Friday, January 28, 2011
Four Quarter Friday - Vorpal
At about 2 in the morning on New Year's Day, after a buddy of mine and I spent eight hours with Raskulls, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, and BBC's Top Gear, I decided to hop on over to the Indie Games Marketplace to see if anything from the Indie Games Winter Uprising had hit XBox Live. There wasn't, but I was greeted with a box art that reminded me of the simple Japanese Final Fantasy boxes. White background, one-color title, and a drawing using nothing but black ink yet being detailed enough to catch my eye. I didn't find a 16-bit RPG underneath the classy digital case, but after an hour or two with Vorpal I'm pretty glad I didn't.
Vorpal is a bullet-hell shmup that gets rid of all that pesky filler where you do nothing but blow hundreds of mindless drones to kingdom come and back. Instead of boring you with all the details, it just throws you into battle against screen-filling patterns and the bosses that cause them. You'll choose one of six ships, each with somewhat different shot patterns and special weapons, and fight against the other five in an effort to deplete their shields little by little before your ship gets ruled or your eyes become too bloodshot to function, whatever happens first.
The art style to Vorpal is very much like its box art; it's has a simple yet stylish look and is pleasing to the eye. Let's get one thing out of the way first, though: there isn't a shred of "animation" to be found. Everything in the game is just a picture sliding across the screen. Your tattoo-esque ships never animate, the bullets don't flash or pulse, and the only things that change on screen are the numbers and meters on the sides. That said, it's absolute genius. The black/white/red color scheme and lack of sprite-changing animation not only has a certain style and charm to it, it also allows for a fast-paced game without a shred of slowdown. The dark bullets on white background does, however, strain the eyes a little bit, but aside from that it's a great design choice. The character design is somewhat odd, though, as all the characters seem to be part human, part machine. Like part person, part vacuum, part moped or something. The Eurobeat/Techno soundtrack might also hit or miss with some people, but I personally found it to complement the action perfectly, and those that do enjoy it can listen to each tune in the game's Gallery mode without worrying about an dodging a nigh endless supply of bullets.
No shooter is worth anything without solid controls, and here Vorpal shines with simplicity. There are only two attack buttons. Your normal shoot is accompanied by the panic mode Break button, which gets rid of all the bullets on the screen at that moment and empowers your ship with a character-specific power-up. Some track the enemy boss while others involve a very focused and powerful beam. The best addition, however, is the Slow button, which causes you to move at a snail's pace to better navigate the incoming patterns of death. Between all this, an indicator at the bottom of the screen telling you where the enemy is (so you're not constantly looking away from your ship), and rock-solid hitboxes, it'll be very difficult to blame anyone but yourself for each death suffered.
Vorpal is one of those games that sets out to do one thing and do it well. And here it both shines and shows some limitation. The boss rush style gameplay, ridiculous character designs, and throwaway story is so arcade-like in its style that you'll wonder why the game doesn't charge you a quarter each time you play. That said, the game is also over in roughly the same amount of time you'd spend with said quarter at a local arcade, lasting about fifteen to twenty minutes if you're not constantly dying. Having the option to beat your high score is nice, and the Gallery mode is a welcome touch, but I couldn't help but feel like the lack of online leaderboards or, even worse, multiplayer killed a lot of the replay value of the game. I'd easily pay five times as much if there was a well-balanced two-player competitive mode in this game, rather than the "versus" mode present that involves you fighting a one-off against a computer opponent of your choice.
As much as I did complain about the short game length, Vorpal really is a worthwhile experience for the core gamer. One that deserves your four quarters? It depends on how much you actually enjoy dodging bullets. If you like Ikaruga or XBLIG's own Score Rush, there's little reason for you to not check out Vorpal as it's right in your niche. At worst, it's a familiar yet somewhat fresh diversion for close to an hour at the cost of a candy bar. If you're someone who doesn't necessarily enjoy the arcade experience, however, or just doesn't like bullet-hell shmups, then simply try the demo and see what happens. Might not be exactly made for you, but at least you tried something new today.
Vorpal from Red Wolf is available on XBox Live for 80 MS Points. Played game to completion with two characters, lamented the lack of multiplayer, and saw red dots whenever I closed my eyes for about two hours after playing.