Back in the early 2000s, my entire high school class was addicted to a little Java game called Jet Slalom. The game consisted of dodging left and right around pseudo-3D cones, with the landscape changing in colour the further you progressed. Knowledge of the later level layouts was used as a badge of honour and the competition to dive further and further into the game was fierce. Solo developer Taranasus has brought the block-dodging concept into modern day with Vecter, a stylish take on the idea complete with colourful wireframes, a killer soundtrack, and highly competitive leaderboards.
Gameplay in Vecter is of the ‘easy to pick up, hard to master’ variety. The player guides the ship left and right, avoiding the many obstacles littered across the racetrack. These hurdles are simple at first: a tall pillar, slowly rippling tiles, a wide barrier; but as one gets further into a run, the layouts become more complex, consisting of windmilling poles, narrow gaps, and unmissable jumps. Any collisions result in instant death, but the faster you move, the more points you receive, necessitating a careful balance of speed and caution to top the leaderboard. The placement of health and point powerups pushes the risk reward factor further: taking a sharp turn to pick up a life might be helpful later on, but such manoeuvring might also place the player on a more difficult section of the track.
Along with the spectre of your own previous best effort, the ghosts of other player’s ships can be seen along the road, pushing you to go a bit faster and take bigger risks. A slightly better player immediately becomes an enticing opponent: someone named Frankenstein was always just a little ahead of my efforts, and when I finally managed to beat them, I was thrilled. The layout of the level resets every 24 hours, keeping the competition fresh and constant.
Enhancing the racing experience is Vecter‘s brilliant soundtrack. Six songs spanning the genres of techno, synthwave, and dubstep help you get in the zone, a visualiser across the horizon emphasising every beat. The wireframe aesthetic works well, with highly readable colour coding of the ship, collectables, and environment—it all ties together in a gorgeous electro-pop interpretation of ’80s style and culture. The only letdown is the lack of sound effects: no big crunch when crashing into an object, bleeps or bloops for picking up items, or a fanfare when beating someone else’s score. This addition would help add extra impact to a failed run and give the world a greater sense of place.
Controls need to be tight for an experience like this to work, and thankfully across both keyboard and gamepad they feel just right. The default settings for a controller were a little strange (I have never used the DualShock’s ‘Options’ button to accelerate before), but the inputs were easily remapped in the game’s menus. Vecter is intended to have shooting mechanics implemented at some point in a future update, which might be why the face buttons were left unused. Menus cannot be navigated entirely with the controller, however, with no binding for ‘select option’ offered. The lack of mouse support is also a bit unusual, and will hopefully be addressed in the future.
Vecter provides simple, effective gameplay that is an addictive and moreish experience. Although the game is still in early access, the smoothness of the difficulty curve and the general level of polish is impressive indeed. I am excited to see how the game evolves as development progresses. Developer Taranasus is funding future development via a Patreon campaign, which can be found here if you would like to support the game.
Next week, we will be playing Kyle is Famous, a text adventure in which you aid the titular Kyle in preparing for an interview. The game can be found on Steam here. Discussions are happening on the Discord, or you can email me here if you would like to share some thoughts.