Monday, April 15

Review: Vaporum [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Dungeon crawlers have been around in some form since the early days of gaming, and while it’s a genre I’m familiar with it hasn’t traditionally been one that has excited me. Throwing something a bit different from the more traditional theme Vaporum comes to the table with a steampunk aesthetic and style to help shake things up. It certainly succeeds in overlaying what would traditionally be fantasy and magic elements with ones that are more mechanically-oriented, and its enemies are appropriately distinct, but for the most part it’s still a pretty straightforward genre experience.

You’ll start out in the game entering a towering mechanical construct, not quite sure what’s going on. Pretty quickly you’ll be given your first choice, which mech suit you’ll decide to go with, a nice contextualization of the normal class system you’d find in traditional titles in the genre. With that you’ll be off to navigate an increasingly-complex maze of appropriately-themed rooms and corridors, solving puzzles, finding and equipping new gear, and battling enemies both mechanical and organic. Puzzles tend to be pretty straightforward, typically requiring that you find a key, activate a switch of some sort, or work out a way to deal with a variety of traps.

Combat pretty quickly will give you numerous choices to consider, whether to go with a melee with shield, two-handed weapon, or ranged. You can quickly swap between 2 builds as the situation demands. Both your core suit and the upgrade paths you choose will likely best align with your preferred style, whether to stick and move, tank it up, shoot from a distance, or lean a little more on your gadget skills that have varying effects but consume energy that you’ll need to carefully manage. While visually the enemies can begin to feel repetitive in some cases at least they tend to behave differently, throwing some variation into the combat so you can’t just phone it in hacking away.

All that said, the game has some issues that make it stumble a bit, severely if you prefer to play your games in handheld mode. The text in the game wasn’t sized with portable play in mind and since it can be pretty vital to see even simple things like descriptions of your inventory items that may be a deal-breaker for people who don’t want to need to seek out rooms with the right lighting to maximize the chance to be able to make out what the in-game text says. The second issue is that though I appreciate the complexity and the desire to give the game depth the controls are simply cumbersome. Trying to do things like put down a brick on a switch just isn’t convenient or terribly intuitive and the fact that the game uses pretty well every button (including clicking on the analog sticks) on the Switch and some combined inputs as well can tie your fingers in knots until you get used to them.

If you’re a dungeon crawler fan the fact that there aren’t too many choices on the Switch and that Vaporum is at least a breath of fresh air make it well worth checking out. If you play exclusively in handheld mode I’d include a massive warning that unless you’re able to play in ideal lighting being able to clearly read the in-game text will likely be an issue though. Despite its issues the steampunk vibe and core play of Vaporum help it shine, just perhaps not as brightly as it could have with some more refinement.

Score: 7

  • The steampunk look and feel are unique and generally well-implemented
  • A nice degree of build diversity between your suit, equipment, and upgrades

  • Readability in handheld mode is a significant concern, especially if you’re unable to play in consistent and ideal lighting
  • Complexity comes with a cost in the form of pretty cumbersome controls