In this week’s Retrovania, we travel back to the early days of Microsoft’s first console and the cutesy platformer that went largely unnoticed: Voodoo Vince.
Back in 2001, when Microsoft was first dipping its toes into the games industry, things were a-changing. Electronics giant Sony has made it’s own debut into the industry six years prior and had won the fifth generation outright – and their follow-up, the PlayStation 2, was fast becoming another runaway success.
New kids on the block
Microsoft might have been the purveyors of Windows, but in the world of home consoles Bill Gates and co were as green as they came. The first Halo, Combat Evolved, was pretty much carrying the console on it’s augmented super-back, but Microsoft were still hoping for another mascot to appeal to the younger market – like Crash Bandicoot of old.
The problem was that Microsoft was still playing catch up in terms of establishing their key audiences. The once bankable presence of cute mascots like Sonic the Hedgehog was long dead. Blood-drenched death dealers were the icons of gaming now: Solid Snake, Kratos and Dante were just some of the ‘mature’ characters that followed in the footsteps of a certain buxom raider of tombs.
A voodoo-powered punt
But Microsoft was still willing take a punt with the idea, and in 2003 Voodoo Vince was birthed unto the world. Developed by Washington-based studio Beep Industries, Voodoo Vince was a cutesy platformer with a sadistic twist. Playing as Vince, a voodoo doll imbued with life, you could do your usual mixture of jump and spin attack moves, but it was the twisted self-harming mechanics that really set it apart.
And stop giving us those eyes, Vince is a voodoo doll, getting hurt is only his real weapon! Let us explain: by collecting the voodoo beads dropped by the many enemies in the game, Vince could fill his Voodoo Metre and perform a special move that destroyed all the enemies in vicinity. One move would see Vince impaling himself, while all his enemies suffered the same fate; other variants saw Vince happily setting himself alight as his enemies were engulfed in hungry flames. Kirby’s Epic Yarn this was not.
Dark, but self-aware
And while these mechanics were hardly breaking new ground, it was great to see a game that could be as striking as Spyro the Dragon without losing itself to overtly-adult content like Conker’s Bad Fur Day. And, for a game developed by a studio that had never created a console game before (ironically, it would also be their last) Voodoo Vince is as tight mechanically as anything else in the genre. The camera could be less dynamic and more “Hello, I’m in a wall now! Good luck judging that jump!” at times, but it was far from a game-breaker.
There was also one other thing that made Voodoo Vince so unique: it’s style. Infused with all the cultural magic of Louisiana, Voodoo Vince took its beats from the architectural stylings of New Orleans and the black magic inspired atmosphere of carnivale. Oh and the music! The soundtrack to Voodoo Vince remains as one of the most unique OST for a game out there, perfectly nailing the tone with it’s charming jazziness. If you’ve played it before (or you’re just looking for some great VGM) you pick the soundtrack up here from Amazon.
Voodoo Vince might not have the level depth of Double Fine’s Psychonauts, but it’s a forgotten gem that’s been lost a genre now dominated by forgettable Disney-licensed tie-ins. Sadly, you can’t pick it up on XBLA, but you can find it in most second-hand game retailers for a measly few pounds/dollars. It works on the Xbox 360 too, so there’s never been a better time to travel back to a time before achievements and experience a black-humoured slice of fun.