Venture to the Vile clicked with me the first time I switched layers to solve a puzzle. I was trying to get to a lever that would open a door farther in, but there wasn’t a lever in the area I hadn’t pressed, and none of the ones I had opened the door. Then I remembered that one of them had extended a bridge to an area in the background. So I walked back to the bridge, shifted to the layer in the background, worked my way to the lever, and bingo: one open door. I love it when a plan comes together.
Venture to the Vile is a 2D Metroidvania with a twist. It’s set in a 3D world, and you can switch between areas in the foreground and background as long as you find a path to get you there. See something cool? You can probably go there. Developer Studio Cut to Bits wants to emphasize exploration and a sense of surprise in Venture to the Vile, and based on my time with it, I think they’ve nailed it.
Venture to the Vile – First Screenshots
Part of the appeal of Venture to the Vile is the world itself. Venture to the Vile takes place in and around the town of Rainybrook, where a mysterious substance called The Vile is corrupting everything, transforming the inhabitants of an otherwise charming and colorful world into horrifying monstrosities. Rainybrook takes cues from the Victorian period, and you can see it in the architecture of the town itself and the masks the characters wear. Speaking of characters, Venture to the Vile’s cast has a lot of personality, from Dr. Crow, who wants to dissect you, to friendly town butcher, or the two shady guys who really don’t want you listening into their conversation. Rainybrook is core to Venture to the Vile: other characters will give you quests, and you’ll be able to visit the town’s many shops to upgrade the abilities you’ll acquire by… ahem, venturing into the vile.
Venture to the Vile also features a dynamic weather and day/night cycle and it’s not just for show. The weather and time of day will change where characters are, what monsters inhabit an environment, the quests you can pick up and do, the narrative you’ll experience, and the upgrades you’ll find.
That, of course, is where the actual gameplay comes in. Venture to the Vile’s unnamed, stag-masked hero is looking for his friend Ella, who has disappeared in the Vile. Going into the Vile is dangerous; it corrupts everything it touches: plants, animals, people, you name it. Our stag-masked hero has a few tools up his sleeve to fight back, though. He can attack enemies with the retractable blade coming out of his arm, parry telegraphed enemy attacks, and double-jump. I was early on, so my ability set wasn’t as robust as it would be later, but it felt good and appropriate to the environment I was exploring. You can save at camps to replenish healing items, but it also returns defeated enemies to life, making for interesting risk-reward decisions if you have to backtrack. Naturally, you will have to if you want to see everything Venture to the Vile’s dynamic weather and day/night cycle opens up. I enjoyed Venture to the Vile most when it asked me to do a bit of everything: switch between the different layers of the world to solve puzzles, fight off corrupted Vile-monsters, and mix my basic platforming abilities up with environmental additions like ziplines.
In fact, I was so into it that I didn’t realize I’d walked into a boss fight against the world’s angriest grasshopper until it started. Like the rest of Venture to the Vile, the fight was a mixture of platforming and combat. I spent most of the fight avoiding the grasshopper, who attacked from various angles, spawned Vile on platforms to limit my movement, and did an area-of-effect attack that forced me to dodge, only hitting him when he stopped for a breather after a flurry of attacks. The fight wasn’t complex, but it was enough to keep me on my toes, and I barely prevailed. My reward was a dash ability.
You see, killing enemies in the Vile rewards currency that can be used in Rainybrook, but killing bosses like the grasshopper allows the protagonist to absorb their abilities, as well. Absorbing Vile means becoming more and more like the monsters you’re fighting, adding an intriguing hook to the narrative. I was excited to try the dash for myself, but the playable section of the demo ended there.
However, I did get to see what Venture to the Vile looked like a little later courtesy of a hands-off showing by Studio Cut to Bits. In it, our stag-masked hero was exploring a windmill overrun with Vile. In addition to the dash I’d unlocked, which can be used in the air as well as on the ground, he also had the time-honored Metroidvania ability to wall jump and a tentacle arm that allowed him to leap to nearby grapple points. The windmill had more layers than the environment I’d seen earlier and was much more vertical. Traversing it meant using those abilities and manipulating the windmill’s internal machinery by riding conveyor belts, hitching a ride on grapple points, and freeing wooden gears from the Vile while navigating environmental obstacles and contending with Vile-infested spiders and rats.
The segment ended with a multi-stage boss fight against a giant tentacle-eye. It’s a complex fight, with players having to deal with the eye’s attacks in addition to stage hazards, a moving conveyor belt that can change directions, and rope-grapple points. I can’t wait to play it for myself.
Honestly, that last sentence sums up how I feel about what I played and saw of Venture to the Vile. Studio Cut to Bits is developing a unique, literally layered Metroidvania with beautiful art and an intriguing world, and I can’t wait to see more of what awaits us – and what our stag-masked protagonist might transform into – in the future.
Will Borger is a Pushcart-nominated fiction writer and an IGN freelancer. His work has also appeared at TechRadar, GameSkinny, DigitiallyDownloaded.net, and Into the Spine. He specializes in covering fighting games, action games, strategy games, and first-person shooters. You can chat with him on Twitter @bywillborger.