I am a firm believer that the success of a game is largely contingent on its platform. Some games that would do really well in one medium get released on another one and it just doesn’t work well. Or at least not nearly as well as it could have. That’s how I feel about the recently released Vertigo Void published my Merge Games. It’s a very well made game with basically no notable flaws . . . when being compared to mobile app games.
Visually it’s not a bad looking game. But it’s also nothing special. The block art style, which is basically glorified pixel art, is very similar to that of Minecraft except that it has much smaller minimum block sizes being used to construct the larger blocks that make up the levels. I was actually really impressed with the block art used to construct the sun underneath the floating levels because it’s not a static object. It’s a constantly moving star with heat blooms lapping up on the edges at random. But essentially the game is just a series of floating black blocks with a few other colors for special objects floating above a giant yellow ball of blocks. You are an astronaut in a suit of white and gray blocks. Other than a few collectible objects here and there that’s pretty much it. The game is set in space and the blocks are black so the overall color tone is very dark when not looking towards the sun.
I’m not saying the graphics are bad. They look great for what they are and the various configurations used to construct the levels are very impressive. But at the end of the day Minecraft isn’t that impressive looking when just talking about graphics either. The game runs very smoothly. No lag or glitches in any of the 7 available resolutions. It can be run in windowed or full screen play very easily as well. The menus, like the rest of the game, are very simple. A smooth, gray block text over light blue squares. All the text in the game is block style but can come in a few different colors. The tutorial text is slightly different, but still block style in green over solid black. The HUD looks exactly the same as the menus. It only shows the number of special items and buttons in the level, your remaining time, and your score for that level. That’s about all that can be said about the graphics in this game.
The gameplay is similar to most multi-level puzzle apps. The basic mechanics are very simple and easy to learn, but the levels get harder and harder as you progress. You can use a keyboard or gamepad with no problem during gameplay, but the gamepad doesn’t work properly in menus. All you can do is walk forward, turn, look around, jump, and drop beacons. A gamepad is a bit more convenient to use, but the buttons are mappable so either way isn’t too troublesome. All you have to do to progress through each level is press all the buttons and reach the exit hatch before time runs out. The time limits for each stage are based on the idea that you know what you’re doing. That means that it’s enough time once you figure out what to do but you will run out of time several times in later levels while first trying to solve the puzzle.
The look around function is essentially a first person mode. You can still move around and do everything while looking around including jumping off edges. But looking around also allows you to look over edges and around to other parts of the level that the astronaut may not realistically be able to look towards.
You are scored for each level based on the number of items you collected, completion time, and basic points for completing the level. Each level is ranked up to three stars with a possible perfect rating which is not automatically given when you get a three star rating. When you complete a level you can choose to replay it or start the next one directly.
You can die from either running out of time or jumping off a ledge, but you automatically respawn at the beginning of the level. At any time during a level you can drop a beacon which will remain where it was left even if you die. These are meant to act as guides and become necessary in later, more complicated levels. There are certain important movement techniques that can and must be employed to beat the game such as walking up walls. You can jump whenever you want, but where you jump from matters a lot more than you would expect in this game. You often need to jump at a point earlier than the edge of a platform to reach your desired goal. Over jumping is a very common occurrence. Jumping on certain objects can cause a reversal in gravity. There are also special blocks that make you unable to jump. You can walk over edges with no neighboring blocks. It is possible to walk on every side of a platform if you approach it from the correct point.
The game has 210 stages broken up into 5 separate difficulties. Puzzles do get noticeably harder and longer as you progress. A number of different objects come into play the farther you get. At first you’re just walking around looking for things. Soon after you get jump pads. Eventually the list of special objects grows into things such instant death fire, transporters, tractor beams, and thrusters. The gameplay is very well made and I have no developmental complaints about it.
The sound is decent enough. There are only a few sound effects. Basically for walking, jumping, and collecting basic items, but oddly enough not special items. The sound effects are good, but there are things that don’t have effects that you might expect to such as turning 180 degrees, which can be done with a single button press. I was very happy with the music. It’s a number of tracks all done in very similar style. Not full upbeat techno, but clearly inspired by that kind of music. It’s appropriate yet not distracting for the setting and gameplay. It’s generally good music while playing the game, but it doesn’t necessarily add anything to the game that couldn’t be replaced with a playlist. You can change the volume levels of the music or effects from 1 to 100 with defaults for both being set at 20%. The defaults worked fine for me. Sound was average in the grand scheme, but not bad by any means.
There is no writing in Vertigo Void other than tutorials, which are in plentiful supply, and the naming of stages. What I really liked was that the stage names often give you clues about how to beat the level. The first time I got stuck it was the stage name that gave me the answer.
Vertigo Void does have a fair amount of replay value. It has 210 stages, many of which which you probably won’t get a perfect rating on the first time through. There are 18 achievements. They are very traditional and don’t ask anything unfair from the player. Personally I didn’t get through the whole game but that was because I just got bored. It’s only $1.99 and will definitely take you more than two hours so value isn’t the issue. Honestly it’s one of the fairest purchases you could make. But I don’t recommend it.
My big issue with Vertigo Void is that it’s a phone game playing at being a Steam game. Very quickly into the game you realize that you’ve played something very similar to it before on your phone and similarly you got bored and deleted it before you even got close to finishing all the levels. I can name countless mobile apps that use the same interface and setup. This game gives you basically the same experience. The problem here is not that it’s bad so much as it’s inappropriate for its platform. It’s the type of monotonous, plot devoid gameplay that lacks any real substance. You do it to kill time. It’s the kind of game that would be great to play while waiting in a line or sitting on a train. But when I’m at home with tons of much more serious and thought provoking games, even those in the puzzle genre, I just can’t see myself choosing to play it. It’s not a sit down and commit type of experience. It’s something you do a little bit at a time in passing. But you can’t really do that as easily when playing it requires you to login to Steam and ignore that long library of unbeaten games with much more to offer. Yet if this was a mobile app I can totally see myself recommending it.
The one really nice thing that kind of sets this game apart is the level editor. It’s one of the more accessible ones I’ve seen and you can share levels online. It works with a grid that allows you to very easily, but still with much time, create the levels you want to create without it getting too confusing. That’s the only part of the game that actually impressed me.
Vertigo Void is a sound game. It’s fair on all counts with no serious issues. But it’s ultimately not that fulfilling on an experience. I would recommend it only to people who love puzzle games and have no backlog to speak of. It’s just level after level of reaching the exit door to some decent music and solid, but extremely traditional controls. If you’ve got a couple extra dollars burning a hole in your pocket or it’s on sale knock yourself out, but you won’t be missing much if you skip it.
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