Posted by Philip J Reed
Traces of greatness
Looking back to the release of escapeVektor: Chapter 1 just over a year ago, we're filled with conflicting emotions. We're glad, of course, because the game was fantastic, inexpensive, and thoroughly addictive. However we can't remember that game without being reminded of the fact that WiiWare never saw the rest of the series. That "Chapter 1" hangs there like a too-optimistic promise of great things ahead... great things we never got to see.
Or, at least, great things we never got to see until now. Finding a new home in the 3DS eShop, escapeVektor seeks to atone for the dangling end of Chapter 1 by giving us all four chapters at once, in one collection, in a portable format. And you know what? We absolutely forgive it.
It's worth reading our review of the WiiWare game to find out why we loved it, especially since everything great we had to say about it applies here as well.
It's a deceptively complicated game that involves moving one simple shape around a world of simple shapes. You guide Vektor — a mysterious digital personality — through these worlds, tracing paths on a grid as you go. As you move you colour in the path behind you, and enemies pursue you and seek to trap you in a corner. It plays like a cross between Pac-Man and City Connection with a retro-futuristic vibe, a wonderfully evolving storyline, and a pulsing soundtrack that ranks among the best available on any of Nintendo's digital services.
Control is simple and tight. You change directions with the circle pad and... that's it. At least, at first. As the adventure progresses you'll unlock the ability to set bombs, to boost, and even to plow through enemies. Those are all skills you'll have to learn, however, as Vektor begins the game totally defenceless, and your only hope of survival is to think fast, and with great cunning.
Each level contains a timer. If you let it run out, the enemies will be on higher alert for you, and will move more quickly as they seek you out. Colouring every path within a level allows you to move on, but hidden exits can be found as well by colouring paths that open up only after the first exit is revealed. When you do reach an exit, your score will be tabulated based on the amount of time you took, the number of enemies you destroyed and other factors; this is where escapeVektor really shines, with leaderboards.
The game will automatically connect to the network every time you finish a level, and you'll be able to see where your score stacks up in general and against your friends. It's a simple way to add endless replayability to even the most basic levels, and at the time of writing your humble reviewer is at the top of more than a few charts... go knock him off!
Even better, if you can't connect to the network for any reason — if you're playing on a bus, or your internet is down — all of your scores will upload the next time you do manage to connect. It's exactly the kind of approach that really would have benefited Spirit Hunters Inc., and we're thrilled to have it here.
Additionally there are 150 levels to explore and master, a set of achievements to unlock, and additional medals awarded for clearing levels quickly or with a high score. On top of that there are wildcard items Vektor can find, which will allow you to double your score in a level of your choice... which is obviously a great way of heating up leaderboard rivalries. Without any of this extra content the sheer number of levels would make for a worthy purchase, but this additional value really makes it a fantastic buy.
The game's design isn't perfect, however. The playing field is visually cramped, and it's impossible to know what's coming at you many times until it's already killed you. There are switches you'll have to throw in order to open up new passages, and exits that are revealed when the level is clear, but you can't see where they are without simply re-exploring the map. You can zoom out by holding R, but it would have been much nicer if you could simply press R once to toggle a zoom. As it stands you'll be holding R the entire time that you play, and that feels unnecessary.
There are also enemy respawn points that are pretty unfairly positioned. When you kill an enemy they will reappear between two brackets at a set place on the board, so you'd better hope you don't have to kill anything while you're anywhere near those brackets or they will reappear immediately and kill you right back. This is doubly frustrating when you recolour all the paths in the level, as doing so will destroy all the enemies on the screen. When you finish colouring you'd better not be anywhere near a respawn point or, again, you're a sitting duck.
These are small niggles, however, that can be learned and don't mar the addictive experience of escapeVektor. For a game about simple shapes, the correct path through a particularly difficult level can resemble an elegant dance of reaction and foresight, and there's nothing quite as satisfying as finishing a level that you've failed to complete dozens of times. It's a difficult game, but an endlessly rewarding one.
Make no mistake: escapeVektor is a great game. It's not without its flaws, but they're extremely minor when compared against everything the game gets exactly right. The visual presentation is simplistic brilliance, the soundtrack is perfect, and the play controls are tight. A narrow view area and some unfair placements of enemy respawn points can both lead to unfortunate deaths, but the achievements, medals system, secret exits, bonus stages and online leaderboards all more than make up for it. It's everything that was great about the WiiWare game, but four times as big for only twice the price. You'd be foolish to let this one get away.