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Cions of Vega (XS)

By Lee Mehr 06th Apr 2023 | 2,636 views 

It's difficult to consider anyone playing Cions of Vega for any reason other than easy achievements or desperation.

The narrative adventure, or "walking sim," sub-genre has been an indie oasis for over a decade.  Even if not among the most prominent developers in that scene, Tonguç Bodur has seemingly maintained a steady career from it.  Now, his extensive history with this template is focused on the danger of fanatical cults.  While that’s always a potent topic for me and I respect solo indies putting in tremendous work, Cions of Vega can’t avoid seeming like a plastic copycat.

You step into the shoes of 40-something Kenny, whose 19-year-old daughter, Leila, has recently disappeared.  He's accompanied by his younger brother, Logan, as they navigate through the American South wilderness.  It’s hard to parse any clear setting beyond that either, given how it casually segues between woodland with water up to your hips and mountains in the distance; while not overtly swampy, there's still a subtle bayou vibe as well.  Part of me wants to argue that lack of clarity adds an extra layer to the start, seeing as how you’re whisked into Kenny's shoes.

It’s tough to firmly sustain that artistic interpretation given how safe & predictable the rest of Cions' story unfolds.  Its tempo remains the same from the beginning: go to a nearby house to question neighbors, enter to find it’s abandoned, retrieve a key after completing a simple puzzle, use key to unlock a nearby gate, repeat.  One variation between houses is whether or not a strange child will be waiting outside.  All of them "mysteriously" can’t remember anything – their past, their parents, etc. – and just blankly stare in your direction, due to being store-bought assets rather than adding a surreal atmosphere.

The meat of the story between these instances is casually walking through the woods and listening to Logan awkwardly give his spiel.  Voice actor Alan Owen has a pleasant voice – with a slight hint of Southern drawl - but he's so intent on line-reading that he forgets acting is part of it as well.  It’s one of those "bless his heart" deliveries where he dryly repeats the script as though he's just seen it for the first time.  But it’s tough to leverage majority blame on Owen with such tawdry writing too.  Logan's bland, overwrought dialogue to imply Kenny's past sins never really lands.

Beyond listening to your awkward brother and doing a simple puzzle, the rest of the storytelling comes back to a few rare collectible notes about the cult.  Since all of this is wrapped up in less than an hour, it's also among the most vacuous narratives I've played this year.  That’s less weighed towards a strict value consideration (although $6.99 is tough to ignore) and more towards actually exploring a point.  What’s done here is practically the inverse of effective, compact storytelling.  It feels like an essay with only an opening and concluding paragraph; there's no genuine build-up in characterization nor the shady cult in question.  All of which is hurriedly ended by a basic trilemma, with one being an obvious best choice.  It’s all just… empty nothingness.

The gameplay doesn’t fare better.  Oftentimes the puzzles are deliberately spelled out for you, be it a collectible or code scrawled next to a nearby wall.  The one notable exception for me was a short platforming section, demanding a few careful hops.  There's nothing else going for it beyond that brief moment of excitement; in fact, I'd rank this slightly below a generic walking sim for having jump and crouch yet never using them to an impactful degree.  Cions seems more interested in pouring wet cement in your shoes whenever it can.  Who are you to handle things at your own pace?

The one olive branch I’d extend would be to its audio/visual presentation.  Although not destined to win awards, Dark Fantasy Studio's soundtrack nonetheless adds some texture to the static environments.  And while all of the character models (kids especially) seem to be made of Plasticine, Tonguç Bodur has a better eye for the surrounding world.  I wouldn't be surprised if every asset was store-bought, but enough work was done to make it feel naturally incorporated.  There’s something about the "Mountainous Woodland/Bayou" locale that works for this premise, plus it's complimented by competent technical design.  It's weird to feel as though I'm overselling these positives, like appreciating room-temperature water in the desert, but credit where credit is due.

In sum, Cions of Vega feels more like an interactive premise than a short story.  Everything within its first few minutes feels readily apparent to the player, both in story and game design.  Its idea about a mysterious cult and a missing daughter end up being just that: a vague idea.  Its old-hat walking sim template does nothing beyond scarce moments of meaningful interactivity.  Tonguç Bodur earns some credit for handling this work as a solo developer, but that's not enough for me to drink the Kool-Aid.

VGChartz Verdict


This review is based on a digital copy of Cions of Vega for the XS

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