vampire survivors is a very straightforward gothic roguelike that snuck onto Steam Early Access in late 2021. Earlier this year, it had started to explodeand the game that allows you “be the bullet hell” has since racked up over 100,000 positive reviews. Now he has a spiritual brother called 20 minutes until dawn which raises the most important question: what if vampire survivors had guns? The answer is that it would be another Steam hit.
Although not as big as vampire survivors, 20 minutes until dawn managed to build on the success of the former through minor but significant changes to its base formula. Both games are about maneuvering around a 2D map trying to survive a horde of enemies while negotiating a steady stream of random upgrade trade-offs. But where to fight in vampire survivors is 99% automated, 20 minutes until dawn works like a twin-stick shooter with limited chambered bullets and regular reload animations.
Created over a few months by solo developer Flanne and released in June, it’s horror-based but trades 8-bit style pixel art for lo-fi anime vibes. Its difficulty curve is also steeper. You move slower while firing, reloading takes time, and rather than a life counter, your life is represented by a few unobtrusive heart icons (with regular veining and pulsing). In this case, more challenge equals more agency, and where vampire survivors can sometimes feel like an automatic fighter, 20 minutes until dawn requires more constant vigilance, especially at the start of each new round.
Initially, you mow down swarms of baby Cthulhu-like creatures and demonic trees. Later serpentine gargoyles join the mix as well as mini-boss encounters that force you to switch tactics. Collecting the runes they leave behind allows you to level up and earn upgrades like magical ice daggers, baby dragons, and of course more bullets and wider spreads for your weapons (Runes are also spent outside of each run for permanent unlocks and upgrades). Enemies take longer to kill at first, and sometimes 20 minutes until dawn may seem a bit rougher around the edges than the drop of smooth dopamine from vampire survivorsbut the greater sense of control over my character and every run keeps me coming back.
The underworld-like meta progression is still where the most fun is, and levels come early and often. There’s also an array of additional characters and starter weapons to unlock that provide even more room for experimentation. As the name suggests, you are trying to survive against a 20 minute countdown (vampire survivors lasts up to 30 minutes). There’s even a 10-minute compressed mode where you can experience the full horde survival cycle in half the time.
It is common for certain sub-genres of games to always do very well on Steam. Even still, 20 minutes until dawnit is the meteoric rise is notable. Chris Zukowski reported on the whole mini-cycle on his blogshowing how he made all the right choices to capitalize on a lead laid by vampire survivors. He is quick to point out, however, that it only worked because 20 minutes until dawn is a fun game that offers its own clever version of the formula. Flanne was working on a tribute to Final Fantasy Tactics called Spiritlink Tactics for five years when he pivoted, and now he devotes all his time to keep updating his surprise hit.
Update 0.7.4 just arrived on July 30, adding a new character called Luna who can use black holes to control enemy crowds. Like its Early Access inspiration, it feels like 20 minutes until dawn will only get better.
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