Vesper: Zero Light Edition (Switch) Review

There’s no shortage of moody puzzle platformers, with trendsetters like Limbo and Inside alongside Little Nightmares and Unravel, offering slower and more thought-provoking platforming than the typical Mario and Donkey Kong fare. Enter Vesper: Zero Light Edition, another atmospheric adventure that wears its inspiration on its sleeve and hopes to print its footprint in the crowded space.

You play as an android named Seven who is lost on a largely deserted planet with remnants of an ancient civilization that has long since reached its demise. It’s up to you to explore these lands and discover the truth about what happened here. It’s a barebones plot, mainly told through scattered message logs tucked away in hard-to-reach places, and whatever backstory you can put together from the environment design. I didn’t get much out of the story, nor did I feel influenced by the ending, which is clearly intended more than justifies its build-up, but in terms of creating an atmosphere for moment-by-moment exploration, it should be goal.

This overall vibe is supported by the visual and audio design, which is arguably the game’s greatest strength. The foreground uses a silhouette art style very reminiscent of Limbo, with little detail beyond the bold black shapes, but this is in stark contrast to some strikingly colorful vistas that create stunning vistas despite their simplicity. Each of the main levels uses a different color scheme, with the bold colors actually showing up on the Switch OLED’s screen if you’re lucky enough to have one. Palette aside, the level design is simple, but often includes some beautiful background elements, such as gigantic mechs or monolithic statues, with the camera straining at certain moments to sell the grandiosity of the scenery.

Your adventure through this barren wasteland is challenging, with Seven being completely defenseless when his adventure begins. As you progress through the linear levels, you will encounter aggressive robot enemies roaming the world. Your only defense to begin with is to hide in bushes lest they see you, chase you and end your existence in one swift move.

Soon you will discover a Drive Gun, a handy device that can capture light sources and transfer them to another location. Using the right stick gives you full control over your aim, with one trigger absorbing light and the other spitting it back out where you want it. It is a tool that serves multiple purposes. The simplest of these is simply unlocking a gate that requires a light source on a nearby pedestal, but it can also be used to block the path of a dangerous ubiquitous dark substance in the back half of the game, and it can be used to gain possession from enemies to activate specific switches or borrow their attacking skills to destroy other bots in your path.

It’s a small toolset, but the developers make clever use of it in the few hours it takes to see the credits roll. Ultimately, you’ll earn the ability to hold two and then three light sources at once, opening up some additional intricacies for complex puzzles and challenging scenarios where you have to juggle multiple enemies while trying to get to the other end unscathed.

It all sounds good on paper, but the overall performance leaves a lot to be desired. Character movement splatters, with an odd positional “shift” as you transition from one screen to another, that never feels quite right. Some platform openings are as wide as the maximum of your jump, meaning the smallest misstep could mean a long walk back to try again or an untimely demise in a hole or at the hands of an enemy.

This isn’t too harsh in most cases, but there were more than a few occasions where the amount of ground to re-tread got tiresome, and the loading times, while not terrible, can be just long enough to make death frustrating to prevent. Likewise, there are some scenarios where the solution of a puzzle can be obscure enough to clash with trial and error, and combined with a checkpoint that just feels a little too far back, it can make for a nasty time.

It also doesn’t help that occasionally the Drive Gun’s “catch and release” features just don’t seem to work the way they should, with your beam sometimes soaking up the light but never really finishing the job, and the same for the weather spit out to try to possess enemies. Deaths after these situations feel particularly cheap and unfair.

There are enough of these situations to be a nuisance, but they don’t completely cut the experience. There is fun to be had throughout the journey and often enough additional elements are introduced to keep the experience fresh throughout the run time. Juggling multiple light sources, barriers that prevent you from carrying light, motion sensitive traps, multiple enemies, and teleport platforms at once can be a handful, but more often than not it’s so balanced that the reward is worth it.

The satisfaction of clearing a tricky part by finding the solution after the initial feeling of helplessness is an essential part of any puzzle game, and Vesper delivers it in spades, even if there’s some frustration along the way. If you’re into a vast landscape to explore you won’t find it here, but this is a journey through an intriguing and often stunning world that slowly sinks into a groove to provide a satisfying puzzle platformer experience. It’s not without flaws, but it does enough justice to at least deserve a look.

Rating: 3/5