Vagante Review (Switch eShop) | Nintendo’s life
Over the past decade, few genres have exploded as much as roguelike. Indie games like The Binding of Isaac, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Dead Cells, and Hades have brought attention to a genre once considered far too punishing for a mainstream audience, even if the core racing-based gameplay is slightly different. changed to a -lite or a -like-like to be a bit more forgiving. Even major publishers have dipped their toes in the water, like with the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series and Cadence of Hyrule.
Vagante, on the other hand, is made by a small independent team, which has been working on the game for almost 10 years. While the dedication to working on any game for a decade is admirable, how can a game like Vagante be fair in an increasingly crowded genre?
At first glance, what stands out the most about Vagante is the beautiful pixel art. Although the character and enemy designs are simple, the environment and backgrounds are some of the best in recent years. Scenes like the forest look amazing, with lush treetops that look almost hand-drawn, and the accompanying music matches the atmosphere well. However, these add-ons can only stretch so far, because Vagante’s biggest problem is how repetitive it all can seem.
As beautiful as the environments are, there are only four different biomes to explore. Each has three floors – with identical backgrounds and tile sets – which must be explored before moving on to the next area, which means the visuals get stale very quickly. Including both a cave biome and an aesthetically similar catacomb biome doesn’t help. If there were a few more places to explore, or if each floor of a biome had its own unique scenery, that wouldn’t be as much of an issue. However, as you reset the first area after each death, Vagante’s lack of visual variety ultimately hinders gameplay; it loses its freshness very quickly.
Vagante plays like a traditional 2D platformer, with roguelike and RPG elements. Before each race, you choose a class for your character. At first, only Knight, Thief, and Mage are available, though other classes unlock as you play. Each class has a different set of starting stats and weapons, which helps make each type unique – a grateful mechanical contrast to the same visuals. You enter a cave, aiming to find a door hidden somewhere on the map, which will take you to the upper floor. Each floor contains chests, enemies, a shop, a boss and some traps. After going through the door, you find yourself in a campfire room that restores some health, before moving on to the next procedurally generated floor. Standard stuff, then.
While there’s nothing stopping you from going straight to the door of each floor, Vagante strongly encourages you to explore as much as you can. Chests can be found everywhere, which can contain many new weapons, armor or spells to learn. Fighting enemies gives you experience points, which can be used for benefits, such as negating fall damage. Defeating bosses, most importantly, gives you a full experience bar and a key to a large chest hidden somewhere on the floor. The equipment inside these chests can completely change the game, such as providing the ability to walk through walls. Tackling treasures and bosses, while not required, provides a much more enjoyable experience than going straight for the door. This will also be the only way to experience any kind of progression between runs, as Vagante’s progression system works differently than other roguelikes.
Unlike something like Crypt of the Necrodancer and 20XX, where there’s currency you keep between runs to level up your character, Vagante’s only form of continuous roguelite progression comes from an experience bar. After each race, you gain experience based on your performance. Once the bar is filled, new classes or permanent upgrades are unlocked. While this method works well for rewarding experienced players, it hurts newcomers, and upgrades do little to mitigate this. They mostly boil down to boosting a stat permanently or healing an extra 5 HP from campfires, which often feels negligible and does little to improve someone’s chance of succeeding in the next run if they’re already in trouble. Combined with the difficulty of the game, newcomers can feel like they are constantly running into a brick wall. While playing with friends, whether in local co-op or online, can help ease the difficulty, playing alone is incredibly punishing.
Although Vagante has a lot of awesome elements, unfortunately it feels closer to an extended demo than a finished product. Only four biomes long, the game is incredibly short; the difficulty seems arbitrarily difficult to mask this. Along with the game’s lightness and lack of environmental variety, Vagante also doesn’t have any real story or sense of motivation to keep you playing. You are simply dropped off by a cart at the start of the game, and you are left to enter a cave. Having a way to tie the game would go a long way to making it 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 items are self-explanatory, like chests, you’ll often come across cauldrons or a blacksmith with no guidance on how to use them. This problem extends to all parts of the game, from controls to items to upgrades, and without using a guide it would be impossible to know what the game expects of you. You’re more or less obligated to venture online and check out the community that has built up around PC gaming if you want to know what it’s all about. Most of the time, Vagante is just too opaque for its own good.
Finally, it’s worth noting the many bugs and issues plaguing the Switch version at launch. These range from music not playing when fighting bosses to the game not registering certain controller inputs. It’s disappointing to say the least.
Vagante is an impressive game that feels incomplete at times. There’s no denying the incredible dedication the team has put into certain aspects, especially the visuals and the variety of upgrades available, but there’s not enough gameplay here to bring it all together in one. complete package. The combination of a short adventure, no story, arbitrary difficulty, and minimal tutorials make this a tough recommendation. The Nintendo Switch has plenty of amazing roguelikes and racing-based indie games, and your time is better spent on them than Vagante.