Classic Gaming Comes to Vita
Nnooo is a local Australian games developer based in Sydney, the small developer has had great critical success with WiiWare, iPhone and DSiWare titles over the years. In September 2011 Nnooo released escapeVektor: Chapter 1 for WiiWare, it was extremely popular with its retro 8-bit style and its focus on challenging high score driven levels. Originally planned as a downloadable series of chapters, escapeVektor for PlayStation Vita is the definitive version, housing every chapter of the Vektor series. escapeVektor brings the old school gaming mentality of the 80’s-90’s to current day with great prowess, the game’s style complements the era nicely and feels like a homage to classic gaming. Sure it not without its faults, but those looking to step back in time for a challenging experience will feel like they made the right choice.
Your PlayStation Vita has a living entity trapped inside it, well that is the story arc within escapeVektor. Without spoiling any of the plot, Vektor is the name of the life form trapped inside the CPU of your device, he has been captured and detained for a long time and needs help escaping. This is how the narrative works into the gameplay at hand, as you traverse challenging levels you further proceed Vektor’s greatest escape. The plot itself is tough to understand at first and you may barely give it a second thought, however the further you progress the more interesting the story becomes and you find yourself growing an attachment for Vektor. This poor soul has been trapped here for so long and it becomes your duty to rescue him, even when the narrative picks up, don’t expect to be blown away. But the narrative does a great job at providing a reason for you tackling these levels, with both narrative and gameplay strongly complementing one another.
Levels within escapeVektor are produced on grid-like formats, to complete each level you must travel across every square inch of the grid to open up the level exists. It’s a basic formula that becomes more and more challenging throughout, the CPU Vektor is trapped inside provides resistance to stop his escape by creating more challenging levels, adding new enemy types and bonus stages. These bonus stages are unlocked by finding secret exists in certain levels, they offer the greatest challenge throughout the game, providing timed challenges. This difficulty is increased with Eraser Mode, this mode clears your progress if your travel over the same path twice, adding an even greater challenge. Completing the entire stage will give players the ability to skip ahead through the game if they complete the entire stage. Consider it a backdoor to harder levels, but be prepared as the difficulty will ramp up significantly if you skip from Zone 3 to Zone 8.
During my time with escapeVektor I kept reminiscing of my experience with Trials HD, as levels increase in difficulty frequently yet restarting the level is never a pain, it’s a fast and straightforward process meaning hours can be spent playing without dealing with pesky load screens. It also mirrors Trials in its ability to give the players a frustrating experience, due to the extremely challenging levels later in the game and the aforementioned bonus stages, those who have a masochistic love for frustration will be right at home. The game runs smoothly, with no frame-rate drops to speak of, which is appreciated during some of the more hectic levels where your reaction time means everything. The only issue was with the Vita itself, the analog stick at times can be quite a problem, since it doesn’t have the good response that the game requires, you can find yourself missing turns quite easily and costing yourself. Dying because of this issue is never fun and could be a turn-off for some.
Aesthetically the games 8-bit style works well with what the game presents to the player, with the focus on leaderboards and the ability to see your scores against your friends after every level, this game feels like a step back into classic gaming. You will be focussed on getting high scores and beating your personal best times, you’re also able to increase your scores using the Wildcard System. Every time you set a personal best score on a level you are given a WildCard, these can be placed as a bet on the level at hand before you start, die and you lose the card, complete the level and your score will be doubled once concluded. This risk/reward system makes you strategize the perfect moment to use your cards to increase your score.
The music complements the 8-bit style nicely, but I personally found most tracks to be quite similar and lacking variety. One feature escapeVektor offers that might be hit-or-miss for players is the gyroscope functionality, the level itself will move with the Vita’s built-in gyroscope. I personally found it helpful when wanting to see certain sections of the level, but at times it was hard to keep the gyro in the right section.
escapeVektor is loaded with content, the main 4 Chapter narrative will take a long time to complete without gunning for high scores and the added bonus stages will require great skill to master. Just when you think you have completed most of the Zones within the game (150 levels spanning 27 zones) more appear offering an even greater challenge. Once each level is completed you will be awarded a ranking of Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Earning the coveted Platinum ranking will require first class skill and the WildCard System, leaving even the best players with plenty of game to cover.
You will want to get high scores on escapeVektor, since the higher the score the more points are awarded towards upgrading Vektor himself. Vektor levels up in Versions, with each Version giving him a new ability or upgrading his current abilities, such as boost, super boost, detonate and boostenate. Boostenate is a combination of super boost and detonate, making your invincible to enemy attacks while you hold the left shoulder button. Nnooo have designed this ability to take a large portion of your ability duration bar at a quick pace, meaning this ability can never be abused.
The upgrade system is a nice addition, but once your main abilities are unlocked it becomes pretty obvious what your upgrades will be, as it basically only upgrades your abilities duration bar. You’re also given the ability to hold the right shoulder to zoom out on your current level, this is very helpful since the original view is very close to the action, but you will most likely spend the entirety of the game with the right shoulder held down. Maybe the option to extend the games field of view might have been a better option, but at least this option is present.
There were a few technical issues I came across during my playtime with escapeVektor, one occurred before even booting up the game. Having downloaded the game I then began, however I was stuck on the main loading screen and could not get around it. After uninstalling and reinstalling two more times, this issue disappeared and I was able to access the game, this might have been an issue on PlayStation Network but nothing like this has occurred to me in the past. During levels I also found the game not recognize that levels were complete, after clearing every section of white grid within the level and then re-travelling it twice, the game just wouldn’t let the exit appear. After restarting the level, I found I could actually make the exit appear without completely covering the entire grid of the level, this was odd and happened a handful of times. Hopefully players realize restarting the level in the best case scenario if this occurs. These issues never take away from the overall experience, but they are problems to be aware of.
escapeVektor is an addictive piece of classic gaming, produced in the modern generation. Encompassing what was so addictive in the past and making it relevant today, the emphasis on rankings and beating your friends high scores provides this game with tonnes of longevity if enough people step into the experience. Offering plenty of content during the main 4 Chapters and even more secrets to uncover through the bonus stages, escapeVektor offers a challenging experience that is easy to enjoy, but tough to master. It has a few technical issues, but nothing ever ruins the experience and the 8-bit style is a pleasure. The PlayStation Vita has gained another excellent title to its ever growing library, one that you could spend hours with, without even scratching the surface of what the game has to offer.
+ Plenty of content
+ 8-bit style
+ Addictive gameplay
+ Tough to master
– Vita’s analog control
– Lack of musical variety
– Level completion issues
Overall Score: 8.2/10
Jamie Briggs manages Analog Addiction where you can find all his latest reviews, interviews and features and also like them on Facebook. Also follow his daily life on Twitter @AnalogAddiction and their videos on YouTube.