Vagante Review (Switch Online Store) | Nintendo Life
Few genres have experienced such a boom over the past decade as roguelike. Indie games like The Binding of Isaac, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Dead Cells, and Hades have brought attention to a genre that was once considered too hard for mainstream audiences, even if the core gameplay based playthrough is tweaked slightly into a lite one. . or -how-how to be a little more forgiving. Even major publishers have dipped their fingers in the water, with the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon and Cadence of Hyrule series, for example.
Vagante, on the other hand, is made by a small indie team that has been working on the game for almost 10 years. While the dedication of working on any game for a decade is admirable, how does a game like Vagante perform in such an increasingly crowded genre?
At first glance, what stands out the most about Vagante is the gorgeous pixel art. While the character and enemy designs are simple, the environments and backgrounds are some of the best in years. Scenes like the forest look incredible, with lush treetops that almost look like hand-painted, and the accompanying music fits in nicely with the atmosphere. However, these add-ons can only be distributed so far, as Vagante’s biggest problem is how repetitive it all can seem.
As beautiful as the environment is, there are only four different biomes to explore. Each of them has three floors – with the same background and set of tiles – that must be explored before moving on to the next area, meaning that the visuals get old very quickly. Including both the cave biome and the aesthetically similar catacomb biome doesn’t help. If there were more locations to explore, or if each floor in the biome had its own unique sets, this wouldn’t be such a big deal. However, since you return to the first area after each death, the lack of visual variety in Vagant ends up hindering the game; it loses its freshness very quickly.
Vagante plays like a traditional 2D platform game with roguelike and RPG elements. Before each playthrough, you choose a class for your character. At first, only Knight, Rogue, and Mage are available, although more classes are unlocked as the game progresses. Each class has its own set of stats and starting weapons, which helps make each type unique – a grateful mechanical contrast with the same visuals. You enter the cave in order to find a door hidden somewhere on the map that will lead you to the next floor. Each floor has chests, enemies, a shop, a boss, and several traps. Upon entering the door, you will find yourself in a bonfire room that regenerates some health before moving on to the next floor generated sequentially. Then the standard stuff.
While there’s nothing stopping you from going straight to the door on each floor, Vagante strongly encourages you to explore as much as possible. Chests can be found all over the place, which can contain many new weapons, armor or spells to learn. When fighting enemies, you gain experience points that can be used to gain perks such as fall damage reduction. Defeating the 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 allowing you to walk through walls. Going for treasures and bosses, although not required, is much more enjoyable than going straight to the door. Also, this will be the only way to feel any progress between playthroughs, as Vagante’s progression system works differently than other roguelikes.
Unlike something like Crypt of the Necrodancer and 20XX where there’s a currency you keep between runs to improve your character, Vagante’s only form of continuous roguelite progression is the experience bar. After each run, you gain experience depending on your results. When the scale is filled, new classes or permanent improvements are opened. While this method works well for rewarding experienced players, it hurts beginners, and the improvements don’t make much of a difference. They mostly come down to permanently increasing one stat or healing an extra 5 HP at campfires, which often seems insignificant and does little to improve someone’s chances of success in the next run if they’re already struggling. Combined with how challenging the game can be, newbies can feel like they’re constantly hitting a brick wall. If you’re playing with friends in local co-op or online, this can help mitigate the difficulty, but playing alone feels incredibly harrowing.
While the Vagante has many impressive elements, it unfortunately feels more like an extended demo than a finished product. Just four biomes long, the game is incredibly short; the difficulty seems arbitrarily difficult to disguise it. In addition to the ease of play and lack of environmental variety, Vagante also has no real story or sense of motivation to get you to play. You are simply dropped off by a van at the beginning of the game, and you are left to enter the cave. Having some way to tie the game together will help make it feel less like a demo and more like a full package.
Another key issue has to do with how little the game tells you. For example, while some objects such as chests are self-explanatory, often you’ll run into cauldrons or a blacksmith with no instructions on how to use them. This issue extends to every part of the game, from controls to objects and upgrades, and without using the guide, it would be impossible to know what the game expects from you. You are more or less forced to take risks online and consult the community built around the PC game if you want to know what’s what. Most of the time Vagante is too opaque for its own good.
Finally, it’s worth noting the numerous bugs and crashes that the Switch version encounters at launch. These range from music not playing during boss fights to a game not registering certain controller inputs. This is disappointing, to say the least.
At times, Vagante is an impressive game that feels unfinished. 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 play here to bring it all together in a complete package. The combination of a short adventure, lack of any story, arbitrary difficulty, and minimal guides makes it a tough recommendation. There are tons of incredible roguelikes and indie games based on the run on the Nintendo Switch, and your time is better spent on them than on Vagante.