Despite being a core component of gaming, sound design can often be seen as an afterthought or a more supplemental addition rather than a pivotal one. After all, it’s not all that uncommon for players to have the game audio muted while they play their own music or listen to podcasts. However, VECTRONOM, the latest title from Ludopium, is entirely based around sound design. This PC and Switch title may be short but it is an original puzzle-platformer that rides to its own refreshing beat.
The basic gameplay in Vectronom is quite simple as players move a cube in one of the four cardinal directions. This can be done with either the directional buttons or the analog stick, and it’s an easy game to play with just one of the Switch’s Joy-Con controllers. This simplicity is aided with stages that begin to change in time with the song’s tempo. Some levels will have spikes moving around, while others will have the environment wildly change shape and it’s up to the player to memorize what the different patterns are. This makes it quite the test for not only one’s mind, but also their reflexes as mastering just one aspect isn’t enough to be victorious here.
The controls aren’t the only part of Vectronom that is basic in nature as the entire game is made out of different blocks. There’s never any change in its art, but the game does constantly feature vibrant color palettes that help the platforms stick out from the background. It winds up being a great style, even if it won’t win any awards for its visual design. There are also a bunch of accessibility options to make sure the colors don’t make the game impossible for those that are colorblind.
Vectronom Review | An audiovisual exercise
It’s quite clear that a lot of thought went into every aspect of this puzzle-platformer as the game builds wonderfully in difficulty over the course of its multiple worlds. While the core controls never get more complex in nature, a few new additions join core. These additions include a trampoline blocks that will throw the player forward two spaces. This is a great way to balance a game that is easy to get into, but difficult to master.
There’s a lot to master here too, as there’s a bonus objective of clearing levels while on beat. This is completely optional, but like Crypt of the Necrodancer, there are are rewards for caring about tempo. A lot of the stages are much easier when playing with the beat in mind, as it instructs when to jump. However, it is entirely possible to hit a wall in the game. The solutions are never all that complex to figure out, but actually executing them is another story. It can be quite difficult to pull off some of the trickier levels that constantly change forms.
However, the game’s core simplicity is its saving grace here. Even though a player might wind up trying a level dozens of times, the ease of the controls means success and failure is purely on the player. There’s nothing resembling luck to be found in Vectronom and that reliance on pure skill is refreshing. Sadly, there is not a ton of levels here as it can be completed in just a few hours depending on how quickly one can overcome its challenges. That said, the unique experience still manages to be well worth the meager asking price of $9.99 and is even sweeter given the promised level editor coming a later date.
Drop-in, drop-out multiplayer for up to four players is also available. This is particularly fun on the harder levels, as trying to see which of your friends can clear the challenge first can lead to some bets and battles over bragging rights. Plus, the simple controls mean that each player only needs a single Joy-Con to play and it only takes a few seconds to explain what to do. This accessibility will work to the game’s advantages at social gatherings.
Vectronom Review | Some of the coolest features are exclusive to PC
If there’s one huge disappointment, it is that several of the most unique features are unique to the PC version of Vectronom. There’s really no way that could have been avoided, though, as it takes use of other computer hardware in some rather cool ways. This includes a click mode that allows the player to replace the soundtrack with their own sequencers, synthesizers, or drum machines, which means that you an score your own levels
Additionally, there’s a wide-range of ways to control the player in Vectronom on PC. Early demos had players using a DDR dance pad to move around, and thus showing just how pivotal (and versatile) the four-button control scheme is. Additionally, there is support for the players to be controlled by MIDI notes, meaning you can use electronic drum kits and pianos to move around. These are definitely a gimmick, but that doesn’t take away from just how cool it would be to screw around with it. For musicians, there’s clearly a lot more in the PC package to dig into and enjoy compared to the console release on Switch.
There is a lot to like about Vectronom even if it never reaches any incredible highs. It’s just a well-designed rhythm game with a lot of heart put into it. The stylized graphics and upbeat music help give it a surprising amount of personality that doesn’t fully translate to still screen shots. While it’s clear that the PC release is superior due to its additional features and quirks, the Switch version still holds a lot of value as a party game. The simple control scheme is perfectly paired with Joy-Cons, and it’s easy to have a blast when playing with others.