Return of the Grid-Based Dungeon Crawler
Originally released on PC, Vaporum is a first-person grid-based dungeon crawler with a dark steampunk aesthetic. Taking place in a large interconnected tower composed of many tiers, the player is tasked with surviving enemy encounters mixed with hunting-gathering of resources and items.
It is important to highlight the grid-based navigation in this expansive dungeon crawler. Instead of moving freely, the player essentially jumps from one tile to the next, pausing ever so slightly between spaces. The left stick controls movement whereas the shoulder buttons rotate the perspective in each corresponding direction. This was clearly developed for a mouse and keyboard control configuration as using a controller requires some finger gymnastics. The worst part, however, is that movement and rotating is often more jumpy than precise, resulting in some unpleasant enemy encounters. Combat also takes some getting use to as the player needs to learn how to attack, wait for the cooldown to expire, jump back while waiting for the enemy to perform the attack animation, the hop forward again to strike. Due to this hit-and-run style of combat, fighting is more like learning how to dance with each enemy type. Eventually the player will unlock some abilities, like electrifying the floor or shooting fire, which helps but costs precious ability points and time. In combat, no attack can be spammed as the cooldown required for each and every ability requires thoughtful preparation. Since only one character, friend or foe, can occupy one tile at a time, learning how to jump in and out of combat without getting cornered is a secret to success and gives combat a unique flavor.
Visually, each stage can be rather unsettling but never disturbingly scary thanks to the dark corridors, mechanical monsters, but lack of overall jump scares. Puzzles require a bit of thought and exploration but usually are never tediously designed. For example, the player must reach the door but needs to throw a brick on a pressure plate. A few screens in the opposite direction, there is a brick waiting in a locker. The problem is again thanks to the controller design as manual cursor movement takes forever. What would probably take three seconds using a mouse, takes about 25 using the slow crawl of the cursor with the analog stick. This is super cumbersome as the game encourages the player to search for hidden rooms but using the slow movement of the cursor makes it nearly impossible. The left trigger is also used as a modifier button. Hold down this trigger and tap a button and something else happens. This even includes the welcomed ability to stop time by tapping the trigger with the d-pad. Here, the player can think about each action during stressful combat situations. This gives the player a chance to activate that life saving healing kit or equip a different weapon without getting screwed in battle. This optional features strikes a solid balance for rookies but veterans can avoid it completely if a true experience is desired.
Vaporum is all about that old-school dungeon crawler charm and it shows. While this type of game might not be for everyone, I found myself enjoying this title way more than I thought I would. The grid-based navigation, moveset, combat, and inventory system carries a learning curve and has some frustrations, like the sensitive and complicated control scheme, but these hurdles are over shadowed thanks to addicting gameplay, wonderful sense of exploration, and light puzzle solving. The old school allure is there but mixes in just enough modern housekeeping features to make it playable and enjoyable until the credits roll.
Also available on Switch, PS4, and PC.
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