Leavin’ on that midnight prepare for Eastward
From its outset, Eastward is soaked in model. It’s very clearly paying homage to a number of video video games previous, with its EarthBound and The Legend of Zelda nostalgia worn most prominently on its sleeve. Eastward is a sport the place even routine animations have a transparent diploma of craft put into them, and excessive moments dot the story, at all times able to whisk you to a brand new facet exercise or little slice of life.
It’s additionally a story that has bother sustaining a good tempo, with a couple of characters and threads that really feel left by the wayside by the story’s finish. Its fight can really feel a bit uneven, and at the least on the Nintendo Swap, it had a great few technical points, starting from slowdown throughout hectic scenes to crashes.
Eastward is admittedly tough to nail down with a rating. It does some facets so nicely, and misses the mark in others. However even when it falls brief, developer Pixpil has made it clear they’re a studio to look at for within the coming years.
Eastward (PC, Nintendo Swap [reviewed])Developer: PixpilPublisher: ChucklefishReleased: Sept. 16, 2021MSRP: $24.99
Eastward begins within the underground city of Potcrock Isle, the place veteran miner John watches over Sam, a mysterious woman he discovered within the caverns under. Sam goals of the world exterior, inflicting rifts among the many group and finally resulting in the pair leaving the city and venturing out into the actual world. It’s each not horrible within the methods they’ve been advised, however holds new terrors they’ve but to totally comprehend: the Miasma.
It’s a darkish fog that plagues the world, threatening to swallow up everybody and every little thing. And as Sam and John journey ever-eastward, they begin to unravel a few of the mysteries behind what’s occurred to the planet, whereas befriending the folks they meet alongside the best way.
Eastward units these mysteries in movement, however they typically sit within the background of no matter each day pleasure is at hand. Eastward tells a substantial amount of story by cozy, slice-of-life segments. Typically Sam ropes John into caring for some each day chores for the city they’re staying in, or serving to a brand new buddy with an issue that’s been hounding them. It’s endearing, and the pair make a great car for this, or at the least, Sam does.
John is a silent protagonist, some extent Eastward typically pokes enjoyable at, with characters having one-sided conversations with him or recognizing that it’s him on the radio when their calls go unanswered. It’s foolish and lighthearted, and performs into a variety of the comedy in Eastward.
Loads of Eastward has good laughs, although it creates an ungainly pacing downside when issues get rather more dramatic and tense. Eastward takes some time to determine some characters and flesh them out, and with John silent and Sam typically unaware, the early half of Eastward had bother getting me invested. It wasn’t till I used to be nicely into New Dam Metropolis, Eastward‘s largest hub and residential to one among its longer chapters, that I began to get actually within the characters round me.
These characters are made up of comparable pairs: the father-son duo William and Daniel, and the couple Isabel and Alva. They kind some stable pillars of development, change, and emotion that by extension assist John and Sam have extra route, too. Even so, the story’s latter half nonetheless veers off into odd facet ventures. And one of many major villains, Solomon, is an enigma that by no means actually solves or sticks; he simply appears current when an antagonist is known as for, and I by no means felt I understood his motivations or, actually, a lot of something about him.
Even so, when Eastward hits, it hits arduous. There are nonetheless standout story moments, starting from stunning and emotionally draining to laugh-out-loud humorous. Its biggest moments are bolstered even additional by the clear quantity of labor and keenness put into Eastward‘s look.
It’s, merely put, one of many prettiest pixel artwork video games I’ve performed shortly. It doesn’t simply look good in stills, nevertheless it performs out extremely nicely in movement as nicely. One facet that frequently took me aback about Eastward was its animations. Every thing, from idle animations to little trademark motions, clearly conveys who a personality is, how they really feel, and what their persona is like. The best way Lee grimaces when Alva chides him for smoking indoors; the chilly, calculated means Isabel reaches for her blade; and particularly the little celebrations Sam and John do after profitable an enviornment combat or discovering a key, all repeatedly remind you of who these characters are, and the way they really feel within the second.
After which there’s Eastward‘s soundtrack, which is a frontrunner for my favourite soundtrack this yr. It hits good. Typically it’s a small city with quiet little melodies or cheerful chirps, or perhaps a somber, nostalgic tune wallowing within the background. Or it’s an enormous theme, dropping completely in time with a dramatic on-screen second to drive dwelling how far John and Sam have come to date. Eastward‘s music is completely good.
On the subject of the moment-to-moment gameplay, Eastward handles like a top-down journey sport of previous, just like The Legend of Zelda or Secret of Mana. John begins out together with his trusty cast-iron pan that he additionally makes use of to cook dinner (which is a neat minigame with some clear Breath of the Wild inspiration, and likewise appears extremely unsanitary). Over time, he’ll construct up an arsenal of firearms and bombs, typically destroying obstacles head-on and utilizing his pan to smack bombs throughout gaps or into flammable objects (which, once more, looks like a nasty concept).
Sam, in the meantime, features as a psychic person that may take away or activate particular obstacles and freeze enemies in place for John. Battles begin out pretty easy: freeze an enemy, beat them to demise along with your pan. Repeat. Early on, enemies are straightforward to know and take care of, and swapping can typically really feel pointless.
Ultimately, enemies get extra quite a few and decide up a couple of methods, although common enemies didn’t actually begin giving me bother till a lot later within the sport. That curve is okay, although bosses on the whole ramp the issue up considerably, requiring you to utilize most of your capabilities and begin tapping into your cooked meals reserves, which might present bonuses like harm boosts, short-term further hearts, and heightened protection.
The boss fights are sometimes a spectacle, and numerous them actually stand out as participating, entertaining encounters. The one tough half is that typically, the Nintendo Swap can wrestle to maintain tempo with Eastward‘s motion. Just a few massive fights specifically noticed a variety of slowdown, which given the harm bosses can do and the finesse wanted to dodge assaults, made them somewhat extra harrowing than they wanted to be. I additionally skilled a couple of crashes, although fortunately, Eastward‘s autosave perform is fairly lenient and I by no means misplaced greater than a pair minutes’ progress.
Puzzles, in the meantime, begin out fairly straightforward however finally develop into enjoyable challenges to finish. There weren’t any I needed to wrestle and set down my Swap to ponder over, however Eastward finds some intelligent methods to utilize Sam and John’s skills, in addition to splitting them up and setting them alongside separate paths, to create some puzzles that really feel very rewarding to finish.
By the tip of my time with Eastward, I felt like I’d reached a conclusion with some satisfying notes, although it left me with extra questions than solutions. It looks like there’s sufficient room right here for a sequel, which I’d actually like given how some items of the story by no means obtained fleshed out, and a few threads have been left with out a lot closure in comparison with others. I feel in the end John’s eerie silence finally ends up enjoying in opposition to the story’s emotional stakes, and the shifting objectives and aims made the journey to the tip really feel a bit scattershot. A part of me needs Eastward was just a bit bit extra targeted, with a extra obvious and concentrated effort to get its themes throughout. The principle narrative simply hardly ever, if ever, feels as constant as its little moments do.
Perhaps the thought is to actually pull you in with slice-of-life cheer, to create attachment, however I felt like Eastward struggled to make its dramatic tensions match its endearing, cozy charms. Eastward pays a variety of homage, however these loving references really feel like simply that. One exception is the game-within-a-game you’ll be able to play all through the story, Earth Born. It’s a roguelike RPG within the vein of Dragon Quest that narratively mirrors the primary story, and it’s extraordinarily good. I would make a brand new save file simply to play extra Earth Born.
For as attractive as Eastward‘s graphics are, and as endearing as a few of its characters develop into, and as a lot as I would like its soundtrack on vinyl as quickly as potential, it additionally falls brief in some ways in which go away its conclusion feeling a bit off. It’s one of many extra promising debuts I’ve seen, and Pixpil has ensured I’ll be extremely thinking about no matter they do subsequent. Eastward is one thing a fan of pixel artwork and good music, with a weak point for online game nostalgia, deserves to take a look at. It’s simply additionally a journey that left me wanting somewhat extra.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]