as mini-challenges to break up the usual wave-clearing.
One of Spellbook’s greatest triumphs is in the clarity of its presentation. Not only are its sprites colourful and bouncy, but they also manage to keep the chaos of a lengthy run under control. I’ve found the art style of other Survivors-likes aren’t great at feeding you the minutiae of information you need between the explosions and fireworks. But Spellbook’s aesthetics – for the most part – allow you to see the crucial damaging orbs whizzing between the tangle of goblin limbs and floating eye balls.
If you’re after a Vampire Survivors-like that’s already got a solid, magical platform and is only going to get better from here on out, this is it, pal – get on it. Did I mention that it’s only £4? That’s about the price of a meal deal, except this one’s a game that’ll feed your appetite – for demonic slaughter – time and time again. Can’t argue with that.
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