Review: escapeVektor (PlayStation Vita)
Australian based developers Nnooo have released their first title for Sony’s PlayStation Vita handheld, escapeVektor.
Originally planned as a series of downloadable titles for the Nintendo Wii’s Wiiware service, escapeVektor on PlayStation Vita (and Nintendo 3DS) is the ‘complete’ edition of the game – featuring all of Nnooo’s planned chapters.
Having developed for Nintendo platforms for years, has this Aussie studio successfully made the jump to Sony’s latest handheld? Read on to find out!
escapeVektor is like a modern day arcade game. The visuals are simple, yet overly stylish. The trippy soundtrack bops along with an 8-Bit (or lower) beat similar to 80/90’s video games. And the gameplay, flawless in execution with an ever-increasing difficulty spike that proves to be quite a challenge.
The story of escapeVektor is reminiscent of Nnooo’s most recent Nintendo DSi title, Spirt Hunters Inc.. Much like the games unassuming simple-like presentation, the story is a rather bare bones tales of Vektor – a digital entity who has been trapped inside your handheld’s CPU and needs your help to escape. There’s no grand introduction to the game, just a blank screen with text scrolling across which sets the scene immediately. It captures you from the get-go, and over the course of the game continues to hold and engage your attention.
Vektor himself will chime in as you progress, both to push the narrative forward and either to comment on in-game moments or give some helpful advice. Surprisingly the story is engaging and quite rich. For all this worth, Vektor is just a person like your or I who wants to desperately discover his past, what he’s purpose and goals are, and of course escape the CPU. On an emotional level I came to care for the little guy, thanks in no small way to his rather overly friendly and optimistic personality that shines through the use of text to highlight Vektor’s tone or mood.
In actually helping Vektor escape you’ll need to play through a whopping 150 levels (or nodes as called in-game) spanning 27 worlds (or, zones). Clearing a node is overly straightforward, simply move the small arrow you control across each cell – made up of a series of inter-connected lines – to ‘colour’ it which once done will present you with an exit.
The challenge comes in when the CPU starts throwing obstacles, enemies and various other hazards in your way. This starts of with just patrolling enemies that follow a set path. This evolves into enemies that hone in on your location and pursue you until you’re destroyed, and so on. Various environmental hazards also pop up which likewise can cause a stir, example being electronic gates that are controlled using switches – either by yourself or by enemies, which can make clearing later stages all the more challenging.
escapeVektor is not an easy game, if anything it is actually quite punishing. It’s not hard in the sense of being cheap, rather the design of each stage uses all, or a combination thereof, of the previous design mechanics you’ve encountered previously. In many ways it’s like a snow-ball effect. Every time you encounter something new it’s then added to the rest of the CPU’s repertoire and blends it all together.
To help off-set some of the difficulty, Vektor can enable various skills for you which you can use at your disposal. When used efficiently and with patience they can aid you in overcoming frustration, including providing useful for various puzzles. Abilities include: detonate, boost, super boost and boostenate – the last being a combination of the detonate/super boost. Each uses its own energy gauge that is refilled by ‘colouring in’ cells, so you can’t just spam them as much as you like. In the case of detonate especially, which allows you to set of a powerful area blast, this is a nice touch since it, and the others, have the ability to break the game and make it far too easy.
Boostenate is entirely different, since it uses both your super boost and detonate energy. This is because well, it essentially makes you invincible and enables you to whizz around the nodes destroying everything in your path. Again, it’s nice that an energy gauge is employed to make the game still feel challenging, despite having such a powerful ability. And really, the games level design certainly doesn’t make you think it’ll get easier once you’ve unlocked all 4 abilities.
Which, unlocking abilities is done by simply clearing nodes, which increases Vektor’s version number. The higher you score – which is ranked by a 4-medal tally system and shared with those around you using the PlayStation Vita’s ‘near’ feature – the more ‘experience’ Vektor gains. Raising the version number also upgrades your existing abilities – such as extra blast radius for detonate. You can increase your score by replaying nodes (encouraged especially after unlocking one or two abilities) or by using Wildcards which, depending on their value, can multiply your final score for each node.
Outside of these abilities you’re also given the option to zoom in/out the camera within your current node. By default the camera keeps a relatively tight pan on your little cursor, zooming out only when it really wants to. Holding down the right shoulder button will pan the camera out and give you a more wider view of the node – important when there’s loads of enemies running about.
This goes even further with the PlayStation Vita’s inbuilt gyroscope. Tilting the handheld around allows you to change the camera to see partly up/down/left/right. This, and the Vita’s somewhat useless thumb-stick which doesn’t provide a tactical enough response unlike the Dpad, is one minor flaw in an otherwise stellar game. Reason being the gyroscope feature is actually more distracting than anything else. I tried hard to like it, I tried hard to use it effectively, but each time I simply turned it off and left it off.
While escapeVektor is more or less a linear experience, there’s a surprisingly nice amount of additional ‘bonus’ content and branching paths. In various nodes you’ll stumble across a secret exit which can either take you to the aptly named ‘bonus zones’, where you’ll find an even greater challenge compared to normal nodes, or skip you ahead to a later zone, not unlike Super Mario Bros.. It goes without saying however, skip ahead and you’ll find the difficulty spike up dramatically.
While escapeVektor offers up loads of content, and essentially is a downright fun video game, many may be turned off by its simple visuals. This is a shame since the visual presentation Nnooo has created for the game is rather eye-catching and distinct. Each node/zone is set apart by differing colour schemes, not only in their backgrounds but also the shade used to ‘colour in’ cells or display score/time/energy gauge. It’s the finer details such as these that go on to make escapeVektor a visually engaging treat.
Hand-in-hand with the visuals is the soundtrack, which is nothing short of delightful. Whether it be a generational thing or my age showing how much I appreciate old-school video games, I felt escapeVektor really pushes a unique and catchy 8-bit inspired soundtrack. While the ‘world-map’ screen uses the same track, most of the nodes themselves feature unique or differently arranged tracks that, despite whatever frustration encountered, would see me bopping along with the tune.
As the PlayStation Vita marches along with more and more unique and interesting games being released, escapeVektor is certainly one that stands out among all others. Visually eye-catching, it lures in players with expectations of easy trophies based on its overly simple graphics, yet catches them in a web of incredibly well structured and expertly designed gameplay.
escapeVektor is highly addictive, overly simple yet challenging and a great load of fun.