There’s no shortage of moody puzzle platforming, with trendsetters like Limbo and Inside sitting alongside Little Nightmares and Unravel, offering slower, more challenging platforming action than typical Mario fare. and Donkey Kong. Enter Vesper: Zero Light Edition, another atmospheric adventure wearing its inspiration on its sleeve and hoping to make its mark in cluttered space.
You play as an android named Seven lost on a largely desolate planet with the remnants of an ancient civilization that has long since met its downfall. It’s up to you to explore these lands and uncover the truth of what happened here. It’s a simple plot, told mostly through scattered message logs hidden in hard-to-reach places, and whatever backstory you’re able to piece together from the environmental design. I didn’t take much out of the story and didn’t feel impacted by the ending which is clearly meant to be more important than its construction warrants, but in terms of creating an atmosphere for the instant exploration, it serves its purpose.
This overall vibe is supported by the visual and audio design, which is arguably the game’s greatest strength. bold, but that contrasts sharply with surprisingly colorful sights that create stunning sights despite their simplicity. Each of the main levels uses a different color scheme, with vibrant colors that really pop on the Switch OLED screen if you’re lucky enough to have one. Beyond the palette, the level design is basic but often features beautiful background elements, such as giant mechs or monolithic statues, with the camera rolling down at times to sell the grandeur of the scenery.
Your adventure through these barren wastelands is a challenge, with Seven being entirely defenseless when her adventure begins. As you progress through linear levels, you’ll encounter aggressive robotic enemies that roam the world. Your only defense, to begin with, is to hide in the bushes, lest they spot you, chase you, and end your existence in one quick move.
Before too long, you’ll discover a Drive Gun, a handy contraption capable of capturing light sources and transferring them to another location. Using the right stick gives you full control of your aim, with one trigger absorbing light and the other spitting it out where you want it. It is a tool that serves many purposes. The easiest of these is simply to unlock a door which requires a light source in a nearby pedestal, but it can also be used to block the path of a dangerous dark substance ubiquitous in the back half of the game, and it can be used to possess enemies to activate specific switches or borrow their attack abilities to take out other bots in your path.
It’s a small set of tools, but the developers make smart use of it in the few hours it takes to see the credits roll. Eventually, you’ll gain the ability to hold two, then three, light sources at once, which unlocks additional intricacies for complex puzzles and challenging scenarios that involve juggling multiple enemies as you try to reach the other end unscathed.
This all sounds great on paper, but the overall execution leaves something to be desired. Character movement is labored, with an odd “change” in position as you move between screens that never really feels right. Some platforming gaps are as wide as your maximum jump, meaning the slightest misstep can result in a long backtrack to try again or an untimely demise in a hole or at the hands of an enemy.
It’s not overly punishing in most cases, but there have been more than a few occasions where the amount of ground to retread has become tiring, and load times, while not terrible, can be just long enough to make death frustrating. occurrence. Likewise, there are certain scenarios where the solution to a puzzle may be obscure enough that it comes down to trial and error, and when paired with a checkpoint that seems just a tad too far backwards, it can take a tedious time.
It also doesn’t help that occasionally the Drive Gun’s “catch and release” functions just don’t seem to work the way they’re supposed to, with your beam sometimes sucking in the light but never actually finishing the task, and likewise for spitting it out to try and possess enemies. Deaths resulting from these situations seem particularly cheap and unfair.
There are enough of these situations to be awkward, but they don’t entirely break the experience. Throughout the journey there is fun to be had and additional elements are introduced frequently enough to keep the experience fresh for the duration of its run. Juggling multiple light sources, barriers that prevent you from carrying light, motion-sensing traps, multiple enemies, and teleport platforms at once can be a handful, but more often than not, it’s balanced so that the reward is worth it.
The satisfaction of clearing a tricky section by finding the solution after the initial feeling of helplessness is an essential part of any puzzle game, and Vesper delivers it in spades, even if there is some frustration along the way. If you’re a vast landscape to explore, you won’t find it here, but this is a journey through an intriguing and often breathtaking world that slowly settles into a furrow to provide a platforming experience of satisfying puzzle. It’s not without flaws, but it does enough to merit at least a look.
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