Vectorman is a run and gun platformer developed by Blue Sky Software and published by Sega for the Genesis in 1995. Vectorman was one of the final releases for the Genesis and due to how late in the Genesis lifecycle it was released, it went somewhat unnoticed because it was released 3 months after the North American launch of the Playstation. At the time, Sega was still developing the Sega Saturn, which was still at least 6 months away from being released and the Nintendo 64 was still 18 months away from being released. This meant that Sega was sandwiched between the new Playstation whose launch was the largest of its kind of all time, but still ahead of the Nintendo 64, however the monumental launch of the Playstation meant that a lot of 1995 and 1996 Genesis releases like Vectorman went somewhat under the radar. Vectorman was also considered to be Sega’s answer to the hugely successful SNES series Donkey Kong Country because Vectorman also used 3D rendered backgrounds.
The story of Vectorman is set in the Earth year 2049 where the population of Earth embarks on a voyage to colonise other planets in the Solar System. However, humans have left Earth in a dire state because of the extremely high levels of pollution and littering that have taken over Earth. A series of robots called Orbots are deployed and their job is clean up the earth after the humans, however one of these Orbots, Raster is accidentally attached to a working nuclear missile and goes insane, leading to him becoming a evil dictator called Warhead, who threatens to kill all humans who return to Earth.
Vectorman is a humble Orbot whose job to clean up toxic sludge by dispersing it into the sunlight, returns to Earth after his previous trip to find huge amounts of confusion and chaos caused by Warhead. The other Orbots are under Warhead’s control and Vectorman did not fall under his Warhead’s control because he was away from Earth when the other Orbots was put under Warhead’s control. Vectorman then takes upon himself to defeat Warhead, free the Orbots under Warhead’s control and restore peace to Earth.
Considering the fact that this is a run and gun platformer, a lot of care and attention was taken to make the story really interesting and engaging. The amount of back story in the game really helps explain what Vectorman is going and what caused Warhead to go insane, rather than potentially having a potentially generic story. The story is great because it helps to build more than just a world for the game, but it helps create a entire universe.
The first thing I will mention about the gameplay is how difficult of a game this is because the difficulty curve is really steep right from the outset. The game throws the player into the first level and basically asks the player to learn the controls and mechanics of the game quite quickly. There is quite a lot that the player has to learn in a very short period of time and the enemies are ruthless with their accuracy and their sheer determination to wipe out the player. The annoying thing though is that there are some levels which are on rails and the game during this levels becomes a game or trial and error. The game also has no continues available, meaning that the game will send the player back to the start of the game many times.
On the positive side, the graphics of the game are simply amazing and it really utilises the full capacity of the Genesis processor. The amount of detail in the backgrounds whilst maintaining the frame rate is simply incredible because frame rate decreases only tend to happen when there are many sprites on screen. The detailing on the foreground as well is really good as well because Vectorman was designed in such a way that it makes the character who is a robot have quite the personality.
The controls of the game are fantastic and really responsive. The only time where the controls are an issue are on upward slopes or during times where the game has a lot of lag. When the player is on a slope, Vectorman will always shoot up, but when the player press down, sometimes the character will run downhill instead. The amount of slope that the player will face enemies on means that this will get quite annoying within a short period of time, but if the player can be tactical about facing these enemies, then it will become a non issue. I feel that the controls respond really well and it allows for button mashing to defeat enemies on screen quickly, which is a run and gun game like this is an absolute key feature.
The level design of this game is absolutely phenomenal because the amount of different routes that the player take is vast. It feels like the developers took the huge exploration elements that made Sonic 3 really fun to explore, but bring it down to a much more manageable level without the potential of getting lost and confused. The exploration is vital as well for finding more enemies and more things to collect, as well as for perfectionists and completionists who are aiming for 100% completion on each stage.
The final thing of mention is the huge variety of powerups that the player can find by shooting down TV sets throughout the level. Everything from a laser beam through to Vectorman becoming a drill, the game’s powerups are definitely well thought out. The powerups can also open up new routes for the player to take, meaning that perfectionists can go for the 100% completion bonuses at the end of each level. The TV sets can also offer point multipliers between 2x and 10x and points in this game equal more lives. So, I think the power ups go hand in hand with the great level design and these two elements work wonders to give the player a lot to explore.
The soundtrack in Vectorman is fantastic because the deep electronic nature of it really adds to the mechanical nature of the character that the player is controlling. The music has a great stereo spread and sounds really good through headphones. The music creates a wonderful ambience to each level and helps adds a little bit extra to making each stage memorable. Even though the themes are recycled later on in the game, the music still never feels out of place with the environments that the player will be battling through. The themes as well are not short 30 seconds themes like Sonic The Hedgehog, they last between 1 and 2 minutes in length, which I think really allows for the themes to develop and not get repetitive.
Some of the composition styles and genres that are explored in the soundtrack are reminiscent of the style of music that was being composed for chart music at the time. There are quite a few stage themes that have elements for deep house music whilst the first stage theme has a dark trance vibe to it. These exploration of different genres of music throughout this soundtrack considering the hardware and sound capabilities of the Sega Genesis make the soundtrack very memorable.
The quality of the themes themselves is of a high standard because the themes themselves sound like the sort of music that would have potentially have been heard in underground bars and clubs at the time. The themes have great dynamics range and the stereo panning really helps to accentuate the dynamics and it also allows space for other elements of the compositions to breathe. There is also some tape delay as well in a few themes, which really showcases the maximum potential of the Genesis sound chip as it makes the soundtrack have a great all around sound to it.
Vectorman is a game that has stood the test of time extremely well and it still looks great today. The way that the backgrounds and foregrounds were designed really pushed the Genesis hardware to the maximum and the vast level design really goes hand in hand with the graphics. The controls whilst sometimes difficult to use and learn, once the player has adapted to them, are fun and extremely responsive to use. The music and soundtrack is simply stunning and it really showed the clarity and dynamics that the Genesis sound chip could achieve. Vectorman is an example that even though the Genesis hardware as at the end of the life span, that there was something special that could still be made to complete with the newly released Playstation and it’s library.
Copyright ©2017 Liam Piper. All Images Used Under Fair Use