Game Title: Vaccine
Developer: Rainy Frog
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Download: 308 MB
Availability: Digital Download (Europe, Japan, North America)
Battery Life: 2.5 – 3 hours
Game Modes: TV, Tabletop, Handheld
There are a lot of games in the indie world that have taken on the “random-generated dungeon” aspect into various genres. The first game of this type I played was The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. Others have adopted this as well. A First-Person Shooter did on the PS4 and PS Vita, and tons more have done it on PC. But you know what hasn’t been done before recently? A Resident Evil-like random-generated dungeon crawler.
The game we’re going to talk about I didn’t find out about until I was hunting around on the Japan eShop for the Switch and saw what appeared to be Classic RE screenshots, but under a different name. Upon further inspection, that game quickly came under my radar as I’ve always been a fan of Resident Evil and consider myself exceptionally skilled at the classic styles of RE1-3.
Now that I’ve had lots of time to dive into this game, it’s time for a review. Here’s my review of Vaccine for the Nintendo Switch!
The story of Vaccine is a tad confusing. The basic premise is that your friend is infected with some sort of disease and you, donning a gas mask to protect yourself, set out through a mansion where a Vaccination is supposed to be hidden. You have 30 minutes before your friend turns, so you must navigate the mansion and other Infected before time runs out or your friend will permanently be ill and die.
The neat thing is that it gives you enough to go off of, but there’s a whole different, hidden storyline behind the place you’re at that relates almost directly with today’s real-world science. While the whole infection thing is a little wacky (it has to do with the Particle Colliders), it’s got that interesting “Oh there’s a pretty decent backstory here if you read all of these files”.
The story is a bit out of tune with today’s storytelling, but with trying to recreate Classic RE, it does a pretty nice job.
Vaccine is a random-generated survival horror game with shooting and RPG elements thrown into the mix. For an easier way to explain it, it’s Classic Resident Evil in a randomly-generated dungeon. You run around to collect items and weapons as you navigate pre-rendered rooms that spawn random items and enemies every run you play.
I say “run” because you have to think like The Binding of Isaac. There are no Ink Ribbons. There are no Type Writers. You have one chance and if you die, you start over from the beginning. Lose all your progress. Lose all of your items. Lose everything and start from scratch.
Now, as I said before, the dungeons are randomly-generated. At the start of a run, you spawn in a room with your sick friend with a note and knife nearby to be picked up and equipped to defend yourself. You then venture out into the mansion to navigate your way to the teleporters that will eventually let you reach the vaccination to save your friend.
While that sounds easy, it’s far from it because there are a bunch of monsters and Infected roaming around just waiting to kill you. Zombies. Bats. Rats. Four-Legged Infected that move like Lickers from RE2. Etc. Have you ever played a classic RE game with nothing but the knife? I have, and I still have a hard time with Vaccine’s difficulty.
The random-generated element applies to all items and all weapons and all enemies. That means you might get a handgun in the first room on one run, but never find any firearms your next run. So, how well-equipped you are to fight off the hordes of the Infected depends solely on how good your run is. Also, on how well your stats are.
As I mentioned earlier, there are RPG elements in the game. Every time you open a door or damage an enemy, you gain XP towards leveling your stats. Each stat has different XP costs to level and affects the game in different ways. One stat increases your damage while another increases your luck when picking up items. There are a lot of stats to level individually and the character you choose when you start also affects what stats you start out with.
The stats really help, but the main problem is the difficulty. I’ve gone through RE1 with only the knife dozens of times and am pretty decent at most of RE2 doing the same. I’ve even done most of RE4 with no guns. But this game is difficult because of the random items. There are a couple enemy types that are just not doable with the knife. The Licker-like enemies on all fours move a lot faster than you and hit faster than you. Even with the handgun, you likely won’t get out of the encounter unscathed, and if you run into 2 in the same room, it’s almost a guaranteed Game Over unless you have massively leveled the Damage Resist or found an amazing weapon earlier in your run.
Being hard isn’t the problem here. It’s being hard to the point where you literally can’t do it with only the knife if you get one of those runs that never gives you a gun before you find these enemies. Lickers in RE2 can be taken down with the knife without much difficulty, but there’s virtually no knock-back here, so imagine a Licker that attacks twice every second that doesn’t get knocked back by your knife swings.
Aside from enemies, there are some light puzzle elements, too. There are color-coded locked doors and keys you can find to unlock those doors, so those old days of RE1’s Sword and Shield Keys return here, though it’s far less difficult to find the keys since the mansion is considerably more linear than the Spencer Mansion was.
As far as length, that is a really good question. Obviously, a single run cannot take you more than 30 minutes or you automatically lose. But the time it takes to learn the system, try different things out, and try to get lucky on runs will make that little 30-minute venture to winning just once easily 5-10 hours. While each run before dying probably won’t be more than 10 minutes, the random aspect and learning to use stats correctly takes a very long time to learn, even for an RE veteran. And even with that, RE veterans will keep coming back like I did, refusing to believe the objective is impossible.
Controlling the game is pretty simple. Simple, but aged and nostalgic. This game tries to mimic the gameplay of the original Resident Evil games (Not REmake), so it comes with Tank Controls in tow. That means you press up to move forward and hit left or right to manually turn your character. It works a little better here than in Classic RE because of the Analog Stick presence, but it’s still that same, clunky control setting that Classic RE fans remember.
So, you use the Arrow Buttons or Left Analog Stick to move around. You can draw your weapon to fire with any of the 4 trigger buttons (L, R, ZL, ZR), and the + button is used to open the menu to equip items and level up your stats. You can use the A button to interact with objects and B to run. X reloads your weapon if you’re using a firearm, and that’s pretty much it. Pretty simple control scheme.
First of all, the graphics of this game look about like a PS1 game, which it is meant to. All environments are pre-rendered with 3D-rendered items, enemies, and the player character on-screen. The models have jagged edges right where they did in the original games, and the items are just 3D enough to recognize by looking closely. They really nailed the look of the old RE games.
Another interesting feature is that they added a TV Graphics Mode that shows random static across the screen like you’d see from a 1990s TV to further simulate what the RE games actually looked like on a TV.
Performance I have no real issues with. It plays at a nice, smooth frame-rate and the loading sequences are practically non-existent. The real surprise is coming in the next section of the review.
This is a game with PS1 graphics. I expected the Battery Life to be stellar, but I was very, very wrong about that. Here are my times, from 100% to 0%:
Max Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 21 minutes
Max Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 36 minutes
Low Brightness + Wi-Fi – 2 hours, 54 minutes
Low Brightness + No Wi-Fi – 3 hours, 03 minutes
Read those again to make sure they really settle in. 2 hours and 21 minutes with max settings for a game with PS One graphics. Do you know how long Zelda: Breath of the Wild lasts on Max Settings Battery? What used to be the biggest battery-eater of the Switch? 2 hours and 36 minutes. How does a game mimicking PS1 visuals use more battery than Breath of the Wild?
In conclusion, Vaccine is a very difficult survival horror take on the random-generated-dungeon genre. On the downside, the difficulty is perhaps a bit too high with the random element not giving you weapons most of the time, the battery life is far less than it ought to be, but if you’re looking for Classic RE on the Switch, this will definitely give you that feel.