“A recent rumor has it that a certain cave at the edge of the woods guards an unfathomable treasure. While a handful of intrepid adventurers have ventured into the cave already, none have returned.”
So begins the story of Vagante. Childlike fascination take you over as the parallax scrolling, delightfully pixellated intro casts you as a vagabond headed to this cave, jumping off of mule-drawn carriage with the hope of discovering unknown treasures driving you forward.
You select from one of three classes unlocked by default – Knight, Rogue, and Mage – and forward you go, hopping off the starting platform… directly into a pit of spikes, which instantly kill you and send you back to the character selection screen.
Repeat this several times, replacing pit of spikes with a number of traps, ranging from wall-mounted darts to man-eating plants to falling bricks, all of which reduce your character to a broken pile of mush, to be feasted on by monsters hiding in the dark. This is what your first half hour in Vagante will be.
Vagante features randomly generated levels, permadeath, and punishing environments, placing it firmly among its peers like Spelunky and Rogue Legacy. Beyond those, however, it infuses a number of ARPG aspects that make it feel like a sadistic 2D Diablo, if the Diablo series’ difficulty was permanently set to 11.
Just when you feel like you’re getting used to the punishing, nebulous darkness surrounding you, learning to avoid traps and rescue pixellated pixies, you’ll run into a boss. As of now, this reviewer has encountered them in three flavors: a roided adventurer, who mercilessly cuts you down in his greed-fueled rampage, a seemingly inconquerable dragon with a health pool dozens of times larger than your own or that of any enemy, and a nightmare-inducing rockworm that would make Onyx cower in terror. This last massive monster will chase you across the level until you become a meal for its offspring.
A wealth of treasure inhabits each floor of the dungeons, alongside enemies ranging from kamikaze fireflies to your common thug. Treasure chests grant one of a number of potions, which are initially undiscovered and vaguely described, or a piece of randomly enchanted loot for one of your character’s many item or weapon slots.
You’re able to unlock spells to fight or support yourself, and characters have the option of using any of three weapon classes: melee weapons, bows, and staves, the latter two offering a ranged option. Staves and spells consume mana, which regenerates slowly. Health, however does not.
Adding to the sprinkling of ARPGness is a stats and skillups feature, allowing you to increase various attributes of your character or unlock new abilities. All of these ingredients make for a challenging, but not frustrating, experience. In over an hour of play, I have yet to level up. Knowing that this is less a question of unfairness and more one of inattention and lack of reaction time is driving me to continue further, and I can assure you you’ll feel the same.
Vagante is expected to launch officially in July 2015. A playable Alpha demo is available on the game’s Kickstarter here.