Reviewed by Thomas
I have long been a fan of first person, grid based dungeon crawling epics. I find the sense of adventure captivating. Keeping a fresh supply of grid lined paper on hand. The joy in charting out snaking labyrinths full of puzzles and danger. Often times finding a corner to hide in for reprieve. Searching every nook and cranny for a chipped stone or off colored block, praying for a life saving secret stash. There are few of these games out there and fewer yet on Nintendo Switch. When I learned Vaporum was one such game in a steampunk setting, I was intrigued. Join me as I chart my way through the Arx Vaporum.
One Step At a Time
The perilous sojourn in Vaporum begins with an amnesiac man pulling himself from the ocean onto an uninhabited island. Cold and alone he faces a large metalic structure. The ominous tower looms in the distance and beacons the man onward. With no where else to go, he enters the behemoth willing to face the unknown. Inside is just as cold and dark as the depths of the ocean he crawled forth from. The inside feels vaguely familiar to him and he begins to find notes and audio recordings building up to what transpired in the Arx Vaporum.
The story is where Vaporum excels. It is masterfully crafted and has a erie ambiance which goes hand in hand. The audio recordings sound authentic as you march through the metallic tomb. Urging you to press onward despite the variety of denizens attempting to slow you down. Taking a moment to pause and read each uncovered letter was a pleasant diversion. Between the main character’s own thoughts and the documents picked up along the way, the story is well paced.
An Endless Enigma
Die hard fans of dungeon crawlers can of course map out the Arx Vaporum and take notes for themselves. The game however features an auto mapping system with detailed icons making it hard for the novice explorer to get lost. Some will find the puzzles that each floor offers challenging however. This is another aspect Vaporum does well. The developers did a great job coming up with unique and challenging puzzles. There were a few times when I had to scratch my head. Through trial and error with close observation the solution can ultimately be found. The ingenuity of the puzzles and secrets were cleverly crafted.
The Waltz of Combat
The combat in Vaporum is not turn-based. When you brawl with the various enemies it is a fluid affair. I use the term brawl because some battles felt like a slug fest as you wait for your attack to charge for another strike. The combat was sluggish and didn’t work well with the Nintendo Switch. Fighting didn’t feel natural with either the pro controller or in handheld mode. Too often the finicky control scheme in conjunction with the analog stick would cause me to face the wrong direction or take a misstep. These little errors often proved fatal.
In a way, combat is as much of a puzzle as the rest of the game. Your enemy has a pattern and moveset they follow. Since you’re free to move to other tiles, the battles boiled down to knowing when and where to step to gain the advantage over your foe. In cases when you’re outmatched, finding a alcove to make your stand is often necessary. The combat felt repetitive and trite. Aside from the fickle analog stick, the command buttons were anything but intuitive. Vaporum would play much better on a PC than a console in this case. Mashing the left bumper for your main attack grew boring and holding the left trigger with a corresponding button for a skill was difficult when trying to navigate the battlefield.
A Sinister Column
As I mentioned above, the ambiance Vaporum creates with the music and sound effects add realism to the story and tie the experience together. The foreboding setting is accentuated with every water droplet, creak and grind of the Arx Vaporum. The graphics present an inhospitable backdrop for the dreary tower and complete the package. There were a few graphical glitches. Namely open drawers that jut into the next grid. It looked tacky when you moved to such a grid and had a drawer coming out of your face. Other than the occasional graphic issue and poor controls, Vaporum ran smoothly on the Nintendo Switch.
Vaporum is marred by trite controls and boring combat. The intriguing story and gloomy backdrop do a passing job at overcoming the faults. Engaging in the puzzles gives a fun challenge as you climb the dreadful tower and uncover the truth of the Arx Vaporum. The story and puzzles alone make the journey worth it even if the combat takes a back seat.
- Captivating Narrative
- Apprehensive Atmosphere
- Complex Puzzles
- Repetitive Combat
- Poor Controls
- Graphical Hiccups