All the way from its art direction to its amazing soundtrack, Eastward dazzles and doesn’t fail in almost any regard. A game about a silent man, and an adopted girl fighting for freedom and well-being. Along the way they meet interesting characters, and explore vast locations that are comforting or terrifying.
Small indie studio Pixpil start their first outing with a brand new IP. Dating back to 2015, this game has been taken care of using an array of tools to bring this epic to life. Pixel graphics, Dragon Quest references, and The Legend of Zelda style gameplay; come together to create one of my favorite experiences of 2021.
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed), Mac, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: September 16th, 2021
Price: $24.99 USD
Set in the near future, the world is being engulfed by toxins, pushing people to villages underground. Enter John, who has lived and worked underground for over 40 years. One day when digging, he finds a small girl named Sam in a tank. She is able to use kinetic powers that are still budding.
Familiar with the locals in the small community, everyone knowns John and Sam, as they’re usually seen together. From that point forward, you will embark on a journey with them through thick and thin as you explore the world. Along the way you will meet interesting characters that have their own lives and ways of living.
Every character is unique, and makes you feel a certain way about their personality, more than other games that I have played. You end up hating the Mayor, you end up loving the surface world villagers, all because of the way dialogue flows. Mostly unskippable dialogue is understandable to connect with the characters, and understand the world at large.
When those scenes come up, you can expect the story to be shown to you like Earthbound, while the gameplay is closer to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Fighting enemies in a similar top down fashion, using the frying pan and bombs at your disposal, you can defeat enemies and solve puzzles.
Solving puzzles can be rewarding, and feel great when putting two and two together quickly. Most aren’t too challenging, and will aid with getting treasure chests. Additionally, puzzles are implemented cleverly while fighting bosses that require some thinking besides just swinging around blindly.
More importantly, upgrading your items such as the frying pan, gun, and even bombs are essential to progression. Utilizing these as tools will grant access to cracked walls, using rafts, and defeating enemies most importantly. Beating enemies will yield salt, gear parts, and tokens; which are the game’s currency used for those weapons.
Much like it’s inspirations, you have hearts than can be replenished by defeating enemies, eating food, and breaking items like vases. You can aim your weapons freely in every direction similar to a twin-stick shooter. For instance, you can charge up attacks with the frying pan to unleash a more powerful hit against foes.
Typically, it will take you more hits against certain enemies until you upgrade to do more damage or add more capacity to things like bombs and the gun, among other things. Weapons feel great to use and great to learn once acquired, only getting better over time. Alternatively, besides weapons, you have Sam who can use kinetic abilities that use energy.
Abilities from Sam include using the Energy Bubble which can help illuminate dark areas and also freeze enemies temporarily. Energy gets depleted when using that or the three other abilities, but can be replenished slowly over time or eating food. This doesn’t hinder gameplay like you would think. In fact, it’s done extremely well to the point of no complaint.
Food is a way to heal, naturally, and it has a great system in place to spice up the game, no pun intended. Gathering ingredients like eggs, lettuce, mushrooms, and so on can be combined to create recipes. After making a new recipe with three selections, it adds it to your inventory for quick access.
Certain recipes can restore hearts, increase hearts, and restore energy. Anything you can imagine like tacos, takoyaki, even fries can be made, all being your health items for the fights ahead.
When you get started cooking, you play a small slot machine game to give your food added stats. Coincidentally, playing this before heading to Las Vegas gets me excited for, hopefully, returning with money in my pocket and not the other way around.
More side content is playing Earth Born, a reference to both EarthBound and Dragon Quest, in your spare time. Early in the game you purchase a memory card to save progress of the game. Sam’s friends teach her how to play the game which is your tutorial segment. Integrated into the game are Pixballs, which include collectible monsters and enemies from Earth Born.
A few undeniable things in this game are how damn near perfect the sound, music, and the graphics are. Even if you’re not a fan of pixel art indie games, this one might be the one to change your mind. It’s inspiring to look at and interesting to see the different sprites for every asset.
Character sprites, clearly inspired by that of EarthBound, outlines details to make each character different and recognizable. The opening animation will show most of the characters you will encounter, and they are fully animated in a drawn style. Every scene with lighting, ambiance, and special effects are reflected well on characters that have many different expressions.
Music and sounds have the retro aesthetic down pat, specifically when it’s from Earth Born. Every song has the nostalgia factor built in, and is placed in every scene perfectly. The sounds of frying up a new recipe, stepping through mud in the caves, and grass in the fields, all set up an immersive and believable world.
Never once did I complain about the elements of this game not working, the difficulty being too hard, or not understanding what was going on. Every mechanic works as intended, and never stopped the flow of gameplay. Mastering the swapping between John and Sam to complete puzzles and defeat enemies is satisfying in every regard.
I don’t like giving these out willy-nilly, but when I look through everything that I experienced and the things I did, I couldn’t find a negative thing to say. For me, this marks a 10 out of 10; it checks off everything that should work in a game, and to an excellent standard. Eastward is made with love and care, and it definitely shows with a perfect final package. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Eastward was reviewed on Windows PC using a review code provided by Chucklefish. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.