Developed By: Landfall Games
Published By: tinyBuild Games
Release Date: 3.15.2018
Clustertruck for Nintendo Switch is a game about jumping from atop the trailer of one eighteen-wheeler to another in an attempt to cross a goal line as fast as possible. It’s like parkour on crack, and it is fantastic.
At the beginning of each level, you find yourself atop a trailer in the back row of a convoy of trucks. When the level starts, the trucks in each row sort of cluster together, giving you a target to hit as you jump forward through the ranks, madly dashing towards the finish line. If you hit the ground or anything that isn’t a truck, your run ends and you have to go back and try again. You can collect style points for doing tricks like jumping off of trucks that have been flipped in the air or for maintaining a long hang time. At the end of the run, you get points for completing the race and some extra points for how quickly you finish the run.
The points are used to unlock new skills such as a fast dash or double jump or new items such as a jetpack or an emergency truck to place under yourself. The skills make the more challenging runs a little easier (the emergency truck in particular can be a godsend if you get a little too far ahead of yourself), but even with some assistance the game presents new challenges pretty frequently. At first, the levels are fairly straightforward; which is to say, you just have to move straight forward. Gradually, new wrinkles are introduced, first in the form of obstacles like rocks and trees getting in the way of the trucks, causing huge pileups when the trucks try to maneuver around them. Then, the tracks introduce turns, so building up momentum and bounding forward at full speed becomes less of a good idea. Eventually, things like jumps, different elevations, and trucks coming the other way all get introduced to add to the challenge.
The gameplay is generally fun and fast-paced, but I did have an issue with the control scheme which you cannot remap. You use the A button to jump, and the right thumbstick to control the camera. Thus, when you’re trying to jump around turns, you’re using the same thumb to control the jump and the camera, and the split-second it takes to switch between the thumbstick and the button is often the difference between life and death. The L and ZL buttons are used to control abilities and the ZR button is used to dash while the R button is unused; any of those buttons would make much more sense as the jump button, which would leave your right thumb free to control the camera without having to make the switch. In a game that revolves so much around timing, it was often frustrating to have to waste that split-second moving the thumb around. It only rarely became an actual problem, but it put the game on the wrong side of the line between challenging and frustrating when it came up.
Like a lot of games made by smaller studios, Clustertruck employs a minimalist graphical style, but it does so very well. The assets in the game are all simple, but very sharp, bright, and clean, making for an overall very attractive visual style that looks as good on a TV as it does in the Nintendo Switch’s undocked mode. It’s fun to play on the go, but I have to say that it played better on the TV, since the bigger screen allowed for a better field of view, making it easier to plan out your jumps on the fly. On the other hand, planning too far ahead is sort of a waste of time in the later stages, as the trucks keep smashing into each other in unpredictable ways, but the chaos is part of the attraction of the game. Trying to marry strategy with reflex is where the greatest challenge of the game lies, and what makes it so rewarding to finish a level.
The base game included plenty of levels to keep things interesting, but the developers kept supporting the game with a few holiday-themed level packs which come with the Switch version of the game by default. I especially like the design of the Halloween level pack which reminded me (in a good way) of The Nightmare Before Christmas.
TL;DR: Fast, fun, and pretty but some minor control issues.
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