After the first Vectorman did not exactly light my world on fire, I cannot say I was looking forward to the second game. Although, with how it got released as late as 1996, this sequel must have had something worthwhile in it, right? Starting with the plot; the superhero saved the Earth at the end of the previous entry and is celebrating by rocking out to some sweet tunes in his sludge barge. Unfortunately, his crib is hit by a missile and destroyed, with Vectorman escaping to the blue planet where he has to fight off the mutant insects and surreal creatures, before eventually taking down the evil Black Widow Queen who is behind this infestation. Maybe not as silly as in the original, but I am all up for a revenge story that began due to disturbing a dude’s groove.
Vectorman 2 follows the footsteps of its predecessor by being a side-scrolling shooter and starring a hero made out of orbs. This orbot has not changed much since the last time, as he is still able to fire horizontally and straight up, shoot diagonally up while running, and aim downwards in midair. His acrobatic skills are also familiar in the form of a manoeuvrable jump and double jump that performs a blast attack underneath him. It is all functional, but the lack of any option to aim at a standstill is yet again annoying, since the enemies can take a lot of damage and be placed uncomfortably for your progression. Not being capable of firing diagonally downwards while on the ground is also a huge bother because of this.
This is not a minor inconvenience either, as these foes can be beneath you in packs or in small caves, making it certain that some will take you off guard due to you not being able to see them before it is too late. You can duck under some projectiles, but because of the diverse designs of the antagonists that are poorly placed, such as those with charge attacks inside narrow hallways, you are going to take some cheap hits. This is definitely a problem this title consists of, but there are luckily plenty of helpful items that will make the playthrough more entertaining and easier.
Instead of TVs containing power-ups, they are this time inside cocoons. These need again plenty of shots to be opened, which is still tedious and an odd inclusion. Many staples from the last entry return, such as points, multipliers for anything you collect afterwards, health refilling and extending trinkets, and extra lives which a high enough score can also yield. Since there is yet again no form of continues, you are going to need all the support you can get and there are thankfully even firearms to find throughout this adventure.
These limited weapons still do not come with a counter for the amount of ammo you have left and only have a sound warning you for when you are running low. Although, Vectorman’s arsenal is more useful than ever before because of its sheer strength, variety, and constant appearance. Pulse beam fires small bursts of balls, laser beam functions like an uzi, energy shot holds fierce projectiles and even has another version that ricochets off walls. The only one used instantly is the screen nuke, which makes it impractical by not being possible to plan around its explosion. However, while we have a solid selection here, this is not all.
Since this superhero is made out of balls, he can at specific points change into different forms. There are only six levels of the game that will be strictly about these transformations, making the rest of the 16 stages focused on running and gunning. Getting the shapeshifting levels out of the way first, the two towards the end will have Vectorman turn into a tank, where he can jump, drive left or right, and aim his canon. It actually works well, despite the stage’s simple design, due to the fun foes to battle. As for the first level where you parachute downwards, it is entertaining with obstacles to avoid, letting you shoot in four directions, and hover when needed to. The only underwhelming stages, are the three ones where you put on rollerskaters, as they provide you with linear levels and some hidden jumps.
There is also one powerup he can find in one single stage to become an invincible tornado, but it barely lasts a couple of seconds and is forgettable. For the rest of the forms, Vectorman must kill specific creatures to gain balls in order to acquire new abilities. These can be a timed shield, scorpion tail that can whip fiends and let you walk on lava or giant fists to throw thick punches to name a few. These are few and made for designated levels, but engaging to play around with as they complement the area you are in. However, getting them is a hassle as the opponents take a tremendous amount of shots, to the point that the general ones can require a minimum of five hits to be killed.
Although the enemy placements can be unfair due to taking you by surprise, half of the levels are actually quite fun. Some are about digging your way through them using your firearm, others will have you jumping between trees, a couple makes you climb around mountains to find the exit, and much more. All this diversity that focuses on Vectorman 2‘s genre creates some imaginative layouts that even reward exploration. There are certainly some straightforward stages that are not creative, but they are at least brief and the health bar makes sure that seeing the game over screen will not be unreasonably common.
Searching through the levels is always fun and recommended, as they lead to clever platforming segments, rewards, and neat bonus stages. These represent three varied arcade space shooters from the 70s and 80s, in the form of stationary, overhead, and horizontal ones. None overstay their welcome and are adequate distractions. Unfortunately, the bosses are hit and miss. The first and second are delightful battles with harsh attacks and great platforming incorporated for avoiding taking damage, but the other two are letdowns by being rudimentary in patterns and structures.
With 22 stages, Vectorman 2 could have been a long mess, but it is rather short and focused on its genre with solid level designs for the most part and secrets that are intriguing to look out for. Sadly, the enemy placement is terrible with them absorbing tons of ammo and about 50% of the stages are uninspired. I can admit that the series is stepping in the right direction with this instalment, but it is leaning towards being average rather than confused. At least, this is an improvement.
Gameplay Score: 5/10
Biology over mechanical
While it is odd to not see constructions from the humans’ past as much as in the last game, the organic setup leads to some colourful and visually pleasing locations. Throughout this title, you will be visiting dark forests with giant trees and mushrooms, volcanoes containing lava and fire critters, factories that are underground, and more that are simply fascinatingly designed. The foes are also diverse and despite that you will see the giant dragonflies more often than not, there are a lot of creative takes on insects, such as balloon ants and giant flies with antennas.
This project shows a ton of lovely technical capabilities too, like the magnificent lighting and incredible animations. Some of my favourites come from Vectorman himself, whether it be the powerful feedback from his shots or whenever he is leaning against a wall and juggling his health orbs. Regrettably, there are a lot of biological elements and it can make the places feel traditional with a more elemental tone, such as fire, mechanical and so on. Nothing truly stands out to be distinct, except for the prerendered art style overall.
However, the audio is superb with more force to the different attacks and opponents exploding in wonderful fireworks, creating outstanding effects. Even the hero’s voice samples are impressive and robotic, such as when he shouts “all right”, fitting the Genesis/Mega Drive’s sound chip. Another thing that suits this console’s twang, is the music consisting of trance tracks that have great rhythms to them. Unfortunately, due to similar buildups and being short, they all can sound eerily alike and become unrecognisable. Still, they are catchy in their beats, just not their tones.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Vectorman 2 might be more focused, but it feels also unimaginative from time to time. It is more organic and has some stellar level designs, though it is lessened by poor enemy placements and the dull stages. This sequel has its moments and is definitely better than its predecessor, just not necessarily good. It is an adequate shooter that does feel more polished than the first entry, but it is going to need more than that to fix the continuous problems.