In the year 2049, the human population is at an incredible height and trying to migrate to other planets, with their “orbots” cleaning up a ginormous dump previously known as Earth. If that was not bad enough, one orbot named Raster has gone haywire after “accidentally” attaching himself to an active nuclear missile and thus made himself the ruler of our previous home under the name Warhead. When word gets out that he is about to wipe out humanity, a cleaning orbot named Vectorman takes upon himself to destroy this evil creation and restore peace to this garbage planet. This bizarre plot that mocks playfully how we are going to save our trash of a sphere, made me curious enough to check out what this old Sega game was like.
Scavenger hunt, then to the chore
Vectorman is a 2D shooter where you go from stage to stage in a linear fashion to find the exit or defeat a boss. The hero made out of balls can shoot left, right, and up, as well as below him when airborne. While this is solid, problems do occur due to him being only able to fire diagonally upwards while walking and completely incapable of aiming diagonally downwards. Having to run around just to hit someone awkwardly placed and enemies being too small or beneath you is a hassle, but at least he can duck and shoot simultaneously. Truth be told, this robot has some neat tricks up its sleeve.
First off, he can double jump, with the second part acting as an attack under his feet, helping to take care of foes underneath him. What also are great supports, are the collectable power-ups for his literal firearm that are all diverse enough to be intriguing. Ricochet rapid gun, five-way spread that can go through walls, bolo which pierces opponents, nucleus shield protecting you for a short while, and a screen nuke that actually hurts my eyes.
All except for the shield has limited ammunition, yet no counter to tell how many you got left and only an alarm letting you know when you start to go empty. This is honestly a nuisance as you might want to be strategic with your weapon so you can have it for later. A worse aspect is that while the guns are strong, they vary in functionality due to the levels’ layouts, with the five-wave spread being the solely one useful for any situation.
You can also find items to extend the time you have left to complete a stage, refill health, raise your maximum HP, and provide an extra life. There are even points that can lead to more chances, checkpoints to pass, and multipliers that work on anything picked up afterwards. All are found in TVs that need plenty of shots to open, which is just tedious. However, you are going to need all the aid you can get, as this game is unforgiving with no continues. If you die, you have to start from the beginning, and with barely enough time provided, durable fiends that come in plenty, and levels differing in quality, you might find yourself failing a lot.
There are 16 stages including the boss fights, but their designs are all over the place. Even four of these levels are eerily similar in structure, which feels lazy. Sadly, those are probably the best ones as they test your acrobatic skills and contain great enemy placements, despite how the latter can halt you due to their strengths. The rest varies significantly because of the minor elements the stages focus on. One is a straight line with a small river to cross, another set inside an ice cavern is too a linear pathway with one annoying obstacle, and the factory is a drag thanks to plenty of elevator rides with forgettable fights. By having no clever platforming or opponents to deal with, the levels become simply dull. Even if some can present multiple diverse foes, they can be easily defeated by ducking and shooting.
Although, this enhances the issue of not being able to stand still and fire in multiple directions. Vectorman clearly wants you to take your time since fiends can absorb numerous hits and are awkwardly placed, but you rather become a sitting duck or find yourself jumping plenty of times to take down one single antagonist. It almost seems like this title was unrefined because of this. Definitely a frustrating aspect, but what kills the enjoyment overall is whenever Vectorman changes form.
From certain power-ups, he can turn into a drill to get through floors, fish for swimming underwater, car to burst through walls, and a bomb that destroys anything on the screen after a couple of seconds. There are even those forms that make you take to the sky, such as the rocket for going through one ceiling, jet that lets you fly for a moment inside a claustrophobic area, and parachute which makes you decent slowly. All are simply context-sensitive moments due to being placed right nearby where they are useful and only lasting for a short while, making them clearly shoehorned in.
Then there are the boss fights, with every single one being poorly constructed except for two. The rest can either take up time by hitting hard and require many bullets to be destroyed or have rudimentary patterns that are tiresome. Whenever they change up the gameplay style completely, they become dreadfully boring with minimalistic mechanics, such as the literal on-rail shooter where you can only jump and fire in one direction. As for those that I found to be average, they boiled down to the final boss which gives a satisfying challenge and the very first one that teaches you cleverly to be aware of the layouts and where to aim. However, despite that barely a third of the levels entertained me, Vectorman has one saving grace: the exploration.
Seeking out secrets for more power-ups, points, and similar, is actually engaging since it gives you a lot of solid platforming parts and has the levels subtly hinting you on what areas might hold valuable treasures. Because of the difficulty, looking for supportive items is recommended and makes the adventure more enjoyable. There is also a hidden bonus stage, but you just play a ball in the middle while shooting at anything coming gradually towards you, making it quite shallow.
I am baffled. The developers clearly know what a decent shooter can offer from the substantial arsenal, but why then include uninspired levels, awful boss fights, and lacklustre transformations? Every single bad idea sounds neat, but their execution leaves a lot to be desired. If nothing else, Vectorman is adequate whenever exploration is at the forefront. Go straight through, and it is easy to see its terrible flaws and underwhelming structure.
Gameplay Score: 4/10
Compensating with big balls
Jokes aside, this is a marvellous action game to look at. Explosions are massive, feedbacks from shots are strong, and all weapons feel dangerous. The mix of mechanical and biological enemies inhabiting this universe is a lovely touch, with them all having good animations. Similarly can be said for the creative bosses, like the huge helicopter, the giant gorilla robot climbing on railroads, and something that resembles a transforming snowman. Although, Vectorman is the star of this show with his walk cycle being smooth, subtle breathing that makes me question his natural source of energy, and juggling tricks using his health orbs whenever leaning on a wall. Quite the expressive dude!
The technical capabilities of this title are truly praiseworthy, with multilayered backgrounds, fantastic lighting, and the weather effects being all impressive. Sadly, the stages themselves are uninspired. We have literally four levels using the same environment in different daylight, water and arctic regions that are hard to distinguish from each other, and dull factories and mines to name a few. It would have been neat to see how the superhero travels from one area to another or give these locations some set pieces to make them memorable. While it could have been argued that global warming caused this uneven climate, apocalyptic worlds can still be artistically pleasing.
What makes these places further uninteresting, is the lack of numerous colours. Because of only using a couple, the game can be visually monotonous whenever the shootouts stop. Its style is definitely intriguing with a destroyed Earth and fascinating orbots, but the imagination feels stale when it comes to the variety. Although, it does help that the pre-rendered 3D models and the character designs have aged beautifully and still look mesmerising!
As for the audio, it is amazing. Be it the electrical shots, crunchy explosions or surprised voice of the protagonist whenever he is hit, they all make anything occurring feel significant. Even using your double jump leaves a hypnotic sound that is unique. However, the crowning achievement is the techno music. It is perfect for the Genesis/Mega Drive’s twang thanks to its different take on the genre, such as soothing and mysterious or highlighting exhilarating rhythms. It is outstanding how diverse and long these melodies are, with none of them being repetitive and worth experiencing this project alone for.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Vectorman is a cult classic for a good reason. It has a neat art style that I adore and can offer a decent time when you are exploring in order to make the journey easier. Unfortunately, the levels are bland and more could have been done to change up their structures instead of relying on underdeveloped gimmicks, which especially goes for the boss fights. This is a clear example of how variety can lack focus, though the soundtrack at least makes you pump for what it could have been. If nothing else, it might be worth a go for fans of the system. Even if the contest it once held is long over.