Eastward has had a lot of hype surrounding its release. Developed by Pixpil and published by Chucklefish, the hype around this game grew alongside each trailer, press article, and interview shown. With gorgeous pixel art and beautiful music, Eastward having such a push of support prior to its release makes complete sense. But does the rest of the game hold up alongside the amazing aesthetics? Let’s dig deeper and find out.
You play as John, a silent protagonist who works as a digger in an underground town known as Potrock Isle. He takes care of a young mysterious girl known as Sam. You don’t see how the two meet in-game, but there is a cutscene that plays before the game starts out that partially explains how it happened, showing John coming across Sam in some sort of cocoon in one of the underground dig site’s caverns. It’s not explained until much later why this is the case.
As you play through the beginning of the game, you quickly learn that the surface has been dubbed as a place of death. All talk about the surface is prohibited, with the threat of being forced to the surface looming over everyone’s heads. That’s exactly how you find yourself, Sam, and a strange jester known as Jasper thrown right towards the surface.
Unfortunately, the storytelling in general for Eastward slowly starts unraveling in a way that shows its weaknesses. As you progress, each area builds on the last and the details that you are able to gleam through conversation. But after a certain point, the story started moving faster to get towards the end rather than take the time to completely flesh out the story.
The story is very linear and while that’s not a problem per se, that does mean that as you progress through the game, there is no way for you to go back to previous areas. This also means that a lot of details that you pick up from one area tend to be secluded within that one part.
Eastward is a puzzle action-adventure game where you will explore multiple dungeons, battle against bosses, and solve puzzles in order to progress. You are able to upgrade your weapons and cook meals to boost your stats.
All combat is handled in real time, with you choosing to attack any enemies that appear on the screen. Since there is no leveling in Eastward, there isn’t much of an incentive to fight against enemies outside of clearing the way. Sometimes, enemies will sporadically drop hearts or ammo refills. They tend to happen more when you are low on either though, so keep that in mind.
There are several boss battles in Eastward, with each boss having their own quirks. Some bosses are better dealt with from a distance, while others will need the quick rapid fire of a frying pan to the face to take them down. Most of the bosses are easy to figure out but some may need some experimentation with your different weapons.
To switch between weapons, you’ll need to open your weapon menu and select the particular weapon you wish to use. While there aren’t a lot of situations where you need to quickly switch between weapons, it would have been nice to switch weapons with a single button press (or with the use of a directional and face button) rather than needing to open a menu and switch over to the weapon of your choice. It’s kind of clunky and not as intuitive as it could have been.
You can switch between John and Sam at any point with a button press. John has control of all of the weapons while Sam has an energy beam at her disposal. When an enemy is hit by this beam, they are either momentarily stunned or completely destroyed. Sam can also light up areas by hitting luminescent mushrooms scattered through dungeons. Even if there are no mushrooms, Sam’s beam does offer some light by itself as well. Later in the game, Sam will unlock the ability to charge her beam attack, which makes its attack strike stronger and reach a longer distance. She does have an energy bar, which decreases as you use more of your energy and it does recharge over time.
As you progress in Eastward, you will slowly unlock multiple weapons to use. These weapons include your frying pan, bombs, a gun, a flamethrower, and a cog shooter. The frying pan is your only melee weapon while everything else is based on ammo. Ammo for your bombs and your ranged weapons are separate. This means that all of your ranged weapons share ammo, although this doesn’t really pose too much of a problem as each weapon tends to have its own moment to shine.
Every weapon does have its own strengths and weaknesses and as you progress, you’ll find that certain weapons work better than others. Because the frying pan is your only weapon that doesn’t require ammo, it is extremely reliable in times where you have no ammo. Since the time in-between attacks is very small if you are spamming your attack button, the frying pan is a solid choice to stick with. However, there are moments where staying in melee range means immediate death, which is where your other weapons come into play.
The gun is a good choice if you need to stay back a bit from enemies. However, the range is abysmal, with you needing to be much closer than expected in order to hit your enemies, especially if you have bad aim. You also can’t spam attacks as quickly. The flamethrower is very good against grassy terrain that is standing in your way, and it also has a decent attack range as well. The only problem is that you’ll need to keep a close eye on your ammo, because it’s very easy to use up much more than you have expected. The cog shooter is another decent choice, with it being a weapon that can be shot the furthest away. However, aiming can be finicky and if you end up missing, the cog will ricochet off of any obstacles. While it won’t end up causing you damage, it can add to the chaos that’s on screen.
Puzzle-solving in Dungeons
There are multiple dungeons in Eastward that you will be tasked with navigating through. Unfortunately, a good majority of them don’t tend to be too memorable, with many of the cave dungeons blending together. Nonetheless, each location has its fair share of puzzles for you to figure out. Eastward makes good use of both John and Sam, with several puzzles requiring you to weave between both characters to advance.
There are some places that require heavy lifting and destruction of obstacles or monsters, which is where John shines best. Other places are blocked off by a small entrance, in which only a small child could fit through. And since changing between characters is seamless, that makes the puzzle solving process that much simpler.
The puzzles themselves are not particularly difficult to solve. Puzzles will grow in scope as you progress on and there are a few timed puzzles towards the end of the game that may cause a bit of frustration. But overall, the puzzles were straightforward to figure out.
Your frying pan isn’t only meant to be used as a weapon; you can also use it to cook at any stove that you come across in Eastward. You will need at least three ingredients to fix a meal, which can be found in stores, crates/treasure boxes, or as drops from enemies. There are several recipes that you can unlock by mixing different ingredients together and it is encouraged to play around. Different meals heal for different amounts and may also offer certain stat boosts. After choosing your ingredients, you can play a little slot game that can give the chance to give boosts to everything the meal offers.
Earthborn is an RPG minigame that can be played from outside of any store with a TV set. Heavily inspired by Dragon Quest, you play as a young hero who has made it his goal to fight against the Demon King. Along the way, you come across heroes who can help to make the battle easier. With that main goal in mind, you must travel across the map and train yourself up to get stronger. You can choose to exit the game at any point, with the game picking back up where you left off.
There is another aspect to Earthborn, which are the Pixball machines. You can find these gachapon machines next to any Earthborn console. In order to use this machine, you’ll need tokens, which you’ll naturally find as you progress. This token will allow you to draw for items from a gachapon machine. Depending on the item you win, you can get items in Earthborn, such as healing items.
Since this is based on older Dragon Quest titles, that means lots of random encounters and grinding. That also means turn-based combat, for those who are looking to scratch that itch. However, if you’re looking to play your fill of Earthborn, you will need to make sure that you play as much as you can early on. Once you reach a certain point later in the game, you won’t be able to access any areas where you can play Earthborn.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, Eastward has been highly anticipated, primarily due to its visual appeal. The game is gorgeous. The attention to detail is amazing and each location feels completely different from the last. It’s so detailed that it’s almost hard to take in everything in one sitting. And the attention to detail isn’t just left at the world and characters. The UI and menus are just as nice to navigate through, being simple yet showing everything that you need in an instant.
Overall, Eastward clocks in at about 20 hours or so, if you don’t spend a whole lot of time with the Earthborn minigame. Given the linearity of the game, there’s not a whole variety after your initial playthrough, especially if you are thorough with your exploration.
The music is another high point for Eastward. Composed by Joel Corelitz, who has an amazing discography under his belt (Halo, Death Stranding, Tumbleseed, Gorogoa, etc.), it makes sense that the soundtrack is a treat to listen to. Along with funky upbeat tunes, there is a good mix of slow songs, all of which tie to each scene perfectly. There is a lot of influence of 80s/90s game music present, giving the soundtrack of nostalgic feel to it. And yet, everything sounds fresh to the ears.
Eastward does suffer a bit from being hyped by so many people for so long. It is a perfectly competent game by itself and is overall a fun experience to play through. As someone who was overly excited for Eastward, it did come as somewhat of a letdown. The story seemed to accelerate after a certain point, without any proper setup to reference back to. Additionally, the gameplay, while serviceable, isn’t really anything to write home about.
That being said, Eastward is a fun game. Combat felt nice, the puzzles were satisfying to solve, and the bosses were all interesting in their own way. The use of John and Sam was balanced well and the fact that the game gave you a reason to actually use Sam was a great touch. While there were some hiccups in the pacing and storytelling, Eastward as a whole is a game I would say to at least give a chance.