VooDoo Vince

Review

posted 10/9/2003 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
It’s only been a year since Microsoft’s first foray into the crowded world of the 3D platformer, Blinx the Time Sweeper, failed to excite game critics or Xbox owners. But with a new developer, and a brand new gimmick, Microsoft is ready to give this genre a second try. But should we expect the same boring level design, mundane puzzles, and frustrating game play?

Thankfully Voodoo Vince is a much better game. Almost every problem I encountered keeping me from enjoying Blinx has been addressed and resolved here. But this game is far from perfect, and shows that Microsoft still has some work to do before they can compete with the Mario’s, Sonic’s, and Jak’s of this industry. For now, though, this is the best platformer you can buy on the Xbox.

Vince’s life comes about through a tragic situation involving the kidnapping of the voodoo high priestess Madam Charmaine. After the violence has subsided, in a rip off of Pinocchio sure to have Geppetto rolling over in his grave, Voodoo Vince comes to life and becomes a real toy. He’s only a foot tall, has one eye, and is made entirely of burlap, but that’s not going to stop him from saving his princess … er, high priestess.

All right, before you boo and hiss, I didn’t make this stuff up. Thankfully Vince isn’t buying it either, as he seems fairly ambivalent about the whole problem. The game’s sense of humor tends to fall on the sarcastic side, but don’t let it fool you, there are more than a few bits of witty dialog sprinkled throughout the adventure. It may take awhile, but Vince will grow on just about everyone given enough time.

The story is nothing more than a flimsy excuse to develop a game that allows a voodoo doll to inflict harm on himself for no other reason than the betterment of his quest. But having said that, I honestly don’t see a problem with it. This idea of hurting yourself to kill the enemies is novel, and certainly intrigues me in a perverse sort of way.

As he explores the countryside, Vince will run into new voodoo powers he can pick up, eventually collecting all 30. Many of them silly, like the tornado or the blender, but there are some that offer up a good visual as well as a few chuckles. My personal favorite, running with scissors, involves a joyful Vince skipping around with scissors only to cut himself into two. In another you see what it would be like if the 1930’s mafia was interested in snubbing out frightened voodoo dolls.

Each of these voodoo deaths kill everybody close to Vince, making a lot of combat a breeze. But using your voodoo powers alone won’t do everything for Vince, he can also jump and spin and punch, a general assortment of generic 3D platformer moves sure to come in handy throughout the quest.

While there are a few well-developed puzzles, most of the challenge of Voodoo Vince comes from simple jumping exercises. Like so many platformers before it, this game is no different when it comes to moving platforms, tricky jumps, and bottomless pits. Seasoned gamers won’t bat an eye, but the game does manage to become a little cheap towards the end.

To aide him on these harrowing jumps, Vince has been given the ability to hover. Working much like a parachute, this trick allows you to slowly aim where you’re going so you don’t fall into too many pits. This is just one of the many useful additions added to the game to make it a joy to play. The controls don’t really do anything special, but they are always precise, they are extremely easy to use, and are never to blame when you fall in the drink.

All through Vince’s journey we are treated to some of the most bizarre, if not morose, visuals you have seen in a platformer. This interpretation of New Orleans paints it as a dark and dreary place, where many ghoulish things are waiting in each dark alley. A place filled with dread and fear. There’s no doubt about it, while most conventional platformers are bright and cheery, Voodoo Vince bring a decidedly darker approach to the party.

Gloominess aside, the lands you travel through could not be more enchanting. While the game does not push the limits of the Xbox hardware, Vince is dripping with style. The architecture looks like it comes straight out of a Tim Burton movie, using anything but straight lines and adding a coat of mystery to everything you run across. Even the most mundane things, like street signs and swampland, all sparkle with originality.

Clocking in at around ten hours, Voodoo Vince may seem a little on the short side, but the developers at Beep Industries have crammed a lot of adventure into that amount of time. You won’t just be wandering around cemeteries and carnivals all day, oh no, you will be flying a rocket plane, racing a rat, using a fanboat, and even getting some serious drain damage in a bumper car. Up until the end of the game you will be on the edge of your seat wanting to know what comes next.

Voodoo Vince even manages to pack in a few impressive boss battles, which usually happen in a epic fashion. My favorite involves a doll who has taken over a scale model of a train set. The entire battle involves you jumping over buildings, navigating around mountains, and eventually making your way to the exactly location where two trains are about to have a head on collision. There are only a few bosses, but each of them are memorable in their own way.

Where the game starts to fall apart is when you get past the style. Unfortunately Vince’s quest is pretty linear, and a little on the short side. All throughout the game your path is clearly laid out in front of you, never offering another path, or multiple ways of completing your goals. There are little nooks and crannies to be found, but not nearly as many as you’d expect in this day and age. This isn’t a big deal the first time through, but with nothing extra to do or see once you’ve beaten it, Vince is left with not a lot of replay.

Also, it would have been nice for a little more depth on the actual Voodoo Vince character. Between his punches and spin attack, he’s a fairly limited character. He’s a slow mover with some pretty ineffective attacks. Perhaps if he could throw rocks or pick up a stick or something it could add a new element to the combat aspect of the game. I wouldn’t have minded earning a new move after every boss, or something to keep the character fresh.

The whole gimmick of hurting yourself to hurt others wears thin the longer the game goes on, and never really plays a prominent part in the game. It would have been nice to have some control over what voodoo power you were going to use, or perhaps have it play a bigger part in the puzzles. The game ends up squandering a lot of the potential it had early on, hopefully to be addressed if a sequel is made.

Otherwise Voodoo Vince is a great second try at the 3D platformer. In just about every way possible Vince has improved on Blinx the Time Sweeper, and even manages to be a character that you can’t help but fall in love with. The gimmick seems a little forced, but given the chance, I think this is a character that could have some pretty creative adventures. It’s no perfect, but it’s a fun Xbox platformer that should not be written off.




B-
There is no reason for Microsoft to beat themselves up over Voodoo Vince, it’s a great game with only a few noticeable flaws. Any gamer patient enough to work all the way through the game will find themselves experiencing a fun adventure that is the best platformer on the Xbox thus far.