The road between an homage and a copycat can usually be a blurry one, and it appears like all too usually that new video games borrowing concepts from outdated video games fall on the unsuitable aspect of it. As a substitute of providing artistic new takes on favored ideas, these video games are extra content material to prod you with a pointy elbow as they are saying “’member?” again and again. Eastward just isn’t a kind of video games. The inaugural launch from Shanghai-based Pixpil well integrates gameplay and story concepts from beloved classics whereas nonetheless managing to really feel like an authentic and well-executed journey.
Eastward follows the story of John, a gruff man of motion not phrases, and his companion, Sam, an brisk and white-haired little lady who he discovered underground. The 2 dwell fortunately collectively in a small subterranean village and revel in a quasi father/daughter relationship, however issues shortly take a flip when sure occasions result in them arriving on the floor that they had been instructed is such a harmful and terrible place. It seems that issues aren’t fairly as dangerous up there as they had been led to imagine, though there’s a mysterious pressure known as miasma that’s slowly rolling over the land and destroying every part in its path.
Over the 30-or-so hours that it takes to clear Eastward, one factor that retains the story constantly partaking is the heartwarming relationship between Sam and John. Though John by no means says a phrase, it’s abundantly clear how deeply he cares for Sam in his protecting actions and stoic loyalty. And when the story takes some shockingly darkish turns, Sam is there to maintain the temper hopeful and see what number of occasions she will be able to match the phrase “John” in a single piece of dialogue. There’s fairly a various forged on supply over this journey, however these two are far and away the spotlight of the expertise.
It must be stated, nevertheless, that the story usually feels a bit an excessive amount of like a slog in a number of locations. Gameplay segments are continuously damaged up by comparatively prolonged cutscenes that go on for lengthy sufficient that it begins to really feel extra such as you’re watching the sport slightly than enjoying it as you frantically mash ‘A’ to chop by way of the jungle of textual content. You then’re lastly given management again, solely to stroll John to the following cutscene that goes on for simply as lengthy.
Eastward is thus an incredible instance for illustrating the necessity for good pacing. The story is well-written and many of the characters are fairly lovable, however they’re foisted upon you a lot in countless unskippable dialogue sequences that it begins to erode your reference to the narrative. Fortunately, this doesn’t sink Eastward, nevertheless it does take some wind out of the sails.
Whenever you lastly get to some gameplay, issues unfold fairly a bit like a 2D Zelda recreation, as you wander your manner by way of labyrinthine environments rife with treasure, enemies, and puzzles. The primary rub of those sequences is that you simply’re usually required to alternate (with a fast faucet of a shoulder button) between enjoying as Sam and John, every of which have distinctive skills. Sam has her PSI skills that permit her to shoot out power blasts that may freeze enemies and destroy sure obstacles, whereas John has a frying pan for beating the stuffing out of enemies alongside along with his limited-use weapons and bombs.
Most dungeons make good use of this division of potential, and sometimes characteristic some properly difficult options that require frequent switching and a bit of outside-the-box considering. There’s a advantageous steadiness being struck right here whereby the puzzles really feel simply tough sufficient to be satisfying, however not so laborious that they’re discouraging, and the answer is commonly extra dependent in your execution than your uncooked logic expertise. New skills and puzzle gimmicks are launched at an affordable fee, too, which retains Eastward feeling recent as you proceed your march to the conclusion.
Fight, then again, feels prefer it may’ve used a bit of extra work. There’s a sure type of stiffness to swinging round John’s frying pan that by no means feels precisely proper, and enemy varieties are not often demanding of very superior ways. However, boss fights are sometimes among the many highest factors of the entire expertise, however that is largely all the way down to their spectacle and concentrate on integrating puzzle parts from the dungeon within the battles themselves. We might have appreciated to have seen some extra depth to the fight contemplating how pervasive it’s, nevertheless it’s actually extra of a relentless irritation than a giant drawback.
Treasures that you simply discover when out within the area usually will grant you forex and components for use again in outlets and refill on issues like backpack upgrades and meals substances. See, Eastward encompasses a enjoyable little minigame at most save factors the place John can use his trusty pan for its meant use of cooking. There’s quite a lot of substances to be discovered all through the journey, whether or not type outlets, chests, or enemies, and these could be tossed within the pan to create new recipes with distinct results. A little bit slot machine will play as you’re locking in your resolution, too, and if you happen to’ve acquired the dexterity, you’ll be able to probably give the dish even better results.
Little issues like that slot machine recreation are a part of what offers Eastward its pleasant appeal. One other good instance is “Earth Born”, a Dragon Quest-like JRPG you’ll be able to play in-game at sure terminals in what quantities to a sidequest that principally runs in parallel to the entire recreation. Buying new amiibo-like toys of monsters can provide you an edge right here, and it’s a enjoyable approach to break up the circulation of the primary quest by attempting one thing a bit of completely different.
What possible drew you first to Eastward was the unimaginable pixel artwork route, and we are able to fortunately report that it doesn’t disappoint. What’s so placing concerning the visuals is how completely detailed they’re, packing in a litany of small parts that give lot to chew on, so to talk, in each body. A sequence of misshapen posters on a wall. The light paint of an outdated boat hull getting used as a roof. Flickering neon lights of an outdated diner’s signal. All this stuff come collectively to convey an incredible sense of place, and we applaud the builders for executing such a powerful visible model. Pixel artwork might really feel considerably performed out in indie gaming at this level, but titles like Eastward stand as proof that there’s nonetheless loads that may be achieved if the right effort is put in.
Eastward proves itself to be a memorable and satisfying mashup of many beloved basic titles, combining every of their parts collectively to forge one thing that feels distinct and interesting. Artistic gameplay sequences, a heartwarming and emotional story, and a killer artwork model all mix to make this one straightforward to advocate. That being stated, we’d additionally supply a phrase of warning that this can be a sluggish burn type of recreation; if you happen to’re not a affected person participant, Eastward’s typically torpid tempo might take lots of enjoyment out of the expertise. Wherever you might fall, Eastward is indisputably a recreation value trying out, and we’d encourage you to present it a shot.