Vesper: Zero Light Edition (Switch) Review
There is no shortage of moody puzzle platformers around, with trendsetters like Limbo and Inside sitting alongside the likes of Little Nightmares and Unravel, offering slower and more thought-provoking platforming action than the typical Mario and Donkey Kong fare. Enter Vesper: Zero Light Edition, another atmospheric adventure wearing its inspiration on its sleeve and hoping to stamp its footprint in the crowded space.
You play as an android named Seven lost on a largely desolate planet with remnants of an ancient civilization that has long since met its downfall. It’s up to you to explore these lands and uncover the truth about what happened here. It’s a barebones plot, told primarily through scattered message logs tucked away in hard-to-reach places, and whatever backstory you’re able to piece together from the environmental design. I didn’t take much away from the story nor feel impacted by the ending which is clearly meant to be a bigger deal than its build-up warrants, but in terms of creating an atmosphere for the moment-to-moment exploration, it serves its purpose.
This overall ambience is supported by the visual and audio design, which is undoubtedly the game’s biggest strength. The foreground utilises a silhouette art style strongly reminiscent of Limbo, with little in the way of detail outside of the bold black shapes, but this is contrasted strongly with some strikingly colourful vistas that create some stunning vistas despite their simplicity. Each of the main levels utilises a different colour scheme, with the bold colours that truly pop on the Switch OLED’s screen if you’re fortunate enough to have one. Beyond the palette, the level design is basic but often features some gorgeous background elements, such as giant mechs or monolithic statues, with the camera panning out at select moments to sell the grandiose of the scenery.
Your adventure through these barren wastelands is a challenging one, with Seven being entirely defenceless when his adventure begins. As you progress through the linear levels, you’ll encounter aggressive robotic foes that wander the world. Your only defence, to begin with, is hiding in bushes, lest they spot you, chase you down and end your existence in one swift motion.
Before too long you’ll discover a Drive Gun, a handy contraption capable of capturing light sources and transferring them to another location. Using the right stick gives you complete control of your aiming, with one trigger absorbing light and the other spitting it back out at your desired spot. It’s a tool that serves multiple purposes. The simplest of these is simply unlocking a gate which requires a light source in a nearby pedestal, but it can also be used to block the path of a dangerous omnipresent dark substance in the back half of the game, and it can be utilised to possess enemies to either activate specific switches or to borrow their attacking abilities to dispose of other bots in your path.
It’s a small toolset, but the developers make smart use of it over the few hours it takes to see the credits roll. Eventually, you will earn the ability to hold two, and then three, sources of light at one time, which opens some additional intricacies for complex puzzles and challenging scenarios that involve juggling multiple enemies as you try to get to the other end unscathed.
It all sounds good on paper, but the overall execution leaves something to be desired. Character movement is plodding, with a strange positional “shift” as you transition from one screen to the next that never quite feels right. Some platform gaps are as wide as the very maximum of your jump, meaning the slightest misstep can spell a long walk back to try again or an untimely demise down a hole or at the hands of an enemy.
This isn’t too punishing in most cases, but there were more than a few occasions where the amount of ground that needed re-treading grew wearisome, and the load times, whilst not awful, can be just long enough to make death a frustrating occurrence. Similarly, there are some scenarios where the solution to a puzzle can be obscure enough that it bottles down to trial and error, and when coupled with a checkpoint that just feels a little too far back, can make for a tedious time.
It also doesn’t help that now and again the “catch and release” functions of the Drive Gun just don’t seem to function like they’re supposed to, with your beam just sometimes sucking up the light but never actually finishing the task, and the same for spitting it back out to try and possess enemies. Deaths following these situations feel particularly cheap and unfair.
There are enough of these situations to be bothersome, but they don’t entirely break the experience. Throughout the journey, there is fun to be had, and additional elements are introduced frequently enough to keep the experience fresh for the duration of its run time. Juggling multiple light sources, barriers that prevent you from carrying light, motion-sensing traps, multiple enemies, and teleport platforms all at once can be a handful, but more often than not it’s balanced in such a way that makes the reward worth the effort.
The satisfaction of clearing a tricky section by finding the solution following the initial feeling of helplessness is an essential part of any puzzle game, and Vesper delivers it in spades, even if there is some frustration along the way. If you’re a vast landscape to explore, you won’t find it here, but this is a journey through an intriguing and often stunning world that slowly settles into a groove to offer a satisfying puzzle platforming experience. It’s not without its flaws, but it does enough right to at least earn a look.
+ Some gorgeous scenery
+ Inventive puzzle mechanics
+ Satisfying learning curve
- Story is haphazard
- Some punishing and tedious areas
- Occasional control clunkiness