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Vampire Survivors’ Contra DLC Shows One Of Gaming’s Best Values Still Has Plenty Of Life

Ever since it came to Switch at the tail end of last summer, Vampire Survivors has been my plane game. Sure, other run-based indies like Balatro and Dead Cells, all-encompassing triple-A titles like Tears of the Kingdom and Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and retro compilations like Sonic Origins and TMNT: The Cowabunga Collection, have shared that title, but I always know that when I need to pass time on a flight, no game does so as effectively as Vampire Survivors. Logically, I know that each run will last, at most, 30 minutes, but for some reason, it never feels that way. And because of that, I look down for what feels like 20 minutes, and when I look up, 2 hours have passed.

I travel a lot, so I play Vampire Survivors fairly regularly. Still, each time I turn on the game, developer Poncle has snuck more into it. New characters, new maps, new ways to customize your experience – I’m continually surprised and delighted by additional features and content the developer has added in the time since I fired up the game. Sure, Poncle puts out free updates on a regular basis, sometimes even as surprises, as was the case last week, but these paid pieces of DLC – each of which cost $2.50 or less – are the tentpole content releases. The latest, Operation Guns, crosses over with Konami’s legendary Contra IP in both expected and unexpected ways to deliver the same Vampire Survivors fun we’ve known with a distinct Contra flavor.

Operation Guns adds a significant amount of Contra content to Vampire Survivors. On top of 11 new characters, 11 base weapons, and 11 weapon evolutions, Operation Guns brings an enormous Contra-themed map called Neo Galuga, which progresses almost in lockstep with how the original Contra (and its recent remake, Operation Galuga) advances. You start out blasting, slashing, zapping, whipping, and otherwise annihilating humans and robots, but as you go further into the map, more sinister threats show that this isn’t just some standard Earth-based war. Alien eggs, structures, and enemies slowly join the fray, as do an increased number of robotic adversaries. Just like what happens in the original, the alien and cyborg presence eventually takes over the war, giving Poncle plenty of room to play with the Contra license.

Before I knew it, I went from blasting away foot soldiers to enemies on jetbikes to waves of flying Metal Aliens and snake cyborgs. I loved repeating the same process of leveling up my character and their weapons, but with myriad fun discoverables scattered throughout the Neo Galuga map. Along the way, I uncovered some fun Contra-themed power-ups – like homing missiles – that allowed me to further combat the alien horde.

However, the biggest surprise came near the end of my first successful run on Neo Galuga, as a ticker appeared on the bottom of the screen, telling me that something big was happening in a specific corner of the map. I only had a few minutes to get there, and with denser waves of enemies impeding my path, I was worried I wouldn’t get there in time. However, once I did, I was greeted by one of the coolest things I’ve seen Poncle do with Vampire Survivors. I won’t spoil it beyond saying it’s a unique encounter that pays homage to an iconic fight with one of the Contra series’ recurring enemies. 

Though I’ve only done a few runs, I’m steadily unlocking new characters and weapons. Most of the new content is clear about how to unlock the next character, which is helpful in unlocking additional weapons. You unlock Bill within the Neo Galuga map, then unlock Lance by evolving Bill’s Long Gun, and so on. It’s all in service of giving the player a clear route to experiencing all the content that Operation Guns has to offer with as minimal friction as possible. Add on top the Bonus Stage, and the Operation Guns DLC is well worth checking out for all fans of Vampire Survivors, regardless of your Contra fandom.

The wildest part about all of this, as I always tout, is the sheer value of Vampire Survivors. Though the game is often on sale, it never really needs to be; even if you buy the game and all its DLC at full price, you’re spending less than $15. It runs well on Switch, which is where I play it, but it’s also verified for Steam Deck, hammering home that this is the ultimate plane game. Though Poncle continues to release free updates a year and a half after its initial Steam release, these major tentpole releases excite me for the future of Vampire Survivors.

Will the future hold more crossover content? We’ve already received collaborations with Among Us and Contra, but words could not describe how excited I’d be for crossovers with even more prominent properties like Final Fantasy or Resident Evil; imagine slashing your way through hordes of fiends in Zanarkand as Lightning before a boss battle against Sephiroth, or exploring Raccoon City as Chris Redfield, taking down low-level zombies before a Nemesis spawns on the map. The Operation Guns DLC even has my imagination running wild with some less obvious crossovers like Street Fighter; so many of those characters have such iconic moves. Starting off with Ryu throwing a Hadoken before evolving it all the way up to a Shinku Hadoken would be a natural progression that could be applied to several of the series’ characters. And since Vampire Survivors includes music and remixes from the Contra series, that makes these crossover ideas even more enticing.

This article isn’t about speculation or creating a wishlist, though. But that’s what Vampire Survivors’ latest DLC inspires. It shows that Poncle is more than capable of giving these IPs the care they deserve while staying true to the Vampire Survivors formula that made me fall in love with the game in the first place. Vampire Survivors: Operation Guns DLC is out now on all platforms aside from PlayStation (that version arrives later this summer when the main game comes to the platform) and costs just $2.50.

For more on why Vampire Survivors is well worth your time, check out our review of the base game right here.

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