[Review] Dread Nautical – Nintendo Switch

Written by Joachim Ziebs
  • Developer: ZEN Studios
  • Publisher: ZEN Studios
  • Release Date: 29/04/2020
  • Price: £17.99 / $19.99
  • Review code provided by ZEN Studios

Video Review

Introducing: Dread Nautical Switch Review

What do you get when you mash up a cruise-liner and a tactical turn-based combat RPG with management parts and rogue-like elements? Something dreadful in the water, of course. In our case: Dread Nautical by ZEN Studios.
Aside: I still wonder if the pun on dreadnought was intentional or a hidden warning to potential players.

You are on board the ill-fittingly named cruise-liner ‘Hope’ cruising and enjoying your well deserved holidays when the ship is overrun by supernatural monsters with a hidden agenda. After the initial onslaught, you wake up in a safe room and get to talk to one other survivor called Jed who informs you that the fate of the ship is in your hands. Find other survivors, defeat the evil lurking about and find out what happened and why.

You’ve got the choice between four different unlikely heroes: Fargo Dexter (PI), Hatano Kenichi (ex Yakuza), Vi Nussbaum (video gamer) or Miraje (singer). All of them come with different stats and perks. Some have better health, some are quicker to befriend others while some can carry around more stuff. Pick wisely because your strategy decisions depend on it.

What a dreadful situation!

Talking to Jed will give you a task. Most of the time he will ask you to leave the safe room and work your way through one of the ship’s decks. Gear up with weapons and protective equipment, enter the lift and choose the deck you need to examine. More decks will become available by working through the story. Once you exit the lift, Jed will call it back down making sure that you need to complete the randomized (you’re playing a rogue-like, remember) deck to get back to the safe room. The decks are filled with loot of different kinds as well as a varied roster of enemies you need to defeat and other survivors you need to befriend and convince to join you on your mission.

The loot can be weapons of differing rarity, protective gear, scraps or runes. You need the weapons to fight, obviously, and the armour to lessen the bite of your enemies. You need the scraps to repair or upgrade your weapons and the runes to learn new perks or upgrade your stats.
That said, your weapons deteriorate very quickly. The better and stronger the weapons are, the fewer uses they offer. So you’ll have to be careful how you spend your scraps, especially on the higher difficulty levels!

Once you stumble into a room with monsters, you switch from free movement to combat mode. In combat mode your actions are limited by your action points (AP). Moving around or attacking will decrease the number of APs you have left. Attacking with a strong weapon costs more APs than using a weaker one. Once you’ve used up all your APs, your turn ends and your enemies’ turn begins. The turn-based combat is well thought out, but selecting the foes to attack or the places to move to is a bit jaggy. Defeated enemies leave loot behind which you can take if you have room in your (very) limited inventory.

Exploring the deck and clearing your quest will bring you to the bridge. There you simply need to sound the foghorn to pass out and reawake in the safe room on the next day. Then the cycle starts again. It’s rinse and repeat till you solve the mystery.

What dreadful acting!

Considering the fact that Dread Nautical is a horror game, the artstyle is fitting. Think of a cartoon artstyle like Sin City turned colourful and family friendly. It’s angles and blobs of colour with a bit of shading here and there, which looks both simple and surprisingly good at the same time. There is one caveat, though. The cut-scenes are ridiculous. The characters move and gesture exaggeratedly like puppets on strings. (Think of the Augsburger Puppenkiste, for example.) This sadly breaks the tone of the game completely. Also, while the voice acting is well done, the characters’ lip movements are only hinted at and mostly not happening. So you have puppets on strings talking without moving their mouths, but gesturing with arms and hands. Not really immersive I’d say.

The soundtrack on the other hand draws you in. It’s eery haunting music and creaky sound effects set the tone well. Still, you have a hard time feeling a sense of dread during the cut-scenes.
Aside: Or was this made intentionally dreadful?

What a dreadful bug!

I can live with clunky controls in games where precise movement isn’t necessary. I can live with ill-fitting cut-scenes. I can’t live with crashes and freezes that make me lose my progress. Losing progress in a rogue-like is a definite game breaker. Unfortunately this has been the case while playing Dread Nautical.

I found some cool rare gear. Then I started talking to another survivor. Begin cut-scene, give dialogue options, freeze, restart, cool item’s gone. That’s just annoyingly bad.
To add insult to injury, the loading times of the game are too long, as well. Entering a deck takes more than a minute, even when the art itself is not a detailed feast for the eyes.

Conclusion

With a light-hearted horror story featuring quirky characters, even if all of them are the usual stereotypes, I was hoping for a few rounds of good turn-based rogue-like gaming. Dread Nautical promises a lot, but what it delivers is not yet up to standards.

PROS

  • Randomized decks
  • Horror atmosphere (exempting the cut-scene animations)
  • Choice of main characters

CONS

  • Long load times
  • Cut-scene animations
  • Game crashes
  • Font size too small

Verdict
Unless you dread naught, you should let this cruise-liner pass by. This is one ship that sank fast.
2/5

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