Over the past decade, few genres have boomed as much as the roguelike. Indie games like The Binding of Isaac, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Dead Cells and Hades have brought attention to a genre once thought to be far too punishing for a mainstream audience, even if the core run-based gameplay is tweaked slightly into a -lite or a -like-like to be a little more forgiving. Even major publishers have dipped their toes in the water, such as with the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series and Cadence of Hyrule.
Vagante, on the other hand, is made by a small indie team, who have been working on the game for nearly 10 years. While the dedication to work on any game for a decade is admirable, how does a game like Vagante fair in such an increasingly crowded genre?
Upon first glance, what stands out most about Vagante is the gorgeous pixel art. While character and enemy designs are simple, the environment and backgrounds are some of the best seen in recent years. Stages like the forest look incredible, with lush tree-tops that look close to hand drawn, and the accompanying music fits the atmosphere well. However, these complements can only extend so far, as Vagante’s biggest issue is just how repetitive it all can feel.
As beautiful as the environments are, there are only four different biomes to explore. Each one has three floors — with identical backgrounds and tile-sets — that need to be explored before moving onto the next area, meaning the visuals get stale very quickly. The inclusion of both a cave biome and an aesthetically similar catacomb biome doesn't help. If there were a few more locales to explore, or if each floor within a biome had its own unique set pieces, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue. However, because you reset to the first area after every death, Vagante’s lack of visual variety ultimately hinders the game; it very quickly loses its freshness.
Vagante plays like a traditional 2D platformer, with roguelike and RPG elements. Before each run, you pick a class for your character. At first, only the knight, rogue, and mage are available, though more classes unlock as you play the game. Each class has a different set of stats and starting weapons, which helps make each type feel unique — a thankful mechanical contrast to the samey visuals. You enter a cave, with the objective of finding a door hidden somewhere on the map, which will take you to the next floor. Each floor contains chests, enemies, a shop, a boss, and some traps. After entering the door, you end up at a campfire room that restores some health, before proceeding to the next proceedurally generated floor. Standard stuff, then.
While there is nothing stopping you from going straight to the door on each floor, Vagante heavily encourages you to explore as much as you can. Chests are found everywhere, which can hold plenty of new weapons, armor, or spells to learn. Fighting enemies gives you experience points, which can be used on perks, such as negating fall damage. Defeating bosses, most importantly, gives you a full bar of experience and a key to a big chest hidden somewhere on the floor. Gear inside those chests can completely change the game, such as bestowing the ability to go through walls. Going after treasure and bosses, while not required, makes for a much more enjoyable experience than going straight to the door. It also will be the only way to feel any sort of progression in between runs, as Vagante’s progression system works differently than other roguelikes.
Unlike something like Crypt of the Necrodancer and 20XX, where there is currency you keep in between runs to upgrade your character, Vagante’s only form continual roguelite progression comes from an experience bar. After each run, you earn experience based on your performance. Upon filling the bar, new classes or permanent upgrades are unlocked. While this method works well for rewarding experienced players, it hurts newcomers and the upgrades do little to alleviate that. They mostly boil down to increasing one stat permanently, or healing an extra 5 HP at campfires, which oftentimes feels negligible and does little to improve someone’s chances at succeeding in the next run if they are already struggling. Combined with how difficult the game can be, newcomers may feel like they are constantly running into a brick wall. While playing with friends, either through local co-op or online, might help mitigate the difficulty, playing alone feels incredibly punishing.
While Vagante has a lot of impressive elements, it unfortunately feels closer to an extended demo than a finished product. Being only four biomes long, the game is incredibly short; the difficulty feels arbitrarily hard to mask that. In addition to the game's slightness and lack of environmental variety, Vagante also has no real story or sense of motivation to keep you playing. You are simply dropped off by a wagon at the beginning of the game, and are left to enter a cave. Having some way to tie the game together would go a long way to making this feel less like a demo, and more like a complete package.
Another key issue comes from how little the game tells you. For example, while some objects are self explanatory, like chests, oftentimes you’ll come across cauldrons or a blacksmith with no indication on how to use them. This issue extends to every part of the game, from controls to objects to upgrades, and without using a guide, it would be impossible to know what the game expects you to do. You're more-or-less forced to venture online and consult with the community that's built up around the game on PC if you want to know what's what. Much of the time Vagante is just too opaque for its own good.
Finally, it is worth noting the numerous bugs and glitches the Switch version is plagued with at launch. These range from music not playing when fighting bosses (which we've now been informed will be addressed in a release patch) to the game not registering certain controller inputs. It's disappointing to say the least.
Vagante is, at times, an impressive game that feels incomplete. There is no denying the incredible amount of dedication that the team put into certain aspects, especially into the visuals and variety of upgrades available, but there isn’t enough of a game here to make it all come together into a complete package. The combination of a short adventure, the lack of any story, arbitrary difficulty, and minimal tutorials makes for a hard recommendation. The Nintendo Switch has plenty of incredible roguelikes and run-based indie games, and your time is better spent on them than Vagante.
That's a shame about lack of variety in the biomes as that background art really is nice.
Those gorgeous pixel art games… they’ll get ya sometimes..
Tranched by NintendoLife but Recommended by Eurogamer, dannng
Bummer, this looks neat. Though roguelike seems to me like an excuse for games to not have a story or curated environments. The few I tried did not work for me, now I avoid games that are Rogue not followed by Squadron. I don't understand why developers don't take the assets and mechanics they created and tell a story with them. A scripted game with the option to generate additional random contend, that could be cool. Maybe unlocked after finishing the story.
Over 3k reviews with "very positive" average on steam, recommended by some of my favourite gaming sites - maybe it just didn't click for NL. Will remain on my wishlist, as it seems generally well-received.
I see people complaining about the same generic fps games launching every year, but the generic indie 8-bit metroidvanias are more plaguing for me.
Ha and this is the game Nintendolife previously brag about it looking like Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, and Vagrant Story? I wonder why these were not mention or compare to in the review.
Reminds me of Quest of Dungeons, just by the four characters around the campfire. I still think that was a funny scene.
Four armed 'heroes', pushing one of them to go alone, because 'divide and conquer', and he has a (whatever weapon the class you picked has), so 'you got this', 'totally'. As soon as he leaves... 'he is so dead', 'totally'.
Not that much of a spoiler, it's literally the opening scene and it's in the demo, but there's not much else there to be surprised by...
Roguelikes are one of my favourite genres, so I guess this is my opportunity to explain the appeal.
The idea of a "classic" -style of roguelike game is to have an adventure you play through many many times, without being able to know exactly what to expect. It's never a one-and-done campaign - roguelikes are essentially endless.
When you play a roguelike game multiple times, you gain knowledge about how the game works.
What the enemies do, what items do, how everything can interact with each other, and basically just how everything about the game works.
Roguelike games are often very unforgiving in their difficulty. This is so that gaining all of this knowledge is actually meaningful.
Learning enemy attack behaviour isn't really meaningful if you can always just tank hits, after all.
You have to use your accumulated meta-knowledge to approach obstacles and make constant decisions in order to be successful.
Since you never know exactly what's hiding around the corner, you need to weigh risk versus reward when deciding which items to bring, or which path to take.
And the stakes are always high. Decisions you make in a run are meaningful, because death means having to start a brand new adventure. You can't just get a "redo" of the room you died in, as that would undermine the purpose of the whole experience - the permanence of death means that you REALLY got to know your stuff in order to succeed.
It's all designed to create a game where you simply CANNOT brute-force your way to victory. You have to be clever and knowledgeable to win.
Roguelikes really require you to become truly intimate with how you interact with their world and mechanics. And this is a feeling of deep connection with the game that few other genres can offer.
This is one of my favorite games on steam. It’s worth reading another review if you are a fan of the genre.
The guy writing this review either don't like playing roguelike (not rogueLITE like all the game he makes comparison to) or didn't play enough of the game.
The `repetitive` one actually strikes me as the weirdest because no two games of Vagante I've played have been the same. The items, the scrolls, the potions, all the classes, the random classes that gives you unique combination of skills. It's all the opposite of repetitive to me.
Finding equipment is one thing. But maximizing those equipments and finding the one that is -or is not- cursed is the key to breezing through the insanely difficult later stage of the game.
And actually there is actually more than 4 `biomes`. You just have to find your way there. Once you beat the game once, you will unlock something too that brings a new life to the game.
This is my favourite rougeLIKE, maybe one of my favourite game of all time, and I urge everyone with the slightest interest in adventure game or roguelike to try it.
Between the Eurogamer review and your comment, I'm all over it.
Conflicting viewpoints on comments and review. I'll probably try this when it goes $5-7 bucks.
"gorgeous pixel art" what exactly are you looking at?
I don't know...the game seem to have a good score in other sites, I will have to try this game by myself. I've been looking for local coop roguelikes.
By the way, which one should I play first, this or caveblazers?
I realize this is just one person's impressions of the game, but the Eurogamer review is like night and day compared to this one, and it's far more in-depth. The person who reviewed at Eurogamer clearly enjoys this type of game and they clearly spent much more time with it. They talked about the mid-game difficulty curve, destructible environments, cursed items, teleporting, and a whole lot more this review barely even mentions.
Again, it's understandable the game is subject to opinion, but it's painful to hear the NL reviewer complain the game feels more like a demo when they clearly didn't progress nearly as far as the Eurogamer reviewer when evidently they missed mentioning loads of important details. It's also a bit telling the NL reviewer complained they needed to look up what to do when clearly they just need to experiment and explore. This is an impatient gamer review.
I'm genuinely curious to know if the author finished the game or not.
@Clash81 I don't want to assume, perhaps they did get pretty far but just didn't appreciate the little details mentioned in the Eurogamer review.
I only have a little experience in game writing (unpaid, got free games for a year) but I understand these writers are sometimes handed games to review that don't particularly interest them, and that can make it hard to highlight the parts of the games others will enjoy. For example, I don't particularly like puzzle games or strictly point-and-click games, so I think I would be lousy at reviewing games like that and it would probably show in my writing, even if I beat the game completely. I think it's just that this reviewer was so harsh on the game that it stands out more. If it were a mediocre review like a 6.5/10 or 7/10 it may not stand out so much, but when you criticize a game, people will be quick to point out what is wrong about it.
It's just one more reminder all reviews are subject to opinions and you have to aggregate them all and make your own judgements.
@SuperZeldaFun whats a roguelite exactly? is this what this games supposed to be?
@FantasiaWHT Have you ever tried drawing up full game backgrounds and sprites in pixel art style? Not as easy as it seems.
Huh, I LOVE this game on PC. Been waiting years for a Switch release. It's 9/10 for me... strange...
Edit: Just checked and the user score on Steam is 'Very Positive' after ~3000 votes!
Guess it's a case of 'Wrong reviewer for the game'.
@fenlix Just get both! They're awesome games!
@Ontrevant Oh I don't think it's easy. This doesn't stand out to me at all though and I've played a lot of pixel games. It's fine. If anything below average.
@amrikudou You’re right that the reviewer likely doesn’t like this type of game. However, Vagante is a roguelite, not a roguelike. It just shares more rogue elements than the roguelites he mentioned. This game feels like a slower Spelunky with combat similar to the in-development Catacomb Kids, both roguelites of a more similar nature.
This game has the same amount of main biomes as Spelunky HD yet that wasn’t an issue for the reviewer when they reviewed that game..
The fact that some Steam users have around 500 hours in this game and several other reviewers state that the game has a lot of content (given the size of the development team) makes me seriously think this reviewer did not put much effort into their review efforts of this game. Games like this are about depth, secrets, and replayability.
Wow. I encourage people to read Steam reviews. This is one of my favorite games and one of the best in the genre. A true rougelite where each run can be drastically different depending on starting class, what traits you decide to level up, and what items you find. The combat and gameplay is very good. This reviewer completely missed what makes this game great and instead wrote a very myopic piece. The bugs and technical issues are a disappointment and I can understand a lower review based on that, but completely disagree with everything else. Read some other reviews.
<edit> I just bought the game on Switch and played through the tutorial and first level and it's wonderful. I'm not sure what this reviewer wanted from a tutorial? Everything is covered in a short and concise tutorial. My Switch will now be a Vagante machine for the foreseeable future.
One more thing, the game has more than 4 biomes, each biome has an optional harder biome you can explore that is a new biome and offers unique rewards and an alternate ending. I don’t think this reviewer played much of the game. Just because they had a hard time with the game don’t be swayed by this review. Check out some YouTube reviews (SwitchUp has a good one out). Sorry, it’s just frustrating seeing one of my favorite, most played games, being treated this way. I’ve been asking for this to come to Switch for a long time and this is not what I expected to see.
The reviewer probably didn't think there was more content because they were not capable of getting further. Nintendo Life should have another capable reviewer take a second look at this game. This review is being discussed in different places and it is single-handedly scaring people away from buying this.
Also, who plays a roguelite for the story? The reviewer links NL's list of great roguelites. Do they personally even like any of those games? Most of them don't even have stories apart from a few cutscenes and some other minor dialog.
Completed boggled by this review.
@baconcow I agree. They complain about the game having 4 biomes (which is incorrect) and give praise to Hades... which has 4 biomes. Vagante also has 16+ bosses (4x's as many as Hades).
Gameplay is KING.
This isn't a narrative driven game, look at what you're working with. Who wants to sit through a wall of text like I'm leaving you now in a pixelart based co-op adventure game?
I'just tried it this morning and I find it better than Spelunky ! You can go stealth and prepare your tactic more efficiently and this pixel art is gorgeous. It's less punishing than in Spelunky.
@Savage_Joe this is not a Metroidvania.
"oftentimes you’ll come across cauldrons or a blacksmith with no indication on how to use them"
The reviewer seems to be missing the tooltips that are provided when you die. There is a common one that says "Sacrifice extra equipment to The Smith for a chance at new gear."
While some other things may require more trial and error, the sacrificial altars should all be able to be figured out.
Irrelevant review as soon as he complained about 4 biomes. LOL I knew this guy has not properly beaten the game. Probably played wildling and lifestyle build and just beat his way through the game by looking up a guide.
Also how could you complain about tutorials. The point of this game is it's meant to be a soulslike indie game. I bet this reviewer is the type to complain that Elden Ring and Dark Souls 3 are bad games because there is no explanation or tutorial throughout the game.
This can be a really addictive and fun game. I was sad to see that they stopped development after the Switch release. I do think there are some rough edges that some players will bounce off of (like this reviewer).
I think maybe they shouldn't make the enemies more difficult when you are playing multiplayer. It makes for an imbalance in that one or two of the players will just die so easily quickly that it gets a bit tiresome. I'd honestly rather it be easier with multiplayer (because co-op / competition brings its own challenges for most groups ). Could have made special victory for those that want to take on the challenge alone.
Anyway, looks like Nuke Nine (the developers) never did anything else? Which is a shame.
Tap here to load 35 comments
Leave A Comment
Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...