Venture to the Vile Review – A Venture Somewhat Mild

In an age of abundant indies and Humble bundles, Metroidvanias are sometimes quite literally a dime a dozen. For such a title, to be bad is to be swallowed into the endless content abyss; to be great is to take a chance at fame that will be remembered for years. From developer Cut To Bits, Venture to the Vile sits somewhere in between these two extremes.

Venture to the Vile starts with promise. There’s a Brothers Grimm-esque feel to the story of a young boy coming of age by finally adopting his own mask with the visage of the family animal. Things soon go awry, the tone swiftly gets dark, and we’re thrust into Vile’s world with little meandering. As the prologue came to an end, I was left not quite compelled, but curious. That’s a good feeling eventually turned sour, as it never really changed throughout my time in the Vile.

Has anyone seen my keys? No?

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to love here. For one, Venture to the Vile really sells its twisted fantasy setting in just about every aspect. Through use of sharp dialogue and hilariously character-specific mumbles, many of the personalities I met for both main and side quests were delightful and memorable. I will not soon forget the old lady looking for a date atop an apartment building roof, nor the grumbling, bumbling bulldog of a police chief wanting to just get things done around here. There’s an unmistakable vein of absurdism in Venture to the Vile. Something is deeply wrong in Rainybrook and its surrounding areas, and the dread that brings is brilliantly exacerbated through the discomfort wrought by the denizens’ ludicrous nature.

Plus, it’s all just a little grotesque. A rot has swept the land, making itself known in abundance. Zombified monstrosities roam the streets, buildings creak and groan under the weight of unsightly growths, and a lone boy in a stag mask is somehow meant to fix it all with a misshapen claw. Between sewers, dilapidated hospitals, and swampy marshes, that unease I mentioned earlier never really lets up from a visual standpoint, either. This is to say nothing of the beasts our boy must slay.

I’m sure he’s as cuddly as he looks.

Not quite lions, tigers, and bears, Venture to the Vile’s rogues gallery is… just fine. There’s a unified brown & orange aesthetic shared between almost every creature that, again, adds to the dirty, disquieting feeling, even if it is a little boring to look at after a while. Most creatures have simple combos but hey, so do you! Attack, backdash, and parry mechanics are all spread out in different ways across each creature type, keeping encounters from getting stale too quickly. Enemy design is simple but effective: most things die fast, and the things that don’t look much scarier than the things that do. It’s easy to find your footing in Venture to the Vile, and for that, I appreciated it.

Yet, that footing is ultimately found on dull ground. From everything I’ve said thus far, you might be inclined to believe there’s a good bit of variety here. While that’s not wholly untrue, it’s hard to really feel it while playing Venture to the Vile. The moment-to-moment gameplay is constantly hampered by slow traversal, even with later upgrades. Exploration never feels truly exciting in the way this genre is so known for, as backtracking is more of a hassle with the lacklustre map. Bosses definitely spice things up with more exciting movesets, but the journeys to them are mostly sluggish combat with the same few enemies in an area and milquetoast platforming in between skirmishes. The story draws you in, only to meander for just long enough that I’m no longer wholly invested by the time credits roll.

Can’t say it isn’t pretty.

Aesthetically, there’s so much potential here. Level design-wise, that potential is not quite fulfilled. Good attempts are still made, however. If there’s one area where Venture to the Vile almost entirely delivers, it’s in environmental design. Aforementioned striking visuals aside, this romp through Rainybrook makes clever use of the foreground and background. Exploring different lanes of what is essentially the same “room” in Metroidvania design language makes for a unique spin on the traditional formula. At its best, you’ll see a side quest-giving NPC in the background, the way forward in your current plane, and maybe a shop or two in the middle lane. At its worst, it’s still a neat little quirk, breaking up regular levels into something a little more engaging.

And that’s exactly how I’d sum up Venture to the Vile. Nothing revolutionary, but definitely something a little more engaging than some of its competitors. In a year of already stellar titles in this genre, it’s hard to recommend over others, but it’s a great palate cleanser between more high octane works. Sit back and get lost in the Vile; of its many stories, you may yet find one to your liking.

Sarim played Venture to the Vile on PC with a review code.

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