Switch version tested
Review code provided
It isn’t entirely clear what you’re getting into with Vasilis. First impressions often count, and when I first saw the trailer, it took me back to my Uni days of student filmmaking and an interest in abstract animation. Already this gives me the feeling that it’s going to be for a very niche market.
Vasilis tells the story of Vasilis, a retired teacher who was widowed when her husband Peter died some three years ago. However, there is evidence that he’s alive, so she sets out to find clues and the whereabouts of her beloved. Uncertain of the time Vasilis is set, it’s hardly a welcoming environment as it appears to be war-torn with drunks lying about, barricades stopping you from leaving the area, endless fires and what seems to be dead bodies in the street. I later learned that Vasilis was inspired by real events in Ukraine. Vasilis takes her surrounding in her stride, so I’m assuming this indifference is either because she’s as hard as nails or this has been going on for some time. Or both.
As a big point and click adventure fan, I was surprised to see that Vasilis had those basic elements of collecting items to add to your inventory and interact with NPCs. The Switch has been able to bypass character controls by using onscreen cursors that can be manipulated with the sticks, or sometimes with the touchscreen. With the sticks it’s very sluggish but still works in games such as Scheming Through the Zombie Apocalypse: The Beginning. In Vasilis, however, you take direct control of the elderly woman, moving left, right, up and down through various hand-drawn scenes.
There’s a good variety of scenes in the game, and when first starting out, there’s quite a bit of exploring. A handful of visual clues are thrown around to mention the direction you could be going such as signposts, but black patches of scribble represent most areas. That’s the technical term. No doubt these shapes are meant to be doorways, but the chicken scratch artwork doesn’t make it clear there’s an opening, but you inadvertently walk through it by accident.
On this basis, navigating Vasilis is a little confusing at times. Now and again there is a pop-up if you walk close to an item. This could mean you could pick it up. Still, other times there are no indications of what you can interact with so not knowing if my input played a part other than walking around a riot-infested town, I would hammer the A button now and then to see if I missed something. Doing this, however, meant that I would move to a new area as I was inadvertently standing next to one of these scribble doorways.
Interacting with other characters is a simple process of walking up to them, or in some instances; through them. A dialogue box will pop up which can be scrolled through with the A button as and when. There aren’t any dialogue choices available, but on occasion, you can give the other person an item in exchange for another. It’s not entirely intuitive, but you bring up your inventory with the Y button and select that item while standing over/in the character to hand it over. As you can expect from the visual style, there’s no animated piece, but a confirmation dialogue piece thanking you for the item or letting you know what you’re getting in return.
It wasn’t a slip when I referred to Vasilis walking through people. There were frequent glitches such as walking through objects, or the scale of the characters or buildings would be completely out of sync. Sometimes I liked this as it evoked this abstract quality and, for me, it was a visual treat, but when it came to gameplay, it could be irritating. One aspect of the controls that posed the biggest problem was drifting. Every other scene I would find myself fighting against the controls as Vasilis would be heading downwards without me touching the controls.
As a gamer with heritage, this used to happen with some games if you held a stick down on boot – it somehow recalibrated the controls. However, after multiple reboots, it would still do it. My main controls were a Hori-Pad which is less than a month old so none of this problematic drifting from the joy-cons. Yet, I tried with two different pro controllers then the official joy-cons (which are unaffected by drift) and this problem would still occur. As you’d expect, it wasn’t very reassuring and put me off playing the game. I’d leave it for some time and come back to it, and the controls would work again, but every so often would retort back to the drifting down to the bottom of the screen. Spooky.
Another beef I had with Vasilis was the English. As you may tell from my writing style, I can be very laid back on grammatical codes. While rules are there to be followed, it’s good to break them with a bit of flair. Unfortunately, the errors in the game were spelling mistakes (Vasilis’ husband is intermittently referred to as Peter and Petr – choose one and stick with it!), the dialogue doesn’t flow either and seems to have been influenced by a bit of Google Translate. It didn’t ruin the game, but it didn’t help with the size of the font and the line-height; it was a bit too condensed. Yes, I’m a bit of a font whore.
Back to the visuals again and you’ll either love them or hate them. If this was an animation or a short film, I’m sure I’d rank this much higher. As an interactive piece, i.e. a game, not so much. It’s rare in my experience to have controls so resistant to what I wanted to do, and the inconsistencies with the character names and story were a little too off point for me to be absorbed. As for the story, it’s a good one and makes a change to fighting off the undead or another Enter the Gungeon clone. Even better, how many elderly retired school teacher protagonists have you played lately? Indeed. Lara Croft need not worry just yet, but playing someone normal was unique.
If you like arthouse cinema, abstract art and mature themes, Vasilis demonstrates some interesting ideas and a Marmite aesthetic (you’ll either love or hate the artwork). Unfortunately, from this reviewers experience, the controls were infuriating, had questionable dialogue, and there wasn’t enough driving force to stay as engaged in the story as I had hoped.
TBG Score: 6/10
Platform: Steam, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 26/02/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Adventure, Puzzle
Developer: Marginal Act
Publisher: Sometimes You
Download link: eShop