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Vectorlord

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Shoot-'Em-Up
Developer: NerveQuake Software
Release Date: May 18, 2020

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PC Review - 'Vectorlord'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 24, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Become the titular Vectorlord and battle the all-consuming Infectophage in a challenging old-school twin-stick shooter inspired by the heyday of ‘90s DOS gaming.

On the PC, twin-stick shooters are commonplace, and even the addition of RPG elements is not revolutionary anymore. Giving it a retro look is almost a calling card for indie games nowadays, so that doesn't make a title stand out. When you look at Vectorlord, it's instantly familiar, even with every disparate element it mashes together into one cohesive package. Thankfully, it does that quite well.

In a faraway galaxy stands a planet of programs being invaded by a giant tower known as the Infectophage. With the Infectophage draining away the planet's Deltas, it is only a matter of time before the programs that depend on the Deltas die out. In a desperate attempt to stop extinction, a program named the Vectorlord was reactivated. Though capable of being an uncontrollable source of destruction, it also remains the programs' only hope at survival.


The best way to describe Vectorlord's gameplay is that it is a smorgasbord of ideas. At its core, the game is a twin-stick bullet hell shooter. You fire in all directions with unlimited ammo, and while you don't have a small hitbox like in other bullet hell shooters, you can take some hits before you lose a life. You also have a dash ability that can be used as a melee attack. The shooting is where you see inspiration from other titles, as you always have four different gun types and can switch between them, instead of being stuck with one type until another is picked up. Taking a page from Gunstar Heroes, picking up different gun types on the field gives you a new gun, and while it is limited in ammo, it feels like you have a varied lineup of weapons, even if those combinations only last in short bursts.

Instead of confining you to rooms, you are placed in automatically scrolling vertical levels. The scrolling isn't fast, but it is enough that you can take some time to go over the whole field. Deviating from this formula a bit, the levels have no real borders on either side, so going left or right makes the camera zoom out to reveal more area for you to explore. The game ensures that no enemy shots are coming from those sides until you reveal an enemy, but exploration is key when you realize that every level has an ever-present void. You can't shoot while in the void, and while it doesn't equal instant death when you hover over it, it means health loss when you stay in the void for too long. The result is that you get into a habit of frantically dashing when you aren't on solid ground. Alternatively, you can warp to a number of totems in each level to ensure you're on safe ground; there are times when you'll lose your bearings, since it can be tricky to target totems, and you can easily warp to a different totem.

As expected nowadays, Vectorlord employs an upgrade system via the use of cash and keys. Keys found throughout a level can be used to buy upgrades like turrets or the ability to automatically attract collectibles. If you can't find the keys, you can buy them via the purple deltas picked up throughout each level. That cash can also be used to buy further upgrades, such as an extra heart so you can take one more hit before death.


The game also has an interesting take on the lives system that you see in survival or roguelike games. Every life you have runs on a heart system, and an average of three hits will usually do you in if you don't pick up extra health. In classic fashion, the game sends you back to the beginning of a level to try again. If you reach your corpse in that life, you can recover it and keep your life count steady. Die before that, and you'll only recover your new corpse instead.

The move acts as a nice band-aid for the fact that Vectorlord remains tough but not in a soul-crushing way, and that's all thanks to the use of scaling and cash. Unlike many other games, picking up cash is almost essential for upgrades and unlocking access to levels. If you use some of the upgrades you bought with keys, you'll need to pay a fee to bring them with you in a level, and that fee is required whether you enter a level for the first or fifth time. Some of the power-ups also start increasing in price when you buy more of them, so coming into a level will produce this slow burn of your funds if you aren't good at beating levels and getting cash while doing so.

You can try to mitigate this by returning to older levels and farming for cash, but the game gradually increases the difficulty on those levels so farming also becomes tougher. On top of that, the auto-saving feature means that losing all of your lives results in your save being completely deleted. In a way, this is reminiscent of classic action games that wanted you to finish it all in one sitting; this title factors in some quality of life improvements, so it's not such a big ordeal.

The result is a game that provides a tough but fair challenge on the normal and higher difficulty levels. On easy, the game is challenging, but the fees associated with levels and power-ups are lower, so beating the game is completely doable. It helps that the shooting is solid all around, and the dash mechanic is powerful enough to create moments of frenzy that almost always end up with you coming out in better shape than before. It's satisfying, and when compared to other bullet hell games, you feel that you used some skill to beat the game rather than infinite continues. That's a great impetus to test yourself with another run at the higher difficulty levels.


The presentation is quite nice. Graphically, Vectorlord is filled with bright neon colors for almost everything except for the floor, so everything pops that much more. The sizable sprites for the enemies make them easier to read, while the white circle around your character makes it easier to figure out where you are. The game runs at a steady frame rate, even when the screen is filled to the brim with objects; the low system requirements almost ensure that this game will perform as intended for a majority of players. Sound-wise, the effects are sharp, and while the music isn't quite chiptune, it still evokes the fast, action-filled vibe that games always strived for in the late 1990s.

Vectorlord is good. The twin-stick mechanics remain solid, and it doesn't feel out of place since the game pairs this with old-school automatic vertical scrolling. The attack system is deep for a shooter of this type, and while the various mechanics do their best to challenge your progress, it isn't overdone to the point where it feels unfair. For genre fans, this is an absolutely solid pick-up.

Score: 8.0/10



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