A few years ago, I started to take an interest in what is now one of my favorite video game subgenres: metroidvania-style platformers. I love how they systematize exploration, how they evolve mechanically through powerups, and how they frequently offer small aesthetic and mechanical iterations on the core formula.
But Vision: Soft Reset has one of my all-time favorite mechanical twists. It takes ideas ideas inspired by the speedrunning community and folds them into itself. It builds mechanics around techniques like route planning and movement optimization directly into the core game loop. It’s an approach that both extends the design sensibilities of the Metroidvania formula and imparts it with something fresh. Vision: Soft Reset is definitely the most niche game on my list, but it’s one of the most memorable games I played this year.
To be clear, it’s certainly rough around the edges compared to its more polished contemporaries. The controls can feel a bit floaty, and there are some disorienting spikes in platforming difficulty. The art and music serve their purpose, but they’re mostly unremarkable. The story sets up some interesting mysteries, but has pretty inconsistent dialogue and characterization. This is all to say: it can cause some friction at times, but in my experience, it’s a game that plays well enough to justify its ideas.
In fiction, the events of the game take place in just a 20-minute window. Each time you save at a checkpoint, it creates a node on your timeline. When a node is added, it can be returned to at any point, rolling back the clock to that moment. This allows micro-speedruns between checkpoints in order to trim minutes or seconds off of the clock, giving more time for exploration.
As the game progresses, you’ll find powerups in the form of decryption keys that unlock already-present abilities in your suit; essentially, a narrative contrivance that allows you to take those upgrades back in time with you. However, physical upgrades like health pickups, are only available for the timeline in which they’re picked up. This gives incentive, even when trying to speed up a section of your timeline, to branch out for upgrades that may be nearby. Additionally, certain places in the world will only be accessible before a certain point in the countdown. A couple of interactions will even change things about the world, changing the routing options in the timelines in which they occur.
The game folds these ideas into its narrative and moment-to-moment combat as well; you’ll play as Oracle, a character who does not remember their past but has the ability to see various futures. This is how you can see enemies telegraphing their attack patterns and how the story explains your time-bending checkpoint jumps.
Speedrunning, as cool as it is, is an enormous and daunting commitment (one that I personally will never find room in my life for, even though I’ve had interest). It’s extremely cool to see a game that takes speedrunning techniques and threads them through the game itself in a way that’s forgiving enough to be opaque. You may not even realize you’re using speedrunning approaches! Not only that, but it wraps it all up in an absolutely brilliant timeline view that summarizes meta-playthrough information in one screen.
Despite its rough edges, Vision: Soft Reset was full of fun surprises and was a genuine delight to play. It’s also gone woefully overlooked! If you love this style of game, this game is too memorable and novel to pass up.