Australian developer Nnooo has released a handful of download titles on Nintendo services over the years, starting with Pop on WiiWare and more recently launched Spirit Hunters on DSiWare. escapeVektor: Chapter 1 rose onto WiiWare in 2011, initially planned as a series of multiple chapters that sadly never quite came to fruition on the fading away Wii download platform. Since then, Nnooo has decided to bundle all four chapters of escapeVektor into one tidy little package for download on the Nintendo 3DS eShop, and with the game currently at half price, what better time to take a look at this action puzzler?
escapeVektor evokes very familiar memories of classic arcade puzzle titles that set players to travel strictly in only four directions, such as Qix and Pac-Man, and even the more recent 3D take on the former, Cubixx. To give a quick gist of how escapeVektor works, players control a small ship-like cursor that can move along lines that need tracing over. Trace over lines to form a cell (effectively a square- or oblong-like shape), then fill all the remaining cells in the level to unlock the exit, escape to it, and win. Sounds easy, right? Well it's far from it.
Initial stages ease players into escapeVektor, and begin to introduce enemies that also travel over lines. Some enemies follow the ship in a kamikaze attempt, whilst others trace back over the lines players have already made to erase them. One collision with an enemy and the mission is over. Level design is implemented incredibly well, to the point where eventually some tactical planning is in order to work out the safest routes to take over next, based on the paths already being made by enemies, and needing to pass through switches to open and close gates. This quickly becomes very tense and requires immediate reactions to dodge and swoop away from those closing in once enemies begin to swarm later stages. With detonation bombs and boost functions that can be upgraded to get the upper hand, quick-thinking is needed so as to put these weapons to the best use.
The fast-paced nature of escapeVektor really keeps players on their toes, and has a strong addictive flavour to it that seems to keep dragging them back in for one more go. Whilst subsequent stages can undoubtedly become very frustrating, they never seem impossible, urging players on to overcome them. A charming little plot is worked into the gameplay, too, which adds a bit more incentive to get through each stage, focusing on a human named Vektor trapped inside a computer trying to uncover his memories and defeat the CPU (the game's title makes more sense now, right?). It's not necessary, but it's a harmless not-so-serious distraction to break up levels.
Sadly, there are one or two issues that can be a nuisance. The default zoom of the camera is too close to the action, meaning a constant hold of the R button to keep the camera at a distance is necessary for practically the entire game. A toggle mode would have been ideal, here. Naturally, the smaller screen of the 3DS itself can't help matters, and the bigger viewing space of the PS Vita may tip that version above this one. Whilst the bottom screen does also display the lower portions of the level, there's never really any opportune time to look at it, else risk committing suicide and restarting the level, nor does it even really help at all, anyway.
However, whilst the WiiWare edition was only one chapter and 40 levels long, the four chapters crammed into the 3DS version contain 150 stages to plough through. This includes the numerous bonus worlds that can be unlocked, which put up some serious challenge with time limit levels, plus the Eraser mode which means any lines players trace back over are erased, so careful planning is in order to complete these stages. Levels can be replayed and wildcards can be used to double the total points score in attempts to achieve any of the bronze, silver, gold and platinum medals up for grabs. One of the greater features of escapeVektor is the instantaneous updates of online leaderboards, with players being able to check their rankings right after completing a stage, whether this is by country, worldwide or between friends. This is a meaty little title with a number of achievements thrown in for good measure to ensure that extra replay value. Cap this off with a terrific electronic chiptune-like soundtrack and what is delivered is one of the finer action puzzlers available on the Nintendo 3DS eShop right now.
Like many popular arcade action puzzle games of old, escapeVektor is easy to learn and quickly becomes very addictive. The non-stop speedy gameplay of each short stage is ideal for quick bursts, with a gradual level of difficulty that is wormed onto the player at the right intervals, which can bring frustration, but never feels overwhelming. Except maybe those bonus stages, which will really put skills to the test!
Visuals are basic to the point that they give off a Commodore 64 and NES style, but are full of vibrant colours. Pop-out effect from 3D is good but doesn't offer much help gameplay-wise, and the game does seem to appear slightly clearer and sharper with it turned off.
Easily a standout aspect of the game, the electronic soundtrack has some highly motivating and addictive pieces that really go hand-in-hand with the fast-paced action of escapeVektor, and they all adapt to each level the further the player progresses. Purchasing the download album of the full soundtrack comes highly recommended!
The story chapters themselves will last a few hours, but bonus levels, attempting to achieve platinum medals and competing in the online leaderboards really bump up the replay value by a large extent.
Anyone with a fond taste for such arcade classics as Qix, Pac-Man and the more recent Cubixx are likely to thoroughly enjoy escapeVektor, whilst anyone with an eye for action puzzle games in general will equally be hooked. Some improvements could be made in terms of the camera angle, and the normal £9 asking price may seem a little steep to many, but those that do invest will find an enjoyable fast-paced game with a whole bunch of replay value and awesome soundtrack. At the time of writing, escapeVektor is currently half-price at £4.49, so now would be the perfect time to snap it up.
Can you remember any issues of the zoom in the WW version, Adam? I found that you needed to keep the camera zoomed out constantly to really give yourself room to see more of each stage and any enemies nearby. Had read others having the same problems. A simple camera toggle option instead of holding R constantly would have been ideal. I'd thought that a TV or the larger Vita screen would help, but not if they still force the camera so close regardless.
The soundtrack can be previewed and bought here for those interested.
Ah, I had a little search around and you can hold the B trigger to zoom out in the WW version, too. Another reviewer of the WW vers also had the same camera issues, so I guess it's across all versions. It is a bit of a set-back, having to constantly hold a button like that, but is probably about one of the only downfalls.