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Hugh Likes Video Games: Eastward

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Eastward
Developed by Pixpil
Published by Chucklefish
Played on Nintendo Switch

The Skinny: An on-rails sci-fi story presented with a gorgeous pixelated aesthetic
Eastward is a beautifully rendered action RPG in pixelated graphics that doesn’t quite follow through on what it promises but is still a lot of fun. The game follows John and Sam, two refugees from a post-apocalyptic underground village as they travel by train on a quest to save the world and uncover the secrets of Sam’s burgeoning psychic powers. As they steam along, they fight their way through a series of linear, puzzle-filled dungeons and meet a huge cast of charming and wacky characters, but the chapter-based structure and frantic pace made the game feel a bit cramped and rushed.
 The game is broken into chapters, with the duo arriving in a new town, meeting the locals, and solving some dungeons before the plot pushes them back aboard their train to a new locale. The towns are probably the game’s best feature, with creatively designed and gorgeously rendered locations like a city built into the side of a dam and a film studio on rails filled with uplifted apes. Each is depicted with HD pixels in loving detail. The world is filled with faded advertisements and overgrown ruins. It is a testament to environmental design. I just wish I got to spend more time in each area before being pushed ahead. Towns are crammed full of mini-games, sidequests, and unique NPCs to talk to, and I always felt like I didn’t get enough time before being pushed ahead.
 The one mini-game that is always available is Earthborn, an in-world game that is a mix of turn-based RPG and rogue-like presented in a Gameboy aesthetic. It’s charming, and intersects with the story in interesting ways, but is ridiculously difficult.
 Dungeons are more linear than the sprawling towns and feature a mix of puzzle and combat. John has a variety of weapons that he gains over the adventure, starting with his trusty melee frying pan. Sam wields psychic energy to stun enemies or heal, but she can’t attack directly. Combat involves constantly switching between the two to keep hordes of enemies back in order to stay alive. Combat, which uses a Zelda-like formula, is clever, but fighting doesn’t feel as good as the puzzles.
 Eastward is a joy to look at and listen to, even if the gameplay isn’t quite as fun as the production. Still, it is well worth your time. You can pick up a digital copy via Steam or the Nintendo Switch eShop.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Wargroove

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Wargroove
Developed and Published by Chucklefish
Played on Nintendo Switch
https://wargroove.com
Fog-of-War.jpg

The Skinny: A turn-based strategy game with retro style and retro difficulty to match, but with some interesting innovations under the hood.

Wargroove is a strategy game with old school charm, and gameplay to match. On the surface, it takes most of its design and style from Nintendo’s ‘Wars’ series of games. These only came to the US as the Advance Wars titles, and have been absent for a decade, but they made a big impression on developer Chucklefish. If that name is familiar, they also published ConcernedApe’s well-loved Harvest Moon update, Stardew Valley.
Gameplay works like Advance Wars. Players take turns moving their units and capturing buildings to provide income, which lets them buy new units. The goal of each match is to either the enemy stronghold or defeat the enemy Commander, powerful units that each has a unique special ability, called a ‘groove.’ These each do something a bit different, from healing allies in a range, to creating new units, to attacks that do extra damage. They are a fun addition to the Wars formula, and are one of the ways the game really stands out. Also, one of the commanders is an adorable golden retriever, who is a very good boy.
The other way Wargroove differentiates itself is in its plethora of content and game modes. In addition to the standard single-player Campaign and multiplayer battles, the game offers an Arcade mode in which you can take each Commander through a series of five quick battles, a Puzzle mode, and even an impressive set of creation tools. The game lets players not just create maps, but also entire campaigns and cutscenes, and trade them freely through the game’s online modes. I haven’t been able to dive too deeply into it yet, but it is very cool and is supporting a new creative community.
Wargroove faithfully recreates the best of the turn-based strategy genre, but it also has the same flaws. Matches are long, and with two armies starting at opposite ends of a map and slowly building, they can take a while to get going. Also, this game is difficult. Updates have created more options for novice players, but you can still sink a lot of time into a map only to have to start all over again when the last wave of enemies gets a shot in on your Commander.
Wargroove is a charming and occasionally frustrating strategy game with old school feel and old school difficulty. If you’re up for the challenge, you can snag a copy from Steam or your choice of major console eshops.
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