Vitamin Connection feels like a game out of time. It has the spirit of a launch game, but it’s out three years after the Switch’s debut. It embraces the funky, colorful spirit of the early 2000s, but it does it without any official tie to that era. It believes in the fundamental decency of life, and we of course know better these days. It’s this displacement that, well, sets it apart.
From the prolific team at WayForward and published, due to a series of events, with help from Limited Run Games, Vitamin Connection feels like a showpiece for the Nintendo Switch hardware. It’s a co-op game explicitly designed for two players, and it makes each hold the controller differently and perform unique functions. Player One moves and points. Player Two aims and tilts. If there’s a built-in Joy-Con function you’ve forgotten about by now, Vitamin Connection makes it a central piece of its design.
There’s an overall campaign featuring a vitamin ship that moves through the bloodstream, and the “bosses” are various minigames that fundamentally change what you’re doing but still focus on coordinated play. It gets the most complicated in the shooter segments, as you encounter more and more layers of things to do to make it to your destination. It’s easy to get comfortable with a given set of controls, only to encounter one more that makes you yell “how dare you, game” and frustratedly throw down the controller. It’s the charm of Vitamin Connection, though, that makes you give credit where credit’s due for throwing you for a loop and pick it up again to keep going.
The smaller games focus more on a couple of mechanics but throw them at you faster and faster, making you tilt, hit buttons on rhythm, or even use the infrared port’s distance-sensing capabilities. One is definitely just Kuru Kuru Kururin, which is fine by us as long as no one’s making or localizing those.
As you’d expect from WayForward, the art and music are excellently budgeted and crafted, doing a lot with what it has. There are some fun, Elite Beat Agents-style story segments to show how you’re helping the people get healthy, and they’re used, like a lot of things in Vitamin Connection, to break up the quirk and difficulty of the gameplay challenges. The challenge of lesser-used features is that often they got that way by being less fun or reliable, and you’ll encounter frustration but the design goes out of its way to make these moments as fleeting as possible.
It’s possible to play through the entirety of Vitamin Connection by yourself, but the game doesn’t recommend it and neither do we. Solo play is fully functional, and some elements are adapted to make it reasonable to do, but it’s simply not the experience as intended. Areas often become either too easy because you don’t have to coordinate or too difficult because you have to handle all the controls at once, so you can push through it if you need. Progression is separated between the two modes, so there’s at least some value in learning the ropes by yourself before inflicting it upon an unsuspecting friend or family member.
Vitamin Connection is a great showpiece for the Nintendo Switch (if, given the need for Joy-Con controllers, not the Switch Lite), and that alone makes it special in a world where everyone has a Switch but is mostly using it to play ports. Like Affordable Space Adventures before it, it serves as a compelling late-life justification of a system’s distinct features, and unlike that Wii U game, the Switch is still a viable platform at the time of its release.
Vitamin Connection is out on the Nintendo Switch eShop. Limited Run Games also offered a physical version, but it’s no longer available for purchase.