It’s not uncommon for a game to start out well and then fall apart to varying degrees at the end. The inverse, where a game leaves a negative first impression but that turns out to be enjoyable, is less common, and is a pleasant surprise when it does happen. That brings us to Vectorman.
Released in 1995 by Blue Sky Software and Sega, Vectorman is a late Genesis game that, in some ways, touches on the environmental craze of the early to mid 1990s. Vectorman’s plot is that by the mid 21st century, humanity has turned Earth toxic, so they go off to colonize other planets, leaving behind robots made out of orbs, or “Orbots”, to clean up the mess and make it inhabitable again. One day, a nuclear bomb ends up wired to the control circuits of Raster, the Orbots’ leader. Raster renames himself Warhead, and tells the Orbots to remake Earth as a planet of death for the humans’ eventual return. Luckily, one Orbot, Vectorman, was off the planet delivering sludge to the Sun while this was going on. Returning to Earth, Vectorman vows to stop Warhead and return something resembling peace to the Earth.
Disarming Warhead involves going through 16 levels, which the game calls “Days”. On most of the Days, you’ll run and jump through them, dodging, or shooting, or even stomping (More on this later) enemies to make it to the end. Vectorman can also double-jump, and the second jump causes rockets to come out of his feet. Timing this properly over an enemy causes incredible damage; in the right hands, the second jump becomes your strongest attack.
Of course, you don’t need to use it in an offensive capacity. I managed to beat the game without knowing exactly how the stomp worked offensively. Vectorman has other tools to aid him on his journey. One is the ability to change into other form. These forms, like bombs or drills, turn Vectorman invincible, and allow him to break certain walls, floors, or ceilings. Other powerups change Vectorman’s gun, allowing it to shoot through walls, or giving it a spread pattern. Score multipliers, 1-ups, and checkpoints are also scattered throughout the levels.
Ecco the Dolphin made an excellent first impression with its concept and atmosphere. Vectorman’s first impression is less successful. Seconds after beginning the game, you’ll run to the right and get sniped by an enemy who is just barely on the screen. This is far from the last time it’ll happen. Your first impression won’t get better when you run out of lives and discover the game has no continues. To offset this, you can take four hits before you die, and shooting enemies will frequently cause them to drop live recovery. Additionally, grabbing temporary score multipliers also multiplies the amount of health life recoveries give you, and you can find items to increase your maximum health capacity. Finally, 1-ups, besides being hidden in the levels, are also awarded by crossing certain score thresholds.
Boss battles are the entirety of four of the sixteen days. These are the weakest part of the game, relying on gimmickry, and siphoning your limited lives until you figure out the gimmick behind them (I lost four lives in Day 7’s battle before I realized why I was dying).
The boss battles, however, are the earliest indication of the game’s attention to graphical detail. In some respects, Vectorman is Sega’s answer to Donkey Kong Country. As you go through the game, you realize that the graphics push the Genesis to its limit. In particular, the lightning effects on Day 12 impressed me even though I was playing the game for the first time for this series.
Despite the lack of continues, and despite that I apparently played the game wrong, the game is beatable if you dedicate a day to it. It took me about four and a half hours to beat the game for the first time, and that included an unsuccessful attempt that ended on the final boss. With more practice, you can knock a playthrough down to about ten minutes.
Given how it started off for me, Vectorman was a pleasant surprise. It’s worth playing if you like either run-n-gun games or platformers. Besides the Genesis original, it was re-released on PC, on the Wii Virtual Console, and as part of the Sega Genesis Collection. However you decide to play it, I recommend doing so.