[Review] Curious Expedition – Nintendo Switch

Written by Joachim Ziebs

Developer: Maschinen Mensch
Publisher: Thunderful
Release Date: 3/4/2020
Price: £13.49 / $14.99
Review code provided by Thunderful

Introducing: Curious Expedition Switch Review

Ah, the Age of Exploration! To boldly go where no one has gone before. Well, at least on this planet – and as one of the finest minds or most daring adventurers of the age: Curie, Darwin, Tesla (plus some rather notorious figures, but I won’t say more.) They’re all in search of eternal fame, or in this case, being rewarded with a statue of one’s likeness in front of one’s exploration club. Let your rivals grovel before you, or in other words: get famous, or die trying!

To achieve fame, you simply have to pick one of the available explorers (six men and only one woman at beginning, but several more can be unlocked via gameplay,) and return victoriously from six different expeditions. All of the expeditions are procedurally generated and present you with a world made up of hexagons and filled with deserts, swamps, rivers, mountains, temples, natives, and dangerous animals to name but a few. All these are woven together into a procedurally-generated story. No expedition will be the same, even if you return to a location a second or third time.

To infinity…

Choose your explorer wisely, because not only do they each have their own unique perks, but they also come with different companions as well as a distinct selection of expedition supplies for your first voyage. Each of the explorers is better suited to certain terrains or play styles. For example, Marie Curie is well-equipped for pacifist runs, but practically useless if you are prone to fighting.

Next up is the choice of destination. Your four rivals have already decided, leaving you with only two options. Have a look at the terrain to expect and take your pick. Before you set sail, you’ll be approached by someone offering a side-quest. Accepting and completing it will result in increased fame and a monetary reward. However, if you don’t manage to get it done, your fame will decrease. Speaking of fame, one or more people will ask to join you on your trek, giving you a chance to fine-tune your team. You can also buy further provisions.

With that done, you’ll reach your destination after a short voyage. Let’s go into the unknown! You have a compass to guide you to the endpoint of all expeditions: a golden pyramid. Reach it, and the expedition ends. On your way, try to gather fame and riches by getting your more-or-less grubby fingers on as much loot as you can get by trading or taking items from temples or shrines.

Keep an eye on your sanity! Moving through the land decreases your sanity bit by bit. The harder the terrain to cross, and the heavier your burden is, the more sanity you will lose with each step. You can replenish it by either sleeping at a mission or in a village or by consuming various foodstuffs. Run out of sanity, and you are more likely to end the expedition by meeting your maker. (That’s game over. No expeditions in heaven!)

…and beyond!

If you like pixel art and chiptune music and sounds, Curious Expedition will not disappoint you. The hexagonal tiles making up the world are small, but distinguishable enough. The detailed pictures of temples, ruins etc. are pretty, and have a “realistic” feel (as in Indiana Jones or Alan Quatermain.) The music fits the overall theme well without distracting you. Curious Expedition is nice on the eyes and ears, but no more – and that’s totally okay, because most people play a roguelike for the gameplay and not for the visual impression.

End of an era!

So, will Curious Expedition find itself on a pedestal, glorified for all eternity? Well, it might if you can live with two flaws. This title began its life as a PC game, and while the Switch version is a solid port, there is a major gripe: small fonts! If I have to pry over my glasses to read on-screen text while playing handheld, the fonts are too small. It’s not even like there is a lot of text to display the same time, so why the font was not adjusted is a mystery to me. It gets more readable while playing docked, but going on an expedition while snuggling on the couch can be a hard endeavour in any case. Perhaps an update will remedy the situation. There’s always hope.

The second gripe is the fact that, while the game’s tutorial campaign shows you the ropes quite well, the explanation of the battle system is lacking a lot of depth. This might be okay in case you are a roguelike veteran and used to figuring out everything yourself (and dying while doing so,) but more information would be worth having for all others.

Pros

  • Fun narrative, many collectibles/achievements
  • Endless replayability
  • Great ways to fine-tune your gameplay

Cons

  • Battle system not well-explained in the tutorial
  • Font size too small in handheld

Verdict

With its endless replayability and pseudo-Victorian charm, this is one of the few roguelikes I enjoy playing. The writing is clever and gets more wacky and strange with each expedition in a run. Definitely a game to enjoy a again and again!

4/5

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