Unto the End
Developed By: 2 Ton Studios
Published By: Big Sugar
Category: Adventure, Platformer, Action
Release Date: 12.17.20
Composers: Johnny Knittle, Francesco Ameglio
The Nintendo Switch has benefitted greatly from smaller developers choosing to bring their games to the eShop. These devs have done an amazing job of helping to build an impressive library that continues to make the Switch the best deal in gaming. Unfortunately, sometimes a game just doesn’t quite fit in with everything the Switch does well. I had some personal problems with today’s game, Unto the End, from a gameplay perspective, but its biggest issue is that it just doesn’t take advantage of one of the Switch’s biggest strengths. It ends up being a good example of the difference between a good game, and a good game for the Switch.
Attention Soulslike Developers: Challenging Doesn’t Have To Be a Chore
Unto the End is a fairly simple story of a man trying to make his way home against long odds. It doesn’t have any real narrative portions; you just keep going forward until the game is over. As a result, it leans entirely on its gameplay to engage players, to mixed results. The combat system is fairly simple to understand; you have both a high and low attack and block, you can jump, you can roll, you can ram with your shoulder, and you can throw a knife. Your enemies, when you encounter them, have specific tells which indicate whether they’re attacking high or low or just blocking for now.
I’m sure I just made it sound simple, and at its core it is, but trust me, Unto the End is anything but easy. Learning enemy patterns can take a few fights – specifically, the same fight multiple times because the one thing you do easily is die. Frustratingly, the checkpoint system doesn’t just put you back at the start of a fight, so you will have to backtrack a lot, which gets exceptionally tedious when you’re having difficulty getting past a certain encounter. The developer’s website claims most encounters can be cleared without fighting, if you spend the time to explore thoroughly, but it’s difficult to look for clues when someone’s swinging a sword at your face.
The game also features simple platforming, like jumping across chasms and jumping and pulling yourself up a ledge. At times, it can be off-putting. At one point early in the game, when I pulled myself up off a ledge a rock fell at exactly the same time, crushing me to death before the pulling-myself-up-the-ledge animation was over. I never even had a chance to attempt to dodge. I mean there’s unforgiving, and then there’s just mean.
Unto the End does present well; the graphics are simple, but clean and attractive. It’s a little dark, but we’ll get to that in another section. My point is, overall, it looks good despite a minimalist approach to visual design. This approach does have some drawbacks, however. The game eschews traditional indicators of your character’s status like health bars or icons showing what status effects are active. You have to track your character’s health by how bloody he is; and once he has trouble standing, you know you’re basically dead. It’s inventive, if a little inexact, but I think I still would have preferred a health bar.
As Good As It’s Gonna Get
My biggest personal quibble with the game is its lack of meaningful progression. There’s basically no narrative structure; you’re just heading home, so progressing through the game doesn’t really reward you with an engaging story or characters. Your character doesn’t gain new skills, abilities or weapons, meaning the gameplay stays pretty much the same from start to finish. You can craft new armor pieces from materials gathered around the world, which probably makes death slightly less likely, maybe, but I couldn’t prove it one way or the other. The only definitive difference I can see is that your character’s appearance is slightly altered. For people who play games solely for the challenge, this isn’t really a problem. Personally, however, I prefer the traditional Soulslike reward structure of loot, lore, and more loot.
Not for the Switch
My quibbles with the difficulty level, lack of a meaningful sense of progression, and use of unconventional and unclear health and status indicators can all be written off as personal preferences, and not necessarily any kind of fundamental problem with the game. The real issue with Unto the End on the Switch that it’s basically unplayable in handheld mode. At the very beginning of the game, you’re stuck in a cave and have to use a torch to have any visibility in most areas. The game is zoomed out to – supposedly – give you a better look at your surroundings, but honestly it’s so dark except for a small area around your character that you can’t really see much detail in the backgrounds. Having things be so dark and inscrutable from the game’s beginning made me question whether the developers even wanted anyone to stick with the game past the first ten minutes.
Moreover, it is very difficult to read an enemy’s tells on the handheld screen. Even when the game zooms in during fights, the difference between the start of a high attack and a low attack are granular enough that most of the time I was basically guessing which way I had to block. It’s also very difficult to read your character’s health status while playing undocked; your character gets so small it makes sort of bloody almost visually indistinguishable from very bloody.
Again, these complaints are all about playing Unto the End undocked, which is personally disappointing because I generally prefer playing my Switch that way. Things were fine enough when I played docked through my TV, but I actually had the best experience when I hooked the game up to my computer monitor. Being closer to a reasonably large screen at my computer desk made it the easiest to read enemy movements, engage in combat, and most clearly see my surroundings. Regardless, when a console’s greatest strength is your game’s biggest weakness, that’s a bad fit. If you enjoy a challenge and don’t need anything else to accompany it, Unto the End will likely prove satisfying – as long as you play it docked. If you like to take your Switch on the go or need something more than an unforgiving level of difficulty to engage yourself in a game, this probably isn’t something you’ll find rewarding.
Unto the End
Digital – $24.99
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The Switch Effect was graciously supplied a code for review purposes.