I can’t resist a good roguelike, especially on the Nintendo Switch where the portable convenience of the console makes playing similar runs over and over again a lot less tiresome in quick bursts. It’s why I decided to check out Vagante, a game that has been in development for a long time but has now released on consoles following its launch on PC late last year. It’s all about adventuring, killing baddies, avoiding traps, and improving your character, and then starting over again if you die… you know… the typical roguelike formula.
Of course, the roguelike genre is also a very, very, VERY crowded one, so each title has to offer something a bit unique and special to keep my attention for the long-term. This is where Vagante falters a little; whilst there’s nothing bad about the game and I did enjoy playing it, there’s nothing about it that I felt like I hadn’t seen done before either.
Check out a gallery of screenshots down below:
Vagante pretty much throws players in the deep end, with no real story or introduction given to the adventure – you’re just a brave adventurer who is ready to explore a deadly fantasy world in order to get some treasure. This lack of a real narrative hindered the experience for me a little, especially when similar dungeon-crawling roguelikes such as Hades have excelled with their elements of storytelling. The little snippets of lore are often what motivates me to keep playing and discover more about the world and its characters, but a meaningful narrative was disappointingly absent here.
Fortunately, the gameplay manages to hit the mark, with the 2D procedurally-generated landscapes you explore full of tricky platforming segments, plenty of traps to evade, a varied bunch of enemies to take down, and plenty of treasure to earn. Players are able to choose between different classes when they start the game too, with the Knight, Mage, and Rogue each offering a different kind of gameplay experience. There are a couple of additional classes to unlock too, including the Houndmaster which brings with it a cute doggy companion (ok, sure, the dog looks kind of menacing, but it’s still a sweet inclusion).
Vagante has a heavy emphasis on exploration, with players able to find new weapons, spells, or just your typical treasures within each level. Whilst it isn’t compulsory to gather EVERYTHING in a level, having more powerful weaponry will definitely make a difference when hitting that mid-game difficulty spike. I played a Mage the most and some of the spells I was able to find made a big difference; whilst things like Magic Missile to send lock-on ranged attacks on enemies or Flame Pillar were super useful to catch foes off guard, being able to summon a monster or perform an Evil Transformation to steal life from enemies was always really cool. It’s worth noting that all classes can actually use magic spells, though the Mage gets the best out of them.
“Whilst it isn’t compulsory to gather EVERYTHING in a level, having more powerful weaponry will definitely make a difference when hitting that mid-game difficulty spike.”
You’ll want to try and be a powerhouse too, especially since a lot of your progress through the game will be based around defeating enemies and earning experience points. Like a lot of roguelikes, it’s your experience points which transfer between runs when you die, with new upgrades carrying over between runs that will give you a better chance of success the next time around. Admittedly, it can feel like some of these are drip-fed to you with some of the more minimal improvements doing little to help you progress that bit further the next time around, though that’s something which could also be owed to the game’s tough difficulty.
Yep, Vagante is a hard game, and if you go into battle unprepared you can expect to meet a swift and brutal end. Whilst the bosses stand out as the toughest tests with their mighty size and vicious range of attacks (though they do offer the best rewards), even standard enemies can cause you problems thanks to the player’s limited manoeuvrability in the tight levels and their nimble speed. Whilst nothing in the game is impossible, it will take a fair bit of practice (and maybe a bit of luck) before you’re able to succeed and survive through to the end. At least the combat is fun though, with the mixture of ranged and melee weapons as well as the creative spells at your disposal offering more than enough excitement to make each showdown with these challenging foes feel intense but fair.
It is worth noting that the game isn’t very long though, which is one of the things working against it. It’s not the length that’s the main problem, but the lack of variety on the journey; there are only four biomes to work through in total, and whilst they look fantastic with some beautifully detailed pixel art on show, they can get samey fast during playthroughs. It’s a procedurally-generated world you explore, but it doesn’t take long before you see pretty much everything it really has to offer.
“There are a couple of additional classes to unlock, including the Houndmaster which brings with it a cute doggy companion (ok, sure, the dog looks kind of menacing, but it’s still a sweet inclusion).”
It also lacks that special *something* to help it stand out in the crowd. Whilst I had a fun time playing through Vagante, not once did it do something that really impressed me or offered something that I hadn’t seen done before. It’s fun battling enemies, gathering loot, and exploring levels, but it all feels very ordinary and by the numbers as far as the genre is concerned. It might have been something if it at least had the story to strengthen the adventure, but, as mentioned, that’s all very bare-boned too.
At least it never feels bad though. Whilst I did encounter a small amount of glitches when playing, everything feels tightly designed to offer an adventure that’s competent and enjoyable. It’s just not very memorable nor does it stand tall with the likes of Hades, Dead Cells, Rogue Legacy, or the other roguelike greats.
I can’t end this review without mentioning the multiplayer, which offers both local and online play for up to four players. I had a really good time playing through with a friend, with it not only making the game more easier to beat, but also allowing for more creative ways to take out enemies when combining classes. The best part? If you die, you come back as a skeleton, meaning you can contribute to the party by scouting ahead or throwing bones at foes. You can be revived at certain points too, of course, but there’s something really fun about being a skeleton.
Vagante is an enjoyable roguelike adventure that offers a challenging escapade for players, but lacks that special spark to stand out in the genre. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about the game and there’s fun to be had battling enemies, gathering loot, and evading traps (ESPECIALLY in multiplayer), but there’s also nothing about it that makes it feel like a stand-out release or even a hidden gem in the genre.
It’s just a little bit ordinary, which might be enough for some players who just want a fresh roguelike fix, but might underwhelm those who are experienced with the more prolific releases in the genre.
Developer: Nuke Nine
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC