As a well-aged (I prefer the term “vintage”) fan of old school dungeon crawlers, I knew Vaporum ($24.99, worth every penny) was going to be right up my alley. With its dark thematic elements, Dungeon Master meets BioShock vibe and plenty of play and replay value, the very worst thing that I could think of as I sat down to type out this review was simply only being able to get through the game once for this post and having to move onto something else thanks to my stupidly large backlog.
The team at Cypronia has converted developer Fatbot Games’ stellar PC game into a mostly excellent home console version and yes, when I say home console, I kind of mean it. While you can indeed take this on the go as a Switch owner, you’ll have to deal with somewhat smallish onscreen text and controls that can be a bit complex as they’ve been translated from keyboard and mouse to a controller with a lot less buttons to operate. Everything works as it should, but there are a few fiddly moments that require a trip to the options screen to adjust things to your preferences.
Personally, though – this is exactly the sort of game you’ll want to play while socked away on a rainy vacation at home in front of the TV in docked mode. That way, you’re all into the visual and aural experience (the game both looks and sounds fantastic) and not having to be interrupted by outside distractions such as some kid walking up to you and asking “Hey, is that a Switch? Can I play, please because my mom won’t let me take mine outside and… blah de blah, blah, blah..” (true story, that). This is the sort of game where concentration, planning and execution are all urgent forces vying for your attentions.
The steampunk elements extend to the visual design and industrial complex setting, but the game is a pure old-school dungeon game peeking out from under that well-worn metal skin. You even get to choose one of four classes at the start (they type of armored suit you’re bound to) that will seem very familiar if you play a lot of more fantasy-themed RPGs. These bits, coupled with the other classic RPG trappings keep the game fun on a few levels. On one hand, you’re grooving on the great enemy designs and maps that rely on metallic and other man-made environments. On the other, fans of these types of games will be smiling as all those familiar elements work exactly as expected, down to the step-by-step movement (which can be altered to a smoother movement option if desired).
The assorted enemies don’t follow that movement flow as they roam freely in the dungeons, so battles play out as in Dungeon Master or similar games with you needing to pay heed to attacks and situations where your single metal-suited dude is outnumbered and out-gunned. You can pause time to consider your moves, swap to a second weapon loadout, or try to make good an escape before you’re spotted. Thankfully, the game gracefully ramps up the challenge at the beginning and as you level up and earn better skills and gear, you’re generally going to be ready for anything. Well, sometimes. If you end up going too flexible with that skill tree, you’ll end up mastering the art of dying too much because you’ve spread your skills too thin. Save early, save often and don’t fear going back to an old file so you can tweak appropriately.
Well, provided you can get a grip on the control scheme. While there are multiple difficulty levels here, you’ll definitely want to study the controls as you make your way through the game’s earlier sections. Every single button on the Switch controllers is used and I’d go as far as to recommend playing this with the Joy-Cons in their controller cradle or one of the many wired or wireless first or third-party controllers for the system specifically because (for me, at least) holding a controller in both hands just feels better and less confining than holding the Switch with both Joy-Cons attached. That and yep, it’s likely going to be easier to search for all those lovely secrets and audio logs and such without suddenly needing to juice up your Joy-Cons when they start running low.
The aforementioned replay value comes from the facts that you can only choose one of four suits to clank around in and between the skill sets and different gear you’ll find, this makes for a game worth exploring multiple times if you love what you’ve played and are willing to revisit these deadly industrial catacombs. While it’s not written in the cards, I’d love to see some sort of followup or even better, something like a Fatbot/Cypronia take on a game like Anvil of Dawn, which is one of those dream remakes I’ve wanted for a while. Even if that never happens, Vaporum comes highly recommended (and yes, you can get it on PS4, Xbox One and of course, PC if you’re not a Switch owner.
Oh, if you want this in a physical form, here you go, but it’s a somewhat limited number of copies that will be made available, so act fast.
Score: A- (90%)
Review code provided by the publisher