Developed By: PixPil Published By: Chucklefish Categories: Adventure Release Date: 09.16.21
They say the first impression is the most important one. My first impression to Eastward was in a Nintendo Indies showcase back in 2019. What I saw was this beautiful indie game, one of the best looking I’ve seen. So I waited. And waited. And it would take two long years until I would finally get my hands on this game. It was totally worth the wait.
Lets get this out of the way. Eastward is not a Earthbound clone, in the least. Not every indie game that’s quirky or has great sprites and designs is an Earthbound clone. Instead, this is closer to a Legend of Zelda game. A Legend of Zelda game mixed with something out of Love de Lic or Vanpool to be exact. To most people, I can’t imagine that means much, but expect the oddball, the charismatic.
The Land Below
Eastward has you in control of John, a local digger, and a young girl named Sam. Both live in the slums of Potcrock Isle, a subterranean town that honestly looks closer to a homeless camp or a small city out of a post apocalyptic anime. It’s not much, but it’s home. If you’re working, you’re a digger, if you’re not a digger, you’re a farmer at the ranch. Neither pay well, but at least there’s food on the table…the same food every day.
Sam though, she’s a special girl. She’s not exactly from Potcrock Isle. She knowns about the world above, with it’s blue skies and green ground. Sounds beautiful, but most people who speak about this are called “Fantasists”. Infact, I wouldn’t even talk about any of this in front of the mayor. Potcrock Isle is only the begining of John and Sam’s journey though.
The story at first moves slow, but once it does, it’s a trip. From the underground, to a little tiny village, to labs, a bustling city. Each has something to say, and showcase the stark difference in class and wealth between each area. You’ll find the rude and maybe the humble wherever you go though.
I’m ‘Bout to Hit You With My Frying Pan!
The first of our leads, John is our hard hitter. His main weapon, a frying pan. It feels good to whack things with it, really good. Just give any enemy, robot, monster you see a nice big WHACK with it. A good charged button press can knock things around too with a heavy swing. He can drop bombs for some good “renovating” of areas too, if things are in the way. Later into the story ranged weapons become a thing with their own ammo counts. I won’t go too into detail about all of them but the “Scepter of Flame”, a repurposed ancient squirt-gun turned flamethrower is definitely my favorite. Weapons all have secondary uses too, like the SoF burning nasty, pokey shrubbery and your Frying Pan to well…cook! All of this can be upgraded, with new looks too!
I’m getting Contact vibes here, which coincidentally was made by ex-Love de Liv alumni, Akira Ueda. Mainly due to the importance of cooking and gathering ingredients. Fish, Meat, Fruit, Milk and Eggs, some spices. Cook up quite the number of dishes depending on how you mix and match. Spices change the buffs you get with food like defense or attack. Make this dish here, it’s Sam’s favorite. You can always just buy food, but cooking it yourself and hearing the wonderful jingle while cooking is just great. If you can land the slot machine right before cooking right, you get get a nice bonus.
Something Strange About That Little Girl
Sam has her own abilities too, though they’re not very good at actually harming things. Much more helping out. Energy bubbles to light dark areas or clear a certain dark, deadly substance. A Blast to stun all surrounding enemies. An Energy Shield, which is self explanatory. And healing. You’re gonna have to find those last two though.
That Poor Robot has a Stutter…
Eastward’s cast of very, very colorful characters is nothing short of spectacular. I love all of these characters, even the nasty ones. Everyone has a unique design, fitting in with the area they’re in. Even in areas and towns you’re only in briefly, they leave an impression. In Potcrock, there’s this neighbor who seems to really fondly remember your time in school with him, even if you don’t. There are a group of real nasty bullies early on too, and they *just* hit that button of cruel children.
The grand number of characters really does add to world building. After key events, most will have something new to say, important or not. There’s just so many.
My favorite character is Alva. She’s the princess of New Dam City and a real tech head. She’s cute, quirky, and can’t cook for nothing. A huge buff for history to give context to some of the ancient findings and areas. Alva lives with her partner Isabel (Izzy), a ranger in their apartment/lab. They both squabble like a young couple, but at the end of the day, there must be a reason they’re together…maybe it’s their arcade cabinet and room of toys.
The World Above is So Beautiful
Eastward is one of the must breathtaking looking indie games I’ve ever seen. The spritework, the animations, it’s all top notch. Like something you’d see from SNK, Nazca or late 90’s Capcom. I’ve mentioned how everyone has a unique design, and the excellency of the the sprites just magnify all of this. Everyone but John is full of emotion and movement…John’s a quiet guy. The backgrounds an on another level of greatness too. Towns look lived in. Towns look busy with posters, signs, and even things to interact with. Buildings can be walked inside, some literally for no point, but others for quests or shops. See that toilet? Flip it’s lid up and down. The TVs in the house? Turn it off an on. Look in the mirror, it reflects.
No two places felt the same. Even sub-areas of cities have their own feel. The relatively modern New Dam City has a slums area inside the Dam itself. There’s even a remotely calm and rustic looking park where circus performers act. There are so many things to explore, even some hidden areas, which believe me, are *well* worth your time.
Music is no slouch either. Tons of ear worms, tons of music period. You might hear some music repeated the more you move around, but all of it is good and I can’t get some out of my head. Joel Corelitz deserves all of the praise he’d get for this game.
Gotta Take it Slow
I mentioned how the game starts a bit slow, right. Well, this is definitely not a game for the instant gratification kind. Eastward has A LOT to say, takes it’s time saying it, and is probably going to test your patience. Sometimes it’s just like an episode of Seinfeld, absolutely nothing. But it just adds on to how the game and world feels.
When you’re on the move, the game moves just at the right pace. Little to no interruptions. In a town though, you’ll be like the Cameo song though, back and forth. I get why that can be an issue, but for me, it was never an issue, and the gameplay is so good I never mind.
I think the localization might have something to do with how I appreciate the writing and characters. It’s not stilted, it just feels naturals, the odd typo aside. The dialog can naturally swerve between serious and goofy moments and not one characters talks the same.
Kids these days and their videogames. They’re always huddled around their consoles by the TV playing this game called…Earthborn? You too can play it, as soon as you get that memory card. Just walk up to that
Dreamcast console and indulge. An old school, Gameboy-like Dragon Quest clone…DON’T MIND IF I DO. Attacks, special attacks, items. A Demon King that needs slaying. You have a week in, in game days to defeat him. If you just walk everywhere, you’ll run out of time, so plan things out, go to those Seagull Statues to teleport. Gather party members, some non-offensive allies, and make sure to not die.
If you do, no biggy, you can always try again. It’s just a game. You could always go over to that Gachapon machine however and get figures to help you out, ala amiibos. They all give you an item in game, so having doubles can’t hurt.
Was it Worth the Wait?
To answer that header, yes. An emphatic yes. I know that odd/quirky indie games are dime a dozen, but it’s always so rare to see one that does it all straight and serious. It really does feel like I’m playing the evolution of what action RPGs or a Zelda game could be if 2D games didn’t get tossed to the side in the 90’s and 2000’s. It feels great, it looks great, it sounds great. I’m glad I got to play this game.