Vitamin Connection (Nintendo Switch Review)

You’ve got to feel for the developers of Vitamin Connection. After putting such hard work into this, a global pandemic breaks out and suddenly a game where you fight the flu and other sicknesses hits a little too close to home. And what an ambitious game this is! Combining the non-United-States Nintendo series Kuru Kuru Kururin with a teeny-tiny handful of Mario Party-style mini-games and Katamari Damacy style quirkiness, Vitamin Connection manages to create a gaming cocktail unlike anything I’ve ever played. Of course, being a cocktail, VC is a bit drunk too. The issue here is that it doesn’t really commit to any of its own ideas. Well, except one really horrible mini-game that it commits to as if that mini-game was holding Wayforward’s family at gun point. But otherwise, it feels like a game that’s designed to test the waters to see what kind of stuff people are into. A sampler more than a fully fleshed-out concept. Even the spaceship-spinning twin-stick shooting sections feel like the developer wasn’t married to their gameplay. True or not, it feels like a game by developers who didn’t know if what they were doing was good or not.

Also, it’s apparently supposed to be a co-op game, but I can’t do anything with that. I’ve burned too many bridges with my family when it comes to co-op. They’ll (gladly) do any game that involves killing or humiliating me. Playing with me? They’d rather eat the controllers.

The basic premise is that you pilot a Joy-Con-shaped smart pill (aka a Vitamin so that we don’t have to imply you’re taking pills) that seeks out problematic areas of sick people (or animals.. or televisions) and cures them. Surprisingly, the story is probably the most memorable part of the game. I laughed out-loud multiple times throughout the seven or so hours it took me to finish Once the game gets going, the concept is an auto-scrolling twin-stick shmup where you have the freedom to choose which order to tackle the objectives. This is the red meat of the game, as the maps can be fun and the action.. when it actually heats up at least.. can be genuinely satisfying. Hell, it can be very fun. Also I think I said “Care Bear Stare!” when firing the gun at least twenty times. And it never got old.

BUT, the game seemingly has no faith in players, as there’s health refills all over. It feels like a baby’s game at times, so much so that I checked to see if I somehow missed a difficulty setting and perhaps the difficulty was set to “recently lobotomized three-year-old” by mistake. There were no options. Which is fine, I guess. As always, I’d prefer a game that’s absurdly easy to one that’s absurdly hard, because at least you get to see the whole game and the artist’s work in its entirety. But, if you’re a play tester for this game, let it be said the developer clearly thinks you’re the absolute suckiest suck who ever sucked at games, because your hand is held so tight it turns florescent purple. I’m surprised nobody play testing this spoke up. (And while we’re on the subject, the gun takes too long to recharge if there’s no refill station near by.)

You beat the little blue coily things by giving them a pinch with the claw. Serves them right for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day!

In the second level, they add a hook to the ship, and it gets annoying. Many of my fans on Twitter saw me have a brief psychotic breakdown at the absurdly unintuitive controls. To the game’s credit, I did adapt after a solid hour of fidgeting with this, but I have to ask “what was the point?” Like so many elements in the shmup part of Vitamin Connection, it feels like it goes underutilized. One section has you hold rocks over your head like an umbrella to shield from enemies, while others have you encased in a three-sided cube thing that blocks walls of enemy bullets. BUT YOU DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE TO MOVE IT OR ANYTHING! It’s just.. there. Which is just as well, given how awkward it was to control. Other overworld concepts I feel could have been better explored if the game would pause the auto-scrolling stuff. There’s these tight “strings” that come in red and blue that you can only break-through by rotating the ship so that the matching color is the side that pushes through. There’s basically no penalty for messing up though. What if the scrolling stopped and these sections were a puzzle or a maze that reset if you made a mistake? It’s an interesting gameplay concept that is left unexplored.

And then there’s the mini-games, which is how objectives are completed instead of boss battles. Spoiler alert: the game DOES end on relatively satisfying traditional boss battle (which is easily the highlight of the game, with a concept about converting bad qualities to good ones that I’d LOVED to see explored more). But there’s only one. Otherwise, objectives are completed by performing mini-games of various quality. Some feel like carnival games, like navigating the ship through a pathway where the ends can’t touch the path. Some are so easy I genuinely think I could have beaten them blindfolded, like a Pong-style mini-game that I won by outscoring my opponent by 250 points. Then it repeated the next stage and suddenly the CPU was pre-trainwreck Hope Solo I was playing against and needed multiple attempts to finish. A shooting gallery-style claw game where you have to wait for a clear path to do one of those cartoonish extendo-hands saw me fuck up multiple times but get a pass anyway. I’d rather had boss fights and didn’t get why these big moments were being decided by tech-demo quality mini-games, but whatever.

Weirdly enough, the games that Vitamin Connection reminds me most of is Feel the Magic XY/XX and the Rub Rabbits for the original Nintendo DS. The mini-games feel like DS/Wii launch-quality ones. 2004 style mini-games in 2020.

And then there’s the dance-off, which repeats several times and made me want to rip my hair out. I have NO rhythm and forcing this shit upon players is a dick move. Which is fitting since it’s done to a beat.

Giving that one time to sink in.

And we’re good.

If I had known this mini-game was in there as prominently as it is, I’d never even given Vitamin Connection a second look it. I’m not suitable for this. I fucking HATE rhythm games and I especially hate non-music games that shoehorn this crap into the games. I’m so fucking happy you guys liked Guitar Hero and Rock Band and their ilk. A lot of us didn’t, and we don’t want to be forced to play games like it MULTIPLE TIMES in what we’re expecting is a quirky shmup. It just ain’t cool. In level one, I was annoyed by it and relieved when it was done. In level two, I was frustrated they brought it back and nervous when it was done. Five levels deep and having that fucking game show up yet again almost made me throw my Switch in rage as I screamed “WHY? WHAT THE FUCK MADE THIS GUY THINK PEOPLE WANT TO KEEP PLAYING THIS SHIT?”

And, for me, it really took the enjoyment out of the game, because I just could not do this. More than once, I had to have my Dad or Angela beat it for me. Sorry to say it, but these single-handedly ruined Vitamin Connection for me. The dance-off game sucks. I didn’t even want to play it once. When it kept showing up over and over and over, I started to dread playing Vitamin Connection. Whatever fun I was having, which wasn’t like “holy shit this is so incredibly fun that I can’t believe how much fun it is!” to begin with was ruined by the forced repeats of the same goddamned mini-game! A tremendously funny story (the bit where the dog eyes the chocolate bar had me laughing my ass off because it’s exactly how I picture my dogs see food) and fun primary (?) game mechanic are wrecked by a game from a completely different genre showing up like digital herpes when you don’t want it. I’d preferred having no boss fight or special event moment at all to this. Why the developer chose a really badly done rhythm game to be the mini-game that repeats the most is beyond me.

The biggest annoyance is that there’s no quick-reset option, so if you get off to a bad start and know it’s unlikely you’ll pass, you have to just kill yourself to restart. Pausing to restart takes you to the last junction you reached instead of restarting the mini-game.

Vitamin Connection is not a typical indie. It’s got AAA quality music design and story-telling. It could have been something special. I hear it has been in development quite a while, but I think it needed even more time. Mini-games probably shouldn’t have repeated at all, let alone as many times as they do. They become such unwelcome interruptions that you really just want to get them over with. Not that Vitamin Connection was perfect without them. Using gyroscopic controls was misguided, enemies aren’t varied enough, and the claw mechanics seem optimized for co-op, which feels like those who prefer their gaming solo, by choice or otherwise, are gated out of full enjoyment. And really, after a while the mini-games become an outright slog. If they couldn’t have done 15 to 20 different mini-games, I’m not sure this is what they should have done at all with clearing checkpoints. I went from enjoying Vitamin Connection to being annoyed by it to being outright angry with it. It doesn’t seem to know what kind of game it wants to be, and by attempting to be something for everyone, it ended up being a game not for me.

Vitamin Connection was developed by WayForward
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch

$19.99 popped a pill in the making of this review.

A pre-release review code was supplied to Indie Gamer Chick. On February 20, 2020, a copy was purchased by Cathy out of pocket. Sorry it took so long to get to this. I’m on a pinball kick right now.

 

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