Pixpil is a studio from Shanghai, and they’ve been developing an eastbound role-playing adventure for quite a while. It’s now finally available for PC and Nintendo Switch gamers. Beneath stunning pixel graphics, there’s an interesting 30-hour train journey, where the design choices remind you of both east and west.
A miner named John lives with a young girl named Sam on Potcrock Island, where they mine for precious metals and make sure there aren’t any disgusting snails around. These creatures are healed with the help of a frying pan, but larger, more human issues cannot be dealt with with violence. The Potcrockians do not have a benevolent attitude towards Sam, who is not originally from the island. Plus, Sam is also far too eager to see the outside world. John and Sam are taken on an adventure by traveling from place to place by train, and they get to know many places in the outside world.
Like I said, Eastward’s graphics are something to watch in all of its glory and weirdness. In cities and dungeons, the more traditional pixel graphics have an added filter, and this conscious retro style reminds me of Narita Boy. The old and treasured buildings have a dose of custom graffiti and old neon signs. The soundtrack composed by Joel Corelitz reminds me of the 1980s, and those tunes refuse to leave your mind even when you’re not playing. That’s a good thing, as Eastward doesn’t have a real voice acting.
That’s not a problem, as you’re more than happy to keep up with the text-based dialogue. The story has many unexpected and surprising points, and they are usually commented on by different NPC characters. The story begins a bit slow, but the action starts right away. This means that the personalities of the main characters are not spelled out until much later in the game. The story can sometimes be deepened, but the plot still progresses at a fairly rapid pace. The game mechanics aren’t very well explained, and the story itself would benefit from moments of slowdown.
For example, some dialogue scenes would need a more relaxing presentation. The camera follows the action from an upward angle, then zooms in too far on whoever is speaking right now. It creates confusing moments every now and then. Fortunately, there is an option to replace the speech bubbles with simple captions.
Getting around the dungeons is a bit of an uninspired affair with a frying pan. Enemies are confronted by John’s pan and Sam’s waves of energy. Bombs are used to detonate false walls and other obstacles, and simple puzzles require you to carefully check out these linear dungeons.
Eastward’s graphics are a sight to behold even in dungeons, which is always a good thing. The game runs smoothly and without a hitch, but there is a bug in the Switch version’s turn-based Earth Born minigame. Once the menus got so confusing that I had to restart the game to get out of this mini-game. I’m assuming these little issues have already been fixed via a post-launch patch.
Eastward is clearly one of the best games of this fall, right next to Tales of Arise and Life is Strange: True Colors. If you’re looking for a slightly different and exotic role-playing experience, you should give John and Sam a chance.