Another day, another retro styled, pixel art roguelike inspired game washes up on the Xbox shore. This time around, the game is question is called Vagante from developers Nuke Nine. Billed as an “action packed platformer”, can it live up to the promise of the concept, or is it likely to leave a bad taste in the mouth as permadeath bites us on the posterior again and again and again…
Now, lets cover the narrative here, and this will be the work of but a minute. A rumour has reached your sensitive, treasure seeking ears about a certain cave that lies at the edge of the woods. Apparently, this cave contains an “unfathomable treasure”. I am not sure what an unfathomable treasure is (maybe you don’t know what it is, but if that’s the case, how will you know when you find it?) but it certainly sounds like the sort of thing that any aspiring adventurer should be trying to get their hands on. Also, the rumours about people entering the cave and never coming back? Pah! They were probably underprepared or something. It’ll be different when we get there. Won’t it?
Before we get onto how Vagante plays, let’s have a look at the presentation and we’ll find that the game is dark, the sprites – both for you and the enemies – are tiny, and the writing when you do find some loot is so small I had to sit practically with my nose touching the screen to have a chance of reading it. Perhaps blame my age and lessening eyesight, but it could certainly do with being bigger. The actual graphics are actually quite effective, just tiny, and the sprites do manage to exude an aura of personality. The sound is pretty much as you would expect of a game of this type; all swishing swords and whooshing spells. The rest of the soundtrack is pretty minimal too, helping to create a fairly tense atmosphere as you go around the levels. If only everything wasn’t so small.
Now, gameplay, the big test of any game. How does Vagante stack up? Well, this is very much a story of two halves. The setup of the game starts off very well, with a choice of classes to start each run as. There is the Knight, a melee fighter armed with a sword; the Mage, weaker and squishier and armed with magic, as you’d expect; and finally the Rogue, adept at backstabs and things of that nature, I assume. I say I assume as the opportunity to make any meaningful progress seems to be tied directly to your toughness (or rather, that of your character) and so going in with a weaker character always seemed to be a death sentence to me.
It was the Knight that was first up on the agenda though, allowing us to dive into the first level, the Caves, and see what we could see. Oh, and while we are setting up a run, you can bring along a friend if you wish, as online multiplayer is included and works pretty well in most cases. The cases where it doesn’t are those in which you find yourself playing with someone with a loot hoover in their pocket.
Now, each run is unique, as not only the layout of the levels, but the boss that you face at the end of the level is randomly generated. This generally adds to the longevity and replayability of a game, as the unpredictability is a selling point. And fair enough, this does add some length to what is available in Vagante. If we fail because a layout is too hard (and they are, I’m not sure that the developers could have added in any spikes if they had tried), then the next run may be a little bit easier. The same with the enemies and the bosses: a level filled with little red bats that die to one hit is a lot easier then a stage filled with Goblins that take about numerous whacks to kill. The bosses, however, are another story. In the first level alone, it seems that there is a choice of two enemies that might spawn: the Goblin King, who will summon Goblins to help him, and the Baby Dragon, who will set you on fire. Neither of these bosses are much fun to be honest, and it’s here that the wheels start to fall off a little bit.
The combat is lacking in feel, to be brutally honest, and the fights tend to just devolve into standing toe-to-toe and hitting each other – the winner is the one who is still standing at the end. If you are injured on the way to the boss fight, it will usually be you going down first, so there is an argument for dashing through each level as quickly as possible, but this is balanced out by the need to explore and potentially find some good stuff that can help you do more damage.
However, the jumping about the place just feels off slightly as well, and the mechanic whereby the character will grab the edge of a ledge when falling is seemingly hit and miss; something which is especially dodgy when there are spikes below, usually causing an instant death. And don’t even get me started on the blocks that suddenly fall from above and take you out in one hit as well. In a game where only the immediate area around you is lit up, these strike me as being somewhat unfair.
Vagante has a lot of potential that it doesn’t manage to live up to. It looks nice enough, if a little like you are viewing things through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars, and the setup is interesting. But the numb combat, instant death traps and lack of anything resembling tactics – even in the boss fights – marks it down.
If you want a challenge, you may enjoy Vagante for a bit, but for me it is weighted too much in the favour of the enemies.
Vagante is available to download from the Xbox Store