- Developer: Nuke Nine
- Publisher: Blitworks
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Platformer, Multiplayer
- Released: 27th January 2022
You really aren’t prepared to die, at all.
When a game tends to be soul-crushingly hard, there are many different ways to succinctly describe the despair inflicted onto the players. One such description was borne forth from the popularity of a particular series of video game that enshrined dying over and over with only bonfires to light your way through the darkness. This game, Vagante, is a thousand times harder than that, so it would be quite an error to even bring its name up here.
Vagante is created by Nuke Nine, three friends who quit their jobs in 2013 and effectively spent the rest of their time bringing this one game to life. They had a Kickstarter in 2014 that unfortunately didn’t reach funding (though in hindsight that might’ve been a godsend). Instead, they managed to be greenlit on Steam and push for an ‘Early Access’ as an alternative means of funding for the project. With little drama (from what I can tell), and a well needed vacation somewhere in the middle of development; Vagante exited ‘Early Access’ on February 2018. Since then they’ve been working on adding more content to Vagante, and eventually they managed to snag a publisher for console ports, leading to where we are today.
Vagante spares no time in depositing you in front of a cave entrance when you start. There is no monologue, no note, no nothing. You choose from 3 initial character classes, and good luck. I made the mistake of playing this game first in multiplayer mode, which removes the tutorial portion. It made for an interesting experience (more on that later), but even after switching to single player, I missed it a few times. The developers didn’t want to handhold you, and it really shows. Leaning slightly towards the negative in this case.
It should come to no surprise that death is no stranger in this game. From traps, to tricky platforming sections, to enemies who have an unreasonable vendetta against your very existence. Add to that very dark surroundings and random generation of map layout and item/enemy placements, and you’ve got am express ticket to the afterlife.
It’s quite fortunate that the game has quite short loading times, since you will be restarting your runs fairly often. Equipment and magic scrolls you find are not clearly identified when you first picked them up, so they may be a good upgrade, or more often than not they are cursed or have some permanent deliberating effect on your stats. Either my terrible luck is at the forefront frequently, or the game doesn’t want you succeed. A mixture of the two perhaps.
Depending on your performance for each run, you will unlock certain perks to assign to your characters, for example: in exchange for lower luck, you level up right at the start of your run. While these are indeed great (and what makes this a roguelite), if you’re not very skilled it may take an age to feel that any significant progress has been made.
Mind you, if you’re in anyway more skilled than a clumsy oaf like myself, I believe you may be able to extract more fun from this game. The gameplay loop is quite fast and can feel rewarding, especially after getting powerful weapons or spells to take down bosses with. Just be careful not to trigger the unexpected trap, or slip up into spikes, gutting what could have been an amazing run otherwise.
I mentioned earlier that my very first time playing this game was in multiplayer. A little unorthodox, especially since I had no clue how to play the game, but I had fun playing the game over the internet. From the unexpected delights in finding a flame rod that spews torrents of lava, to the hilarity at simultaneous deaths at the hands of hidden spikes; the ability to share the pain helps to elevate the experience beyond a that of a masochist simulator.
I believe this is where the game is strongest. To be able to create an experience with others that last. For example; in one of the multiplayer runs, after a drawn out battle with one of the bosses in the early levels, my companion emerged victorious with me cheering on as a floating ghost. We proceeded to the next level, only for them to succumb to a brick falling on their head the moment they took a step immediately after spawning. The 999 damage dealt didn’t take too kindly to their already depleted health reservoir.
Vagante has quite detailed and pretty pixel sprite art to display its world to players. It’s such a pity then that for most of the time its shrouded in darkness. Also when playing in handheld mode, it can be quite hard to view what’s going one with small visuals and even smaller text. Fortunately there are a few accessibility options that mitigate this issue, but I could really use a larger view radius around my character in the game.
Audio-wise, it suits the game. Sound effects sound like they belong and the music mostly in the background adding some atmosphere to your journey. Nothing catchy or memorable that comes to mind, but it fits the game.
In the end, if you like procedurally generated roguelite games, then you really can’t go too wrong with this game. If you dislike that particular genre, this game is not one to change hearts and minds. Definitely give the multiplayer a go if you do get it, preferably after finding and going through the tutorial in single player first.
Still, this game was quite a Cinderella story for the developers, working on this game way back from 2013 to present day. I do wonder what’s next for the devs after this game is done for them. Definitely worth keeping an eye on for the future
3/5 – Grab a friend and share the deaths. If you don’t like roguelites, you may want to steer clear.
Available now: $14.99
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*a review copy has been generously provided for this review