Some games feel like they have been designed from the ground up to be the perfect fit for a system. This is the case with escapeVekor and the PS Vita. However, it is a game that has also found a home previously on Nintendo’s Wii and 3DS, but here it is, finally for the Vita and the wait has been worth it.
The game is best described a Qix on a predefined path, mixed with a touch of PacMan and visuals straight out of the movie Tron. It has a very simple premise, very simple design, yet is one of the most challenging games you’ll play.
From the moment the game starts, you are presented with some clever design, as you are approached by Vektor, who needs to escape the system’s CPU and can only do so with you help. You have to guide him through the various zones and nodes avoiding and beating the enemies as you go. It isn’t a background story as such, there isn’t some deep meaningful tale that must be told. It is there purely to add charm to the gameplay and style, which it does rather well. It is a game that oozes charm.
It couldn’t be simpler to play either, the game is split into 27 zones, with each zone having various nodes. Each node is a level that Vektor must complete to move on to the next and escaping that zone. To best explain how to beat a level, you need look no further than the opening tutorial. You are presenting with what is basically a square, you guide Vektor along all for sides, once all four sides have been covered, simply my moving over them, an escape portal appears, which Vektor must reach to escape the node. Simple stuff.
As levels progress, the nodes layouts become more and more complex, as do the enemies and traps that are designed to make your escape as difficult as possible. it starts off small scale, but it very quickly ramps up in size and difficulty. Luckily there are various upgrades that will help you overcome the increasing difficulty, such as a speed boost and bombs. You don’t just get to use these though, they need to be earned. Completely cover a line and a boost is earned, cover all four sides of an area and you get a bomb.
For such a simple game, the depth in which you can complete a level is quite astonishing, from using boost to evade enemies, using bombs to destroy enemies within the blast radius, to leading them into the various traps around each node. Yet depending on how you tackle each node, will also affect your potential score. You get points for covering lines and areas, you get points for destroying enemies. This causes you to decide whether to simply escape and use your weapons to survive, or whether to push for a higher score.
Most games would make that decision fairly easy, as you’ll have at least a couple of lives, meaning it is possible to take a risk or two. Here though you get a single life per node, a single bloody life. Run into a trap, get killed by an enemy and it is over, you need to start again. This wasn’t so bad early on, as levels were fairly short, but later down the line, when you have just about managed to survive to open the escape portal, the game decides to dangle a carrot. It will open the portal, but will also open up another area to cover, it teases you, it wants you to fail, it sits there mocking you, telling you to gamble and go for the higher score. What happens? You go for the better score, you have survived this long, you know you can do that little bit extra… DAMN IT! You die, you have to start again from scratch, but you do not learn, you simply cannot help yourself, you make the same mistake again and have to start again from scratch, over and over and over!
It should be infuriating and to be honest, it is, there were a few times where the Vita could have been launched across the room in pure frustration at the silly little mistakes that were made and forcing another restart. But it is that same frustration you’d get playing Trials HD or Evolution, because the gameplay mechanics and the level layouts are so well constructed, you know it is your fault and that you need to overcome your own mistakes, it isn’t a game bug, or poor design. In the same vein as a Super Meat Boy, escapeVekor takes influence from old school games, where there was meant to be a challenge, where things were meant to be difficult, so you had a real sense of achievement. It gives you that, as you finally beat a level that has had you replaying twenty times over, you feel a sense of pride that you did it.
This is a digital distribution title only, so can only be picked up on PSN, but imagine a scenario where we didn’t have these new channels for getting games to our systems. A world where everything was still retail, there would be no room for a game like this amongst the Uncharted’s, Halo’s and Call of Duty’s of this world. However because this can be released relatively risk free via a PSN or Wii eShop then it has a home, it allows word of mouth to really spread it will eventually infect everyone’s systems and it deserves to. It is one of those games that takes you by surprise, as you go from liking the concept and thinking it is something you’ll play for a little bit, to consuming your gaming time to the point where you cannot let go, not until you beat it.
escapeVektor will make you want to tear your hair out, it will make you want to force harm upon your PS Vita, but it won’t let you, you will not help but come to love it’s hateful ways. This is down completely to some clever design and a focus on what should make a game like this work. Simply put, you must buy it… but buy a wrist strap to protect your Vita too.