Roguelike games have been increasingly popular over the last few years to the point where they have even morphed into other genres like roguelites: Hades and Loop Hero. Roguelikes were always known as being quite challenging, but these recent genre tweaks have made games more accessible to new players and audiences. Unfortunately, Vagante — being more of a roguelike — isn’t very accessible and proved to be a lot more complex than a simple pick-up-and-play game.
“Playing with a joy-con controller also presented countless control issues.”
When you first boot up the game, Vagante treats you to an absolutely stunning pixelated area where you can freely roam. You pick from the three classes; Knight, Rogue and Mage, and away you go. In my first game, I died instantly to a falling boulder. In the second game, I also died instantly to a falling boulder. By the 10th game, I knew where boulders would be from the graphical indicators on the roof and the ground below. In Vagante, this is the standard gameplay loop you will go through. You will die countless times, and you must learn from your mistakes. While this might be a great tactic for someone that will strive to persevere, casual gamers will struggle.
Playing with a joy-con controller also presented countless control issues. Vagante is designed to be played with a dual joy-con or pro controller setup. However, you can play with a single joy-con as long as you’re happy to play Russian roulette with the control scheme. Unfortunately, if you play with one joy-con or two, the controls change, but the buttons the game tells you to press doesn’t. Furthermore, this became incredibly difficult as pressing the wrong button could result in wasting items or spells, or possible death. Fortunately, there are plenty of items to waste.
“Obtaining powerful armour with good bonuses is a thrill and killing enemies with one swing of a strong weapon never gets old”
Vagante has an abundance of unique items, and they’re arguably the most addicting part of the game. There are weapons, wands, armour, spellbooks, scrolls and potions. You can also obtain artefacts with incredible bonuses on your equipment. While not all of the random abilities worked for me, there’s an incredible variety to test. Timing jumps allows for unlimited mid-air jumps is one example, and it works exactly how the name suggests. However, this doesn’t negate fall damage, so make sure you don’t go too high, or you will die an embarrassing death.
Although, when you’re not dying from falling boulders or thinking you can fly, Vagante is quite enjoyable; Obtaining powerful armour with good bonuses is a thrill and killing enemies with one swing of a strong weapon never gets old. You can also donate objects to Shrines, and they will reward you will bonuses depending on the Shrine. Alternatively, destroying Shrines can cause inconvenient side effects. Furthermore, bosses spawn throughout the levels and even appear in the first level, wiping you out if you aren’t paying attention. Finally, shops populate in the area and will contain two purchasable items. Hilariously, you can actually steal items from the shop, and the shopkeeper will come chasing after you. This is particularly funny when you’re playing with friends.
“Vagante’s art design is absolutely gorgeous, but it sometimes feels wasted.”
Vagante has both online and local four-player co-op, so falling boulders can upset your friends, and you can giggle at their death. Fortunately, they do get a second chance at living as they will spawn back as skeletons. While they’re very weak, it’s nice to have someone to sacrifice and take the hits. Luckily, your friends can be brought back to life at the end of a level by spending your HP. For every additional player, enemy health and damage increase. This does make your friends a burden if they aren’t already proficient at the game and might even make you think twice about playing co-op.
Vagante’s pixelated art design is absolutely gorgeous, but it sometimes feels wasted. There are a few different level designs in the game, but all feel relatively similar until the final area. Vagante also features procedurally generated levels. While this adds to the overall replayability, it might be hard to keep playing if you feel trapped in a repetitively bland world.
Unfortunately, Vagante doesn’t really have a narrative. Instead, it plants the seeds with a small rumour that a particular cave has an enormous bounty. People have entered, but none have returned. Therefore, you decide that you will park your caravan near the entrance to the cave and venture into its depths. That is where it ends, and beating the game on Normal Difficulty will reward you with Hard if you want to play through it again. You will also unlock specific starting benefits for the class you beat the game with, but don’t expect a lengthy deeper purpose message at the finish line.
“Vagante truly is a game for the committed, and if you dare to put in the hours, you will reap the benefits.”
Backgrounds are the only unlockable thing tied to your progress in the game that also affects you in-game. Therefore, it’s the only roguelite aspect of the game. You can unlock them by reaching certain progression levels or completing objectives like finishing the game. Only one background can be active at one time, and they provide positive or negative effects to the player. For example, one background, Nimble, can increase your Speed and decrease fall damage. Although, not all of them are sunshine and rainbows, and some can result in negative effects.
Vagante truly is a game for the committed, and if you dare to put in the hours, you will reap the benefits. There is plenty of replayability, and for the price of AU$21.50, it’s probably worth it for fans of the genre. However, for casual players, Vagante might not be the best choice, and you’re probably better off spending your money elsewhere.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Nintendo Switch, code was provided by the Publisher.