A while ago, I did a review for a game called Sphereface. It was a decent game, but the camera was nauseating and the drifting controls make it obnoxiously easy to lose control, drift into an asteroid, and die. But still, the soundtrack was killer and the story, though roundabout, was interesting. Null Vector takes some of the depth of the Sphereface experience, but also eliminates basically every problem I had with it. The graphics are retro cool like an 80s arcade game, the music is incredible, and the variety of upgrades and rooms keeps every playthrough interesting. It is a tad easy and there isn't as much variety as there is in other roguelikes, but I thoroughly enjoyed Null Vector. It's a smooth and fun arcade-style retro twin stick shooter roguelike (that's a mouthful), and I heartily recommend it to anyone with five dollars who wants to just play a fun game.
Null Vector is available on Steam for $4.99 or £3.19.
There is no story. It probably takes place in space or cyberspace or something judging from the line art flying saucers, but don't think too much about it. It's a retro arcade game, if you want a strong narrative look elsewhere. The driving motivation is simply to beat the game. If you want to dub yourself a hero of space or a master computer hacker, that's your perogitive, the game isn't giving you any answers.
When I say "twin-stick shooter" you know how this game plays. Move with WASD, shoot with arrow keys. It's The Binding of Isaac by way of Tron. If I am to be fair, the game doesn't exactly break a ton of new ground on the gameplay front. However, in the interest of that same fairness, it's sanded off the edges of the genre to make a smooth if simple experience.
Each teleporter to a new room either has a number to tell you how many waves you'll have to survive or a letter to tell you that it's a room where you can choose between two different upgrades, do a task to get a chest, or survive a boss. I really appreciate that because it gives you just enough information to guess if you'll survive without giving you a blueprint to winning.
There are also random upgrades scattered around, which can do the usual damage, fire rate, and shield, but my personal favorite was a combination of the piercing and laser upgrades, which replaced the bullets with a laser, thus eliminating the need to project where my enemies would be. You could also be followed around by a drones that can wipe out your enemies like bees armed with mortars and blaster rifles, which was another favorite strategy of mine.
Not only does Null Vector allow you to play in your style, but it kind of demands it. You only have three upgrade slots to work with, and though if you have the currency you can weld the upgrade to your ship to free up a slot while keeping the benefit, but that also takes them off the table for upgrades, so you can make the shield not take up any more space, or you could have the promise of making it more effective in the future. This provides a good system for letting you constantly improve but making you prioritize to think about how it is you actually want to play this time.
If I had to find something to criticize, and that is my job after all, I do wish there were more ways to unlock modified gameplay. I scrolled through the mods and the only way to unlock most of them are variations on "beat the boss." Something like FTL or The Binding of Isaac may stomp you into mulch reliably, but maybe along the way you'll unlock a new character or ship by happenstance or in something like Wizards of Legend you'll keep building your arsenal of spells as your failures accumulate. The modifiers also all seem to be ways to make the game harder. Which, granted, is needed (more on that in a second), but can I maybe get a new starter weapon or something? Oh well, they give you more points which is the goal of an arcade game, so I suppose no major harm done.
Another complaint is that this game is usually a tad easy without the modifiers. I mean it isn't a cakewalk, but by the end of the game you just get so stacked with upgrades you wind up as a spaceship that can shoot explosive lasers surrounded by legions of drones that will blast anything that looks at you funny. You can still get blindsided by enemies if you maneuver badly, but it is probably overly forgiving. In a market that's trying to emulate the Dark Souls style of making the player so frustrated they're either going to snap their monitor in half or beat the game, I can appreciate something that is willing to let the player win without mastering a boss fight frame by frame.
Graphics and audio
This game made me feel like an 80s computer hacker. That's all that really needs to be said, but I'll go a bit more into detail. The simple 3-d linework and color of the graphics is really reminiscient of Tron, and the synth music really made it feel like I was controlling an avatar navigating through a server, breaking firewalls and antivirus to get down to my goal. The enemies all have their own distinct look so the player, once familiar with them, could tell exactly what they're up against on a glance.
The soundtrack fits the aesthetic flawlessly. It just all sounds, for lack of a better term, computer-y in the best way. Each stage has a different badass soundtrack, and the sound effects really aided in keeping the whole vibe going. If after you've beaten the boss you don't want to say "I'm in," in your best hacker voice, you're playing this game wrong.
As you could probably tell, I freaking loved every second I spent with Null Vector. I wouldn't say it's perfect, it is incredibly basic and there isn't much motivation to finish the game aside from the drive to see the big CONGRATULATIONS after you beat the boss. At the same time, it does have its simplicity polished to a mirror shine. The controls are basic, but effective. There isn't a ton of surprises in the upgrades available, but that doesn't make them any less satisfying. You can upgrade your ship and play how you want, but you need to be thinking about what exactly you want. Am I going to be playing this game when I could be playing something like Wizards of Legend? Probably not, but if you ask me if this game is staying on my computer for a rainy day, the answer is absolutely yes.
|+ Easy to grasp controls||– No real narrative|
|+ Diverse and interesting enemies||– Can be a bit easy|
|+ Upgrades let you play it your way||– Doesn't really do anything new|