In a far-flung future, cyber-laden Vapor Trails from developer sevencrane (@sevencrane) presents a sidescrolling action game oozing with style. Weaving a plot of intrigue and mystery, the player fills the shoes of Val, part of a robotic line known as Valkyries, thrown out to waste away in The Deeps for being too adaptable. Your abilities take you far, though, as you find yourself working your way back to the surface for revenge.
Akin to something from Platinum Games, Vapor Trails focuses not only on cultivating a wonderful aesthetic, but also excellent gamefeel. Being an action title, it has you fight various enemies, ranging from the perfunctory slime to ten-foot-tall robots. There’s amazing flow to the combat, having you flit in and out of an engagement easily with a juicy dash alongside chunky hitstops on each swordfall. There’s also a definitive combat loop between offense and defense, having you pull back to a safe space to heal up, and holding Shift to charge yourself back up from a resource pool, itself refilled by landing blows on enemies.
While there’s only a demo build available and it has yet to be fleshed out, there are already upgrades that allow the player to build up an arsenal of skills à la Metroidvania, discovering new abilities that expand available options for combat and movement. This feeds into the nearly free-roam world that quickly opens up, lending the player impetus to pore over all the nooks and crannies, with plenty of secret areas pocketed among the platforms. There’s also a growing system for weapon upgrades, with currency scattered about the world that can be spent on new components to enhance your blade.
Beneath the moment-to-moment gameplay, there’s a delightful story bubbling. Val enters the world to a training exercise, serving as the tutorial. This leads to the revelation that a series of scientists are testing you, and seeing you move so fluidly through their obstacles prompts them to throw something even bigger at you. Your ease in toppling even that leads them to have you trashed, expecting that whatever lives in The Deeps will “take care of you” for them.
It’s here that you quickly become an angel of vengeance.
Along the way, Val finds herself intermingled with a variety of characters: a protective couple watching over their humble underground settlement, a young lad enjoying the waterfront, a shopkeeper fishing on the docks, an exiled engineer desperate to return to the surface. They create a tapestry of that which lies underfoot, a world separate from the hustle and bustle of city life. Each person you encounter lends a fresh perspective on this world, fleshing out a society that has been built around technology foreign to our time, yet grounded in reality by the humanity that comes through in the dialogue.
Speaking to sevencrane reveals a developer with deep love and care for his work, balancing development against a full time job. Despite the time commitments and energy spent, he still finds the time to finalize an AI system and scope out the rest of the project narrative-wise. Starting this nearly three years ago as an experiment to learn Unity, he’s come so far in creating a game that’s quickly approaching the polished state one would expect from a team of seasoned developers. Something worth noting is how beneficial it has been for him to have the game in the wild despite it being very much a work in progress, as each time a video emerges of someone playing, it serves, in effect, as a playtest, which lends some insight into how he manages to polish it so well as a singular developer.
While it’s still in its early stages, Vapor Trails sets a real vision for an ambitious project that can only get better from here. Offering a meaty bit to work through with its gameplay and story, it presents a foundation well worth delving into. If nothing else, the feeling of boosting at hyper speed across a map then meteor-dropping onto the head of a monster is well worth experiencing. The game is a joy to behold, and I for one cannot wait for it grow further. Sevencrane has a gem on his hands, and deserves oodles of love for laboring as long as he has on it. Vapor Trails absolutely needs to be on your radar, and I truly hope you’ll do yourself a favor by downloading it now.
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.