As Nintendo Switch’s library continues to add more games in genres that are less frequent — such as the classic grid-based first-person dungeon crawlers — the desire to own the hybrid machine is elevated as it’s worth seeking out even more games in said genre potentially to keep coming to the system especially if it involves quality. On everything previously said, Vaporum is such game. It’s also not the only game of that type to release this month on Nintendo Switch, but it’s certainly the one that stands out. Developed by indie studio Fatbot Games from Slovakia, it’s a terrific first showing and can hang with the greats.
The console release of Vaporum are all within 3 consecutive days of each other with the Nintendo Switch version being the last of the trio. As they look great on the two beefier hardware, the same can be said for the Switch version. The dark steampunk setting in Vaporum is well executed and certainly evokes a sense of mystery and isolation. Placed wall lights and overhead lamps illuminate the dark environments providing attractive glows that call for your attention. The working of nearby pipes and water surrounding walkways made of concrete and/or wood create a believable atmosphere.
Occupying the space anywhere you are is the sound design which enhances the fully realized grid-based RPG. Creaks and tinkers of metals, pressure of steam, echoes of the void, and the subtle ambiance are prominent and give headphone users a treat for the eardrums. The varied floors all belong to a tower known as Arx Vaporum, where the main hero playable finds himself entering depicted in a voiced cutscene at the beginning upon waking up on the shore of a beach forgetful of what came prior. Arx Vaporum, an unusual massive tower with a design not typical actually welcomes our hero. Vaporum is fully voiced. There’s lots of Bioshock vibes in Vaporum as unraveling the mystery is part of the story as well. Players will find notes and audio logs left behind of occupants in the Arx Vaporum. It feels like Rapture; only above water.
Vaporum is inspired by oldschool dungeon crawling and does it in style wearing a steampunk coat. It will be a few minutes before putting on your new hardened gear to get you going. Really. Our hero finds himself vulnerable at start until he enters a room with locked chambers containing different types of Exoskeleton-Rigs. These are skeletal frames that have unique attributes and skills. You can examine them before equipping the one you like and once you choose one it’s permanent. Vaporum offers the RPG experience you’d expect. Are you more focused on combat? Tech skills? Defense? Speed or health? Your starting choice might be unique, but there are enough choices to make to completely determine your archetype as you play.
Once you’re suited up the UI appears in place with all you need to know. Your standard fantasy RPG mechanics only different. The red meter is your health and is known as Integrity. Vaporum’s form of magic is known as Energy depicted by the yellow meter. Health must be replenished by hard-to-come-by Repair Kits. Energy may also be replenished by using harder-to-come-by Energy Cells, although it does slowly refill on its own. When defeating enemies, players gain Fumium which are this game’s experience points. Your Exo-Rig comes with 6 equippable slots: 2 hand, 2 leg, head, and body.
There are however, 2 additional slots as to what you wish to hold in your hands, such as a sword and a shield. Only 1 shield may be equipped at a time and players may also choose to dual-wield weapons. Wielding two separate bladed or blunted weapons at once reduces accuracy, but there’s double the times you can swing an attack. If you’re not the close-quarters type, players can also equip different types of guns. Conveniences here is that ammunition found can be shared among every type (shotgun, pistol, etc.) and there is no reloading. Both melee and guns come in 1-handed and 2-handed variants.
Energy is used for Gadgets. Gadgets are tech items found in the world that can create player buffs or create elemental damage against enemies. Such examples are Servo Booster which grants the player increased melee speed for a period of time, or an Acid Nozzle which create pools of acid inflicting continual damage in a set duration. One key rule to elemental damage is that enemies capable of producing said element are resistant to it. About cooldowns… Generally the stronger or heavier the weapon is, the longer the wait, although it’s about a second to a few. Gadgets also have their own cooldown. They’re quite effective so they’re a bit longer. Combat is in real time. One thing to note is that it’s actually a bit faster than one would expect for this type of game. One unique feature for Vaporum is being able to catch your breath. At any time, players can control it: time. Players can pause the scene and plan out their next action. Every action chosen will play out that action in real time and then stop the scene again. Players can also go granular and play it by a frame-by-frame basis. Neat.
Can’t wait to use another gadget right away? Need energy to build up faster? Shoot (shoooot), want to dual wield 2-handed guns in each hand? You can by tinkering with your Circuits (Perks) and using Circuit Points acquired each time you gain a level. Which, by the way, refraining from using Repair Kits when you’ve almost reached a new level is a good way to save on them since your Integrity and Energy refill instantly on top of increasing the maximum each time you level up. Ranks within Circuits also require a certain player level to be met. Each Circuit has unique skills known as Modules when you reach high enough. One example is blunt weapons creating a shockwave damage nearby enemies.
In between the fighting, players must explore and solve puzzles. Mostly getting keys to open door in order to advance, but there’s a lot of secrets and rewards for those who seek it. Optional rooms and chests can be found with the good loots. Sometimes it’s about activating switches. Other times it about pushing and pulling boxes. There’s a good mix of environmental trickery at times. Doing all this while avoid trapped floors with spikes, fireballs shooting from walls and more. Movement is grid-based so using the left analog will allow the player to strafe and move forward & backward while the right analog will turn direction. Holding ZR will bring up a cursor which can be moved with the left analog in order to interact with something. Holding ZL and moving the right analog which allow the player to look around in that direction they’re facing. During this, if the player releases ZL when looking at the near edge of the screen, the player will automatically turn to face that direction which is a nice touch.
Vaporum lets players tweak their settings to optimize their experience. Don’t want blood and gore? Turn it off. No screen shake? Disable it. Want a classic oldschool feel when moving without headbobbing? Go for it. On top of gamma settings, Vaporum also lets players adjust anti-aliasing sharpen for improved detail with minimal performance impact that doesn’t hinder play. If needed, players can also make notes on a spot on their map should they need to, such as marking where an item or secret might be.
One other cool addition Vaporum has is the Arxpedia. Whenever defeating a new enemy type, it automatically gets logged and added to the Arxpedia. In this mode, players can examine get a detailed description of the enemy, lore background and view the enemy in real time as well as choose all of their available actions. Also neat. Enemies can be humanoid, machine, turrets, and organic such as mutated bugs.