Amidst gaming’s first two generations of home consoles, having an entry in the ‘maze’ genre was vital for any piece of viable hardware. From the Odyssey²’s K.C. Munchkin, the VCS/2600’s adaptation of Pac-Man, and ports of Lock ‘n’ Chase and Pepper II for the Intelivison and Colecovision, hunting and being hunted through labyrinthine hallways was a fundamental pursuit for most players. Regretfully, the once- thriving category of games has dwindled away- with sporadic titles like Pac-Man Championship Edition DX serving as a reminder of the genre’s glory days.
With the release of escapeVektor across Nintendo’s eShop service, 3DS owners are able to see why the maze game was such a successful pastime. Filled with moments of circle-pad torqueing tension and the bedeviling lure of doing a bit better on each successive attempt, the title amalgamates the tenets of arcade play with a subtle puzzler vibe. It’s a formula that Sydney-based developer Nnooo has had experience with- escapeVektor: Chapter 1 was released on WiiWare a little over a year ago. For the portable iterations (A PS Vita version is also available) the studio eschewed the episodic approach, delivering a single download which offers 150 stages for an equitable $9.99 USD price tag.
Whereas most maze-based titles offer a skeletal storyline, escapeVektor is notable for attempting to deliver a bit more substance. Lead character Vektor’s efforts to escape the confines of a domineering CPU recalls the plotline of Tron, albeit told through a succession of dialog boxes. Still, the title does earn points for making the most of the medium. Players might appreciate the quality and conciseness of the writing, as well as subtle attempts at character development, such as how the portrait of the protagonist becomes less pixelated over time. Additionally, these conversations give a bit of gravitas to escapeVektor’s procession of power-ups.
Smartly, Vektor doesn’t dwell on the minutia of the game world, allowing the title’s level design to act as a tutorial. Gradually, escapeVektor’s simple rectangular areas give way to elaborate, multiscreen arenas which resemble circuit boards. Clearly, the appearance isn’t accidental, as elements such as timed gates and enemy generators proliferate playfields- each requiring players to study a component’s operation. Elegantly, the title conveys discreet visual cues to help players, such as exposing the switches of doors or displaying the awareness of drifting drones.
Mirroring the escalating complexity of escapeVektor’s levels are both the increasing ferocity of foes as well as a growing arsenal available to players. While early antagonists simply follow preset pathways, later enemies are able to actively pursue the player. Like the game’s maze-bound contemporaries, inversions of authority prove to be greatly rewarding, as players guide opponents into deadly doorways or use of Vektor’s abilities to dispatch pursuers.
Initially, the on-screen protagonist is powerless against enemies, but soon receives the ability to detonate a destructive blast as well as boost through sections of each stage. Over time, these capacities are intensified, eventually giving players brief moments of invulnerability. Those worryed that these aptitudes will convert escapeVektor into a cakewalk can rest easy. Smartly, each power is prohibited from exploitation by awarding use to achievement; gamers have to enclose squares to power-up their offensive tools. Occasionally, this reveals one of escapeVektor’s niggling blemishes: players may neglect a single-pixel width section on a stage, pushing them through peril as they hunt for the nearly-unperceivable gap.
The game’s other gaffe exists in its control scheme. While a press of the right shoulder button allows players to see a larger view of the map, they are forced to hold the button down to maintain the perspective. Ideally, the escapeVektor would toggle between camera views, allowing gamers to keep their fingers fixated on offensive abilities. Veterans of the maze genre might wonder why Vektor doesn’t allow players to establish a direction before coming to a junction. Ever since Pac-Man, this has become the de facto method of maze navigation. As such, players can expect the infrequent errant turn before they learn to use dead ends as a technique to keep Vektor still.
Beyond the game’s robust assortment of stages (complete with access ways to secret zones) escapeVektor strives to maintain a player’s attention. Leaderboard support allows gamers to compete against friends or compatriots, while the addition of Wild Cards encourage players to revisit levels and obtain higher scores through multipliers. Cunningly, these licenses aren’t inexhaustible, with the loss of life consuming a Card. As such, players will want to familiarize themselves with a level before putting a consumable on the line.
Considering escapeVektor’s reasonable price and diminutive file size, the game is a welcome addition to 3DS memory cards. Each of the title’s 150 stages are suited to the time constraints that can often accompany portable play, allowing for an recreation capable of ensnaring players over the long haul. Quite simply, escapeVektor is a glowing reminderof a forsaken genre, demonstrating that engaging gameplay can still trump flashy visuals.