Vampire Survivors | exploring its trove of Italian cultural references

Vampire Survivors references

Vampire Survivors, as well as being an indie smash, provides a window into Italy’s vibrant meme culture. Here are some of its more curious references.


Among the many indie games released in 2022, Vampire Survivors was one of the most surprising. With its basic 2D graphics and Castlevania-inspired imagery, the title went from small curiosity to cult powerhouse, its bullet-hell, rogue-lite gameplay proving compelling enough to attract hundreds of thousands of players and, most recently, a BAFTA for Best Game.

Poncle founder Luca Galante, a Rome-born developer living in London, began working on Vampire Survivors during the pandemic. His aim was to make something he could have fun with on weekends, inspired by casual experiences such as Magic Survival, along with his work on online slot machines.

Galante wasn’t expecting his little game to take off so strongly, especially on Twitch. Otherwise, he says, he might have thought twice before filling Vampire Survivors to the brim with obscure memes and Italian popular cultural references that only few people would actually get.

While Italian internet culture is definitely not as strong as that in the US (or as ubiquitous), it’s fair to say it’s more unique and niche. It therefore makes for a rich source of lore to build on for a humorous, secret-packed title like Vampire Survivors.

What’s in a name? Cheese

Vampire Survivors

Vampire Survivors. Credit: poncle.

The game’s main characters are all members of the Belpaese family. While it’s not an unusual surname in Italy, for the average Italian, it also sounds like a reference to a well-known brand of dairy products.

Galante mentions how he put in these names a joke, mostly as a placeholder while he waited for inspiration to strike. By the time Galante realised the game was taking off, it was already too late to change them. For example, the character Poeratcho is a sort of English phonetic transcription of the Roman term “poraccio,” generally used to describe someone with no money or who’s down on their luck.

The same is true of Mortaccio, a skeleton character in the game. The name’s a play on the vintage Roman insult, “mortacci,” which literally translates as “your dead ancestors.” Quite appropriately, there’s also a weapon called “Soul of Mortaccio”, since the same insult is often made more spicy by making references to the “souls of your dead ancestors” (“l’anima de li mortacci tua”).

Sweet music

Vampire Survivors

Vampire Survivors. Credit: poncle.

Christine Davain, meanwhile, is a reference to Italian singer Cristina D’Avena. Beloved to this day, she’s a familiar name to anyone who watched Italian TV in the 80s and 90s, as she used to be the voice for most cartoon theme songs of the time, including Batman, Sailor Moon, Inspector Gadget and, more recently, One Piece.

Continuing on the topic of music, there are two connected weapons which reference a popular comedic Roman group. Phiera Der Tuphello is named after the song ‘Alla Fiera Der Tufello’ by the band Latte e i Suoi Derivati (Milk and its Derivatives). Written like a parody of a classic pseudo-medieval song, the lyrics soon descend into chaos, with such quirky individuals as Er Patata (Potatohead) and Er Cipolla (Onionhead) fighting with each other.

The weapon goes well with “Eight the sparrow”, a strange name with a simple origin: it’s the literal English translation of another song by Latte e i Suoi Derivati, probably one of their most famous. It’s about a parent harassed by his child to tell the story of a little sparrow named Otto; after repeated interruptions from the kid, the parent ends the song with a bracing volley of frustrated swear words.

Mille Bolle Blu, a weapon in Vampire Survivors’ Legacy of the Moonspell DLC, on the other hand, is a reference to a popular 1960s song, usually sung by Italian singer Mina.

Anime and entertainment

Vampire Survivors

Vampire Survivors. Credit: poncle.

Moving on to anime, sturdy character Yatta Cavallo is a clear homage to classic series Yatterman (Yattaman in Italy), which was popular throughout the 80s and 90s. Cosmo Pavone also has the same origin, as he’s the Italian version of a character from the series Yattodetaman, also produced by the same Japanese studio, Tatsunoko.

Boon Marrabbio is an even more obscure reference to a character in the live action anime adaptation, Love Me Licia (the other seasons were released under different names). An Italian TV series, Love Me Licia what was perhaps the first Japanese anime to get a live-action adaptation in the west. Kiss Me Licia was written as a direct follow-up to the popular anime Love Me, My Knight which, outside of Italy and a few European countries, didn’t really have much success.

Divano Thelma, meanwhile, is a reference to a particularly unusual Italian celebrity: Divino Otelma. He’s an infamous TV magician who was convicted several times for fraud.

Big Trouser is a direct translation of a classic Italian carnival character, Pantalone, a name that means ‘trousers’ in Italian.

Returning to Vampire Survivors’ DLC, Legacy of the Moonspell, Scorej’oni stands out as an interesting reference. Its name contains the word ‘oni’, Japanese for demon, but in Italian it can be read as someone who’s unafraid to pass wind as much as possible. McCoy-oni is similar: it’s a take on the Roman term “me cojoni” (literally “my balls”), often used to express ironic amazement in front of an exaggerated statement.

Dinner time

Vampire Survivors

Vampire Survivors. Credit: poncle.

There are also numerous references to food in Vampire Survivors. Gallo Valletto is a nod to Galletto Vallespluga, a notorious brand of chicken popular in the 80s and 90s. Giovanna Grana is a sort of female counterpart to Giovanni Rana, who in real life is famous for creating a long lived line of fresh pasta (tortellini, ravioli, etc).

Ambrojoe is possibly a subtle homage to Ambrogio, a driver for a rich woman who would feature again and again in the ads for the Ferrero Rocher line of confectionery.

The Italian memes and nuggets of pop culture continue in Vampire Survivors’ weapons and items. Some references are phonetic transcriptions of Italian words (such as Peachone for “piccione”, which means pigeon).

Hold the phone

Vampire Survivors

Vampire Survivors. Credit: poncle.

The evolution of the Santa Water weapon, La Borra, is a different story. It’s a reference to a notorious moment in Italian television where a phone call on a daytime quiz show quickly turned awkward. The host asked the caller to guess something that “makes foam, but isn’t soap”. The contestant was supposed to answer “birra”, or beer, but she instead kept repeating “borra”, which is quite similar to the Italian word for semen. La Borra is, of course, the weapon of Suor Clerici, which is a reference to Antonella Clerici, the presenter of the TV show in question.

Nduja Fritta Tanto is a handy item to find in Vampire Survivors, as it allows the player to make short work of enemies. The name comes from a type of cured meat, Nduja, usually made in the south of Italy, and is known for being incredibly spicy. The addition of “fritta tanto”, meanwhile, suggests that the salami’s also deep fried. Such a fried, spicy meat would probably burn your throat, thus turning you into a fire-spewing survivor.

Among the several hidden levels in Vampire Survivors, players will find ‘Il Molise’. The game seems to talk about the place as though it’s fictional. But there’s a well-known meme about the real Molise in Italy – among the country’s twenty regions, it’s jokingly said to be so small and insignificant that it might as well not exist.

There are numerous other cultural nuggets hidden in Vampire Survivors, and this article isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of them all. It’s arguable, though, that Luca Galante was right to embrace the playful and ironic nature behind Vampire Survivors’ cast of characters, rather than try to go back on it. As well as being a huge hit, the game has provided a window into a lively world of Italian memes and culture that, for many players, was previously unknown.

If nothing else, you’ll now know the right way to ask for a beer the next time you’re in an Italian bar…

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