We are in the future and the world is in shambles (for a change). The planet has been invaded by a toxic entity which destroys everything it touches and which has made the surface unlivable. What is left of mankind has therefore decided to go and live underground, to have some more chance of survival. Life underground is hard, especially if you are under a tyrannical regime like Potcrock’s, in which citizens are exploited in various ways and do not have the opportunity to rebel. All this at least until a strange couple is formed: John, a miner from Potcrock, meets Sam, a mysterious girl with long, curly and white hair. Soon Sam’s exuberant character puts both of them on a collision course with the mayor of the underground town, creating a chain of events that will start a long journey and give everyone the hope that on the surface there is a different life and not. only the monsters mentioned in the regime’s propaganda.
This is the premise of this amazing The Legend of Zelda clone presented in stunning graphics in pixel art, who managed to keep us glued to the screen for about thirty hours, telling us a story full of magic, social implications and twists, as you will read in the course of the Eastward review.
Eastward’s first hours are slow and very conversational. The game makes us get to know the various characters that populate Potcrock, also giving us a glimpse of life in the town. John and Sam live in a dilapidated caravan and their main goals are to work the former and go to school the latter. Walking around the town you can practice with the control system, really simple, based as it is on a single button that manages all the main interactions, whether they are talking, interacting with objects (to collect them or use them directly) or shopping in stores. Soon we end up exploring the first dungeon, the mine where John works, where we learn the basics of the combat system by facing slow and not very dangerous mutant snails and where we find the first additional weapon: bombs, very useful for destroying obstacles and solve the first ones puzzle (actually they will be useful for the whole game). John fights like a bull wielding a lethal … frying pan, with which he unleashes powerful swings against enemies or shattering objects (inside there are hearts to heal, bombs and other objects).
If you want, you can also charge a shot by holding down the attack button, a move that is useful on more than one occasion. Later in the adventure ours will get other tools of offense, such as firearms of increasing power, but at the beginning we have to be content with fighting like little Bud Spencers. Sam is initially not involved, but a narrative twist will make her first playable, then a permanent member of the group. Unlike John, who is a normal human being, Sam has special powers, the nature of which will be revealed as the adventure progresses and which are linked to an energy bar that recharges over time. The relationship between the two is one of the most beautiful dynamics of the entire game. It is the classic father / daughter relationship in which both worry about each other up to the extreme consequences told in the finale.
The synergy between the two is also the keystone of the gameplay, which blossoms when we find ourselves using them in concert to solve the most thorny situations. Eastward’s puzzles are not very original, based as they are on the pressure of plates, on the interaction with the levers, on the crates to move, on the obstacles to remove, on the timing and on all the other stylistic elements that can come to your mind. Yet they work. What makes them different from those of other video games is precisely the need to use both characters to solve them, having to reason from time to time to understand how to exploit their characteristics and abilities. Having a favorite character is simply useless, as the gameplay is built to have both of them used with the right profit. Switching from one to the other is as easy as pressing a button and you will soon be perfectly at ease controlling them practically in real time, choosing the most useful from time to time.
Exploring in Eastward is a pleasure, either because of the beauty of the scenarios, designed with great attention to detail and full of small animations, some of which are excellent (just think of the explosions), or because the dungeons are overflowing with secrets, which they usually hide containers full of useful objects, such as salt, the game currency, or ingredients to use with the pan to cook rich delicacies with the pan, or even mechanical parts with which to build objects and upgrades.
The game world is really varied and in the course of the adventure you will find yourself exploring very different places, such as caves full of ferocious insects, forests full of plants and other lethal creatures, ruined shopping malls, semi-desert areas, cathedrals science fiction, and whatnot. The enemies are many and range from the aforementioned mutant insects, to the classic undead, up to futuristic creatures. There is also no shortage of greats boss which, in addition to being perfectly animated, offer unique challenges, with attack patterns that require some study before they can be properly understood and countered. They are not impossible, but they give a hard time and, fortunately, cannot be overcome by pressing furiously on the controller.
During their journey, which will take place largely on the railroad, John and Sam will also have the opportunity to to explore of new cities, profoundly different from their own in architectural styles and culture, in which they will meet many other characters, who will slowly help to reveal the fundamental parts of the plot. One of the most interesting activities that can be carried out in these places is to go around talking to the inhabitants to find out what they have to say and to steal some anecdote related to the rich mythology that is the background to the adventure. From this point of view it must be said that the work done by the Pixpil guys is really huge and it would be a shame to miss some details just for having run through the levels. Not all dialogues are meaningful, but taken as a whole they help to have a broader picture of the game, making it more present in its narrative will.
Pixel art at the highest level
One of Eastward’s best features is its ability to offer something different from start to finish, in a truly excellent progression of unlocked skills and items obtained. There are some situations that repeat themselves, but it is nothing really compromising, for an adventure that remains interesting throughout its duration and which also has a lot to offer for completists, who will struggle to find all the items, especially in advanced dungeons, which become particularly intricate.
Of the visual style we have already mentioned, but it is better to reiterate the concept. Eastward is beautiful, not only because he is designed to perfection, but also because he manages to have a strong personality where he apparently seems to do what others have already done. It is a title with an impressive graphic richness, as it becomes clear when you enter the city completely drawn by hand, in which each building is different from the others and is enriched with often insignificant details, such as broken tiles or unique frescoes, which, however, when added together, give the idea of living and, above all, lived places.
Finally, the soundtrack, inspired by and made up of pieces designed to underline every situation, with specific tracks for each larger environment, thinks to magnify everything.
If we wanted to find some defect in Eastward, perhaps we would talk about some naivety in some dungeons, with excessive recourse to finding keys and some too rigid puzzles, which perhaps could leave the player more arbitrary. Even the combat system is not among the most complex that exist in the world of video games, but in this case the choice of the developers is justified by the fact that complicating it too much would have negatively affected the couple’s gameplay, that is, on when you have to use both characters by swapping them. quickly. Overall they are small things that do not spoil the game, which remains excellent, from any point of view you look at it.