Release Date: February 26, 2020
Price: $4.99 USD
Rating: M (Mature)
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows (Steam)
A code for this game was provided by Sometimes You
What's It About?
Vasilis is a hand-drawn adventure game from developer Marginal Act. Originally published on Steam in 2019, the game has seen a re-release on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. For the purposes of this review, I played the Switch Version.
The game centers around an elderly woman named Vasilis who inhabits a dark, dystopian city that has seen its fair share of hardship. War crimes, riots, and chaos abound, and Vasilis dives into the thick of it in search for her lost husband Peter. Be prepared to traverse some pretty strange and surreal environments as you unravel the mysteries that shroud the city and its inhabitants.
The best thing Vasilis has going for it is its artistic design. The game is entirely hand-drawn, like a comic sketch come to life. I've honestly never seen anything like it. Indie games often provide a kind of creativity that you just don't see from AAA titles, and Vasilis is a prime example of this. You can tell a lot of effort went into this aspect of the game, and Marginal Act should be commended for it.
There's also a pretty interesting story premise to delve into here. The game seems to be based on the Ukrainian revolution that took place in 2014. This actually caused me to do some outside research into the incident, which is not something I would have done otherwise. I learned something new through playing the game, and I've got to give it some credit for that. It's also nice to see such an unconventional protagonist, for once. How many games can you think of that star an old woman? I thought it was a neat touch.
To be completely honest, the gameplay-loop of Vasilis is not particularly interesting. In fact, it's downright tedious at times. Progression is locked behind having the right item to give to the right NPC in order to open up new areas, which involves a lot of aimless wandering. The game is extremely cryptic about what your objective is, which is arguably the point of an adventure game like this. But that leads me to one other glaring issue: the translation. Vasilis is chock-full of grammatical errors and strange word choices. For a game where progression is based around gathering hints from NPCs, this is one of the worst problems to have. I understand that the developers at Marginal Act are not native English speakers, but it was nonetheless very immersion-breaking for me.
And for as much as I praised the art style, it can be a double-edged sword. The entirely monochrome aesthetic can lead to a lot of visual fatigue after a while. This is not the sort of game you want to play for extended periods of time. Luckily, it's a very short game, and you could probably complete it in an hour if you know what you're doing. But personally, I would recommend giving your eyes a break and chipping away at it little by little. If you're prone to headaches, definitely keep this in mind before playing.
The loading times were by far the worst aspect of Vasilis for me. Transitioning from one area to another (which is something you do quite frequently) is usually a 5 or 6-second process. Now, I can't speak for the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game, but I believe this is an issue exclusive to the Switch version. I actually did a direct comparison with some footage of the PC version, and the load times are noticeably longer on Switch. This isn't an absolute deal-breaker, but it definitely marred the entire experience for me personally. Because of this, we're including a rating for the game AND a separate rating for the Switch version of it.
I really wanted to like Vasilis more. On the surface, it seemed like a creative little Indie that could provide an interesting gameplay experience. Unfortunately, the problems it has are simply too glaring to come away from it feeling satisfied. According to Marginal Act, Vasilis will be followed by three other games that take place in the same universe, so hopefully this game will be a stepping stone to greater things from them. If you're looking for something with a unique art style and an interesting story based on real world events, this might be your cup of tea. Just don't expect a whole lot beyond that. Who knows, maybe you'll glean more enjoyment from it than I did.