First released on PC in 2017, Fatbot Games has now brought their steampunk dungeon crawler Vaporum to console. So pump your shotgun, strap on your exo-rig and join me as I give the Switch port a spin.
The premise is simple enough – a tower brimming with puzzles and hostiles; with twelve levels you must traverse in order to find the truth – Who am I? Where is everyone? What went down in this poorly lit facility? Which sick maniac designed a building where the only way to get from room to room is to solve a series of lever-based puzzles?
You’re only in trouble if you get caught
Vaporum combat is a mix of melee, ranged and “gadgets” (magic, but steampunk) while outmanoeuvring enemies via first-person, grid-based movement. But this is an RPG, so you’ll be levelling up and upgrading your exo-rig’s circuits (experience points, but steampunk) as you go along. I personally chose the beefy boy “heavy rig” build (the tank, but uh, steampunk?), with combat and gadget-themed rigs also available.
While initially intimidating, enemies are easily overcome once you get into a hit-move-hit-move rhythm, running squares around your foes via the confines of the grid. And though your initial exo-rig build selection does determine what you’re best at, I enjoyed being able to quickly move between different attack types at will depending on the situation, or when the combat becomes a bit same-y.
Once your enemies are a sad, sad pile of rust on the floor, puzzling from room to room provides a nice change of pace. There is a lack of comprehensive guides to Vaporum puzzles online, but if I could manage them then you can be rest assured they aren’t overly onerous.
A secret for those who enjoy punishment – there is an option to turn off the in-game map. I’m talking pen and paper only. More power to ya if that’s your thing, but personally, I used that digital map like my life depended on it.
Scratch those steampunk scritches
Aesthetically, Vaporum is pretty darn polished. Every level of the tower has a different visual theme, while still remaining visually consistent with the abandoned research facility vibe. Whether it’s gears, robots, wooden crates, it’s gonna be a little dark and gloomy.
The game reps the fact it has full voice over, but this mostly equates to story being told via notes, record-players, and the rare observation from the player character. For the most part, you’ll only be accompanied by the clanking and whirring of machinery. There is an has an overwhelming sense of being alone in Vaporum – until you’re not.
The pay-off is that when the music does hit, boy is it a rush. There’s one moment early on when you face a Heavy Guardian for the first time, you whip out your rifle, this screeching electro-grunge kicks, and just, my gawd. Intensely gratifying.
Would you like a mouse and keyboard with that?
Now, the real reason we’re here is to judge whether the switch to Switch was a good switch. And the answer is… it’s fine. I thought about saying “You should switch back to PC”, but that might be more snarky switch puns than strictly necessary.
RPGs originally designed for PC are generally a hard sell on console controls, and Vaporum compounds this with sometimes unintuitive button combinations. Especially when moving items in and out of your inventory. This wouldn’t be a big deal, if it wasn’t for the fact the game asks this of you for so darn many of the puzzles.
I’m not sure if it was the fault of clumsy controls or my own incompetence, but I also overstepped my intended grid movement on a regular basis. Which is fine, until you fall into yet another spike pit.
Happily, overstepping can be mostly overcome with the pause mode, which stops time after every movement or action. The pause mode is a blast in combat, as it really allows Vaporum to transcend from hack and slash to strategy.
The text is also teeny tiny when playing undocked, so using a larger screen is strongly recommended.
Steampunk never dies
First person dungeon crawling in a steampunk setting is a very specific brief; one that Vaporum fulfils to a tee. As dungeon-crawling tends to be, Vaporum is addictive in that “just one more room” kind of way where suddenly its 3am and you have to leave for work at 6am and you’re like why am I like this?
While suboptimal controls hold it back from show-stopper status, Vaporum certainly does what it says on the box.