Eastward (Switch) Review
Take Joel and Ellie from the Last of Us, drop them into EarthBound, add a dash of Zelda, and you’ve got Eastward. With brilliantly-detailed pixel art, charming writing, and tight gameplay, with upwards of 30 hours of content, Eastward is an absolute cracker of a game worthy of a place in any indie fan’s collection.
Eastward puts you in the shoes of dynamic duo big John and young Sam. John is the strong and silent type, and Sam’s the bubbly voice of reason. Through a combo of John’s quiet, easygoing attitude and Sam’s eagerness to please, you’ll find yourself seeing the sights while helping anyone that so much as hints at a problem. As is the standard with these kinda games there’s also some mysteriously shady business going on behind the scenes, but we’ll leave it to you to uncover the goings-on.
The visual style is the star of the show in Eastward. Through a meticulous marriage of pixels and 3D lighting, Shanghai-based indie studio Pixpil have fashioned a game so gorgeous you’ll have a hard time believing this is their debut release. The game features such a diverse range of character sprites, and there are so many blink-and-you’ll-miss-em animations, you can truly tell that Eastward is a love-letter written by fans of the SNES-era. And inspiration from the classic Nintendo title EarthBound is especially apparent, with everything from wacky character and enemy designs, to the environment variety and exploration, to the witty writing and overarching plot. There’s even some promotional pics on Eastward’s official website showing the characters in the style of clay figurines, just like EarthBound did back in the day – a nice touch!
Despite the EarthBound inspiration, Eastward isn’t entirely an RPG. Exploring a town and letting yourself into a resident’s house for a chat is very RPG, as is the way the plot chugs along, with important characters asking John and Sam for big favours in bigger cities, alongside optional side quests from the local animated oddballs. But Pixpil has opted-out of the classic JRPG turn-based battle system used by Ness and pals in favour of an action-adventure style of fighting akin to the 2D Zelda games. That means you’ll be smacking baddies with John’s trusty frying pan in real time. The exploration of dungeons is also very Zelda, with cracked walls needing a good bombing, perfectly timed hits of switches, and pressure plates abound. Not to mention collecting four ‘heart orbs’ to gain an additional heart. Interestingly, Eastward also has a cooking system very similar to Breath of the Wild’s, with a robust menu of dishes with different properties and a nice, little jingle as they cook. It’s a very cohesive mix of features, all coming together to create some real engaging gameplay.
One thing which caught me completely off guard was a game within the game. The characters in Eastward are always abuzz about a series called Earth Born, and in any other game this would just be a throwaway reference to EarthBound. But Eastward goes the extra mile, letting you play a fully-fledged 8-bit RPG any chance you get. And Earth Born has a surprising level of depth. The classic RPG inspo is even more apparent here, with the player character looking almost identical to the protagonist of Dragon Quest III (the spiky-haired alternate costume for Hero in Super Smash Bros Ultimate for those who don’t know). You’ll go from screen to screen, battling random monsters in a turn-based fashion, finding new party members with different classes, levelling up, shopping and equipping new gear.
This all happens over the course of seven in-game days, after which you’re forced to start the game again if you haven’t beaten the main boss, giving Earth Born a roguelike feel.
The most interesting part of Earth Born is the capsule toy system. As John and Sam you’ll stumble upon tokens, which you can redeem for a random toy from a special machine. As you receive a toy, you’ll unlock a unique item in Earth Born, specific to the toy you received. It’s more or less a toys-to-life system, not unlike Skylanders. There’s also an Earth Born manual with page-flipping action! If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is – Earth Born could basically be its own standalone game.
Now there’s a few things worth mentioning in the case against Eastward, but nothing that oughta turn you off. We experienced a good handful of crashes, plus a couple of glitches and one minor softlock during our playthrough, but a patch on September 29th seems to have cleaned things up. The game is particularly linear, much more so than most indie action-adventure games, but this also means that Pixpil is able to corral the player through the beats of the story as they see fit with spectacular set pieces along the way. The story suffers a slow burn numerous times in any given playthrough too, but in an indie game that’s almost 40 hours long, we’re more than happy to give it a pass, especially with how little padding there is. The music in the soundtrack also seems to repeat more times than it should, but the songs are so great it’s hard to stay mad. All in all, very forgivable stuff.
Eastward is a masterful title sure to put Pixpil on the map. The pixel art and animations are top notch, the characters are brilliantly well-written and the story intriguing. The gameplay is perfect blend of RPG and action-adventure and there’s so much game to play. Not to mention the entirety of Earth Born. Eastward should be high on any indie fan’s watchlist!
+ Amazing pixel art and animations
+ Hilariously witty writing for great characters
+ Challenging puzzles and exciting combat
+ Earth Born!
- Some real slow burn in parts of the game
- Much more linear than you’d expect