People don’t often realize that game reviewers have to have palettes and objectives in gameplay like folks who do wine tastings. As fun as the experience sounds and as grand as the concept of drinking wine all day long might be, you have to do it properly to not totally blow yourself out. That’s why you’re supposed to swish and spit, not drink the damn thing, otherwise you’ll get day drunk three glasses in. I’ve played a ridiculous number of games over the past couple of years, so it took me a moment to remember Vaporum, the steampunk dungeon crawler from Fatbot Games. Playing that on my archaic PC over a year and a half ago, I remember the experience mostly fondly, though it’s arguable hard to forget a game that fell so well into line with my childhood gaming style. After a short moment of loading, more specific memories came rushing back, and, more importantly, I could see the steps that had been made since I last played. Vaporum was here, and, having done QA for the last 15 months, it was polished, proper, and portable.
The load up to the game is the same, though things feel significantly different without my 750-Ti chugging to simply load everything up. You’re still a nameless dude (who does have a name, you just don’t learn it for a while), having awoken from a bizarre and frightening dream, to be greeted by a gate with no door, an island with no life, and your mind with no memory. Seconds after entering the dungeon, you find yourself selecting the proper exo rig, or “magic robot skeleton suit,” to decide your style of gameplay (tech, defense, resistance or muscle), and away we go on a deeply story driven tale of intrigue and madness, and to learn the true secret of the Arx Vaporum (the massive tower).
Some points from my previous review need to be retread, but only in a positive light. As a grid based dungeon crawler, everything still performs and presents as it originally did, with aplomb and flair. You are chronically locked into a first person perspective, with plenty of chances to explore, find enemies, discover treasure chests, figure out puzzles and, on occasion, get locked into absolutely fearsome and strategic battles that requires plenty of patience and strategy. Over time, you’ll discover a massive plethora of weapons and armor, tons of items for both ambience (all of the audio recordings from previous inhabitants, for example), a vast array of tech to create a “magic” sort of element, and, naturally, keys and artifacts to work into puzzles and traps. The game has a huge number of hidden elements to find as well, and one of the first hidden chests you find is such a game changer (seriously, get that chest, it’ll help you immensely whilst working out your play style).
This time around, I did take a moment to try out the Stop Time Mode that Vaporum offers, and, while I can see the validity, I would recommend not using it. Basically, it freezes the game after every move you make, which can be helpful when you’re dealing with enemies for the first time and you need to think before proceeding with your attack pattern. The caveat comes that it totally ruins the rhythm of the game, and transitions out of Vaporum’s natural cadence and style, and turns it into something clunky and unwieldy. If it’s what helps you keep pace with the oncoming death that chitters and whispers around each corner, by all means, but I didn’t particularly care for it. For first timers, though, it might be necessary to get you into the correct mindset of “once you move, things start to happen.”
The game itself performs and looks marvelous on the Switch. The port has shorn the size of the game immensely, bringing it down to just 2GB installed and still looking and feeling great. There were zero moments of lag or hesitation going through doorways and down corridors, and the load times between areas was negligible (though still existent). With no mouse to speak of, Fatbot happened upon a good use of twin sticks and shoulder triggers to give a more streamlined feeling to the controller only setup. Hitting ZR will automatically target and focus on whatever needs to be interacted with, and ZL acts as a layup to activating other things, such as turning the aforementioned Stop Time mode on and off, or ZL+A to use one of your techs. In fact, I would argue that being able to play it on the Switch is far easier to pick up than the PC, simply because there is a lot to handle and grasp initially, and having it all properly mapped out across either the Pro Controller or JoyCons means a quick reference to see what there is to see and going from there. Since I have had a chance to play Vaporum previously, it was just a matter of relearning the controls, but then I found myself jumping through the realms, swapping between weapons with ease, firing off techs with a moment’s notice and getting absolutely murdered by Life Leeches in no time flat. Seriously, I hate those things.
My only complaint about Vaporum for the Switch is probably the lighting. The game is, by the nature of the world and the game’s core, quite dark. The darkness isn’t a big problem on the television, but the Switch’s screen requires minimal if any lighting from external sources. That meant that early on, journeying through Waterworks and Haunted were unbelievably daunting when I tried to play on my morning commute or in the company break room. The Librarian area was alright, as it’s comparatively well lit, but most of my play required that I either be docked and draw the curtains OR pump up the gamma and lose some of the beautiful design and atmosphere that the game provides. This wasn’t an issue with the PC playthrough because, well, I wasn’t bringing the game out on a laptop. Though I do have a long flight coming up, and I get the impression that the cabin darkness will be ideal for the Riddle of Steel in a new exo rig.
All in all, Vaporum is still the lovely title that I encountered a couple of Septembers back, and it’s obvious the developers have put so, so much work into this beast since launch. It’s sleek, it runs wonderfully, it still is fun and has better sound and voice work, and I love all the toggling options that I didn’t notice (or didn’t exist) before, especially turning off gore so that my watching children can just get normal nightmares instead of bloody ones. I was excited to hear that a Prequel is in the works, and Fatbot is still hard at work to make sure that their beautiful little Victorian nightmare is delivering everything that it promised. Longtime fans will do well to double dip and have the joy of bringing the game around with them, and newcomers should absolutely invest if they have love for the dungeon crawlers of old. And the potential for a prequel that tells us more about fumium, Lora, and the entirety of the world is really exciting. So I’m going to dive back into the dungeon and see what there is to see: after all, the real secrets are just beyond the shadows.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 9/10
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Replay Value - 9/10
User Review( votes)
Same great terrifying dungeon crawler, now in a delicious Nintendo Switch packaging with solid porting and button mapping.