Vintage Year

Oenology at its Finest

With the growth of technology and the (sometimes) cunning investments of programs like Desura and Steam Greenlight, the world grows awash in cheap little indie games. There are plenty of horrible games alongside the mediocre, but as always, there are greats. Among those, an untold amount are roguelikes: the genre that’s easy to make and hard to master. I’m a sucker for the lean brilliance of the randomly generated dungeon, as evidenced by my choices of reviews, and as such I love to sample and tear apart the little games.

Continuing the legacy of hard-bit indie roguelites (that is, roguelikes that aren’t so much like Rogue; roguelikes with RPG elements that carry over from game to game.) comes Vintage Year, an 85 megabyte game with a good amount of replayability and future potential. The story is simple, barely existent, and yet rather unusual: an army of bandits has invaded a massive wine cellar complex, in search of an incredibly old and rare wine. Who the player-character is, or why they’re there, is never really revealed, but you must run through the cellar, killing bandits, fighting high-tech troops, warding off ghosts, and fending off zombies.

The art mimics a simple 16-bit pixelation, but it accomplishes a good amount. A lighting engine makes much of the cellar extremely dark, and the player’s view is largely obscured. On every floor of the cellar, the player gets a few candles to place, and they often end up being keys to survival. The lighting mechanic adds a lot to what immediately feels like a simple shooter-roguelike: the twisting corridors of the cellar hide traps, and enemies abound. Turning your back obscures everything behind you, and you have no idea what you’re walking into. The easiest way to die is to run into a room covered in enemies, where every last inch of the floor is spikes.

The player has to move slowly to avoid running into an impossible situation, but once the enemies are upon you, speed is paramount. At times, the whirling of blades and dodging of bullets puts Vintage Year near a bullet hell shooter, and the perpetual low health and fast pacing hearken to the frenetic Hotline Miami. If you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s a very deadly combination, even if it weren’t in the dark. Combined with a variety of weapons and a long list of playable characters (including a custom character), each with their own abilities, the formula for replayability is there.

What stops Vintage Year from being one of those indie greats, like Binding of Isaac, is its size. It has a good amount of weapons, but it could certainly use more. Its difficulty can make it seem long at first, but it quickly becomes terribly short. It’s a simple, lean game made by the unheard of Nooner Bear Studio, and it likely lacks for time and money and maybe even experience. However, it’s been updated more than your average little indie game since its release in the beginning of January, with large amounts of content being added. It’s not worth considering finished, and that makes me optimistic, rather than annoyed.

Plus, it’s five dollars. For that price, it’s more than fair.

pwasted@synthesis.net