Vesta is a puzzle game disguised as a top-down action adventure. Vesta is also the Roman Goddess of health, home and family. Her priestesses, the Vestal Virgins, would have to tend the sacred fire at the heart of her temple. Should the fire ever be snuffed out, then the city of Rome would fall. Does Vesta the video game leave you with a feeling that is warm and pleasant, like being cosied up in your own home? Or will it cause you to feel cold and scared, as if your city was being raided by angry barbarians? And was that the strangest segue ever in a video game review?
Vesta sees a mysterious girl – unsurprisingly called Vesta – having to traverse a dangerous, abandoned and technologically advanced factory on a distant planet, with only a giant war droid for company. The presence of the war droid – imaginatively called Droid – is rather handy for her, as each level of the factory is filled with killer robots, deadly traps and pernicious puzzles, all attempting to prevent her from making it to the surface. For the purposes of the game the story only has to be basic, which it is, but it is also effectively delivered through charming motion comic cut-scenes, chats with various droids in-game, as well as reading the obligatory journal entries from the missing inhabitants of the station. You’ll find these on terminals dotted around the four stages and forty levels that make up the game.
The plot is simply there to tie the game together and provide a path through the puzzling action, so it’s a relief that the puzzles are really rather good. Vesta and Droid are both controlled by the player, either as a single unit restricted to only movement, such as when Droid carries Vesta, or by seamlessly switching between the two of them with the touch of a button.
Vesta has a special energy pack that can be used to remove energy from power nodes and certain enemy bots, she can then carry up to three units of energy to transfer power to other mechanisms around the factory. Conveyer belts, lifts, moving platforms and doors can all be manipulated in this way. Droid on the other hand has a big gun strapped to his arm, which enables him to stun enemies, allowing Vesta to safely suck out their power. To make things more complex, both characters have to make it to the exit and Vesta needs to have a certain amount of energy left to open the lift door at the end of each level.
Like all the best puzzle games, the central mechanic is simple, unassuming and easy to grasp. It’s how the developers then construct the levels around it that determines how much fun the experience will be. Fortunately, Finalboss Games have absolutely nailed this aspect of the game. The levels are short but deftly woven together to encourage the player to make the use of each character’s abilities.
Initially the map design is simple but soon multiple tiers are added to each level and with several routes to navigate, forcing the pair to split up and only able assist each other through the stages from afar. The puzzles are satisfying because, whilst challenging, they ultimately make sense within the rules that the game has established. However, despite the inclusion of well placed checkpoints there were a few moments when I became utterly stuck on a level and had to restart. Though this was usually my fault for having failed to remove energy from a power node or forgotten to take Droid with me over a moving platform. Either way, once my mistake had been realised, it was surprisingly quick to get back up to that point in the level again, mitigating any long term frustration or sudden rage-quits.
So, great puzzling and some good action too, as the game slowly develops your reactions until you find yourself having to dodge enemies, react with your own attack and switch between the two avatars all at once. It’s just a shame that the developer decided to include boss battles at the end of each stage. These painful relics of the past feel clunky and tired compared to the fresh and fast puzzling action on display elsewhere. It’s the typical ‘identify the bosses weakness and then repeat the same technique three times’ design that rarely works outside of Zelda.
The boss fights also expose the weaknesses in the control scheme, as everything suddenly becomes a bit fiddly and I never quite felt that the game was keeping up with my commands. It’s ironic that a developer called Finalboss Games would make such a hash of including final bosses. Fortunately, there’s not too many of them and once they’re done with you can get back to the good stuff. I would just question why they needed to be included at all.
There’s a few other issues here and there. Graphics are both strong and bold but also very repetitive, with little change to the visual design or colour pallet from level to level. The robots that inhabit the game are also limited to only a few different variations. The developers do get a lot of mileage out of the limited enemy types by utilising various combinations, but a little more variety wouldn’t have gone amiss. On occasion background art can obscure the action and Droid is incapable of extending his gun arm to let a shot off if the game think he’s standing too close to a piece of scenery. I think most of us can relate to that issue however.
Vesta was an absolutely delightful way to start off my gaming year. It’s hardly ground-breaking stuff but this is a solid, dependable and, most importantly, fun game. It’s all over rather quickly, but it’s a credit to the developers that this left me wanting more.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4