[Review] Road To Guangdong – Nintendo Switch

Written by Richard Strachan
  • Developer: Just Add Oil Games
  • Publisher: Excalibur Games
  • Release date: 28/8/2020
  • Price: £20.99/$22.49
  • Review code provided by Excalibur Games

Introducing: Road To Guangdong Nintendo Switch Review

As I’ve grown older I’ve noticed a bizarre change, in that I’m willing to spend more time playing games that to all intents and purposes are a bit boring. I don’t really know why! I have less and less time now that I’m a parent and spend most of my working hours staring at a computer with zero face to face interaction. Despite that, I just can’t get enough of games like Euro Truck Sim 2 or Spintires, which to all intents and purposes act as virtual representations of fairly unexciting work.

Give me a slow moving cumbersome vehicle and some open road and I’m happy as Larry. Road To Guangdong should theoretically be right in my ballpark. Imagine Euro Truck Sim, but rather than 20 tons of Beef to be transported to Rotterdam, you’ve got your old granny nattering in your ear as you drive across China. Despite the similarities, playing Road to Guangdong has made me realise that there’s an art to delivering that perfect mix of boredom and entertainment!

Big Trouble in Little China

Road To Guangdong follows the travels of Sunny and her Great Aunt, Gu Maa, as they travel across China in a beaten up old car. Sunny and her Aunt spend their travels visiting various family members in an effort to bring them back together for a big family reunion. In an age where games constantly aim to one up each other to be the latest blockbuster, a simple family tale seems quite refreshing. Unfortunately the writing itself is fairly sparse and bland. That said, the game manages to deliver some tender scenes showing the tensions and awkwardness of normal family life.

A total car crash?

Most of your time playing Road To Guangdong will be spent doing just that, driving along a road. You control a beaten up old banger affectionately named Sandy. Given Sandy’s age and deteriorating state, you need to manage your speed to prevent the engine overheating, your fan belt slipping off, wheels giving up, or the arse simply falling right out of the car! The experience seems similar to what I would imagine driving my sister in law’s old Jalopy to be like, which literally had mushrooms growing in the footwell at one point.

Now that might sound boring, but remember I’m the kind of guy that enjoys spending 2 hours driving a virtual Scania down the M6, laden with air conditioning units. Unfortunately poor old Sandy’s arse falls out when you hit 30 miles per hour! Attempting to hit eyeball melting speeds above 30 regularly see your engine begin to overheat, resulting in higher fuel consumption and increased wear on your already shoddy parts. This then feeds in to the second element of the game, the management of your car and resources.

Between scenes (or on the road, when you break down) you can examine parts of the car for wear and tear or examine your petrol tank and oil levels to see if you need a top up. This plays out in a first-person view, with you looking at the petrol cap for example to check the level of fuel and add in more petrol when needed (provided you brought along a Jerry can full). You need to manage fuel, oil, tires, fan belts and the like. The problem is that all of these resources are used up far more quickly than they feel they should. It can be rare to make it to the end of a 5 minute stage without needing to top up fuel or swap out a part. I’m all for detail in games and enjoy mechanics where you need to keep a base or vehicle running using finite resources, but the balance here is way off!

This could be overlooked if the core driving mechanics hit the same sweet spot as some of the game’s points of comparison, but unfortunately the driving sections are neither fun to play nor do they run well.

Sandy is intended to be a ropey old banger, but the handling is manages to be overly twitchy and also tanky at the same time, making cornering a mess. Rather than being a pleasurable experience, the driving sections are mundane. Now I know that can be the point in these types of games, but there’s a line in the sand between something that feels fun and something that just feels like a chore. Each of the driving sections is interspersed with garages, where you can top up your fuel and oil, purchase spare parts (or Jerry cans of fuel and oil for later use), and can also pay for repairs. Scrapyards allow you to pick up spare parts for repairs at a cheaper rate, but at the expense of durability. Given how quickly parts wear out I never really bothered using these.

Outside of the car based sections you engage in conversations with family members. These felt a little like something out of a Phoenix Wright game, minus the charm or clever puzzles. You work your way through simple dialogue trees, occasionally being prompted to take various actions, such as reassuring someone or helping an NPC with a dilemma. These sections are pretty mundane and offer up storylines which are fairly light and inconsequential.

Throughout the game you choose a mission to embark on, before heading off and juggling sections of driving and resource management. If you reach the end of a section you then begin the corresponding story scenes. At the end of each scene you get some more money to help you buy more fuel and parts to continue. 

The economy doesn’t feel quite right and on several occasions, despite driving slowly and managing my fuel and wear and tear as best I could I found myself out of cash and forced to restart a run. You can restart from the beginning of a mission, but I found myself out of cash and low on fuel. I was completely unable to get to the end of a section and the game’s default position was to restart the mission with low fuel and no cash once more. The option was there to restart completely, but it felt a bit pointless to sit through the same story beats and clunky driving sections.

Hell in a Cel

The game looks a little basic, but driving sections play out in a fairly nice simplistic cel-shaded style. The environments aren’t very varied, consisting of the same repeating city blocks, rolling fields or grey industrial city fringes. The art style in the story sections seems like it could be fairly nice to look at, but it feels as if it is just waiting on a final polish. Visually everything just feels a little bit unfinished.

Audio wise the game has a few tracks playable on the in car radio. You have a choice of two channels, but can often have a battle with your old Aunt Guu Ma if she doesn’t fancy the second channel, which features more electronic music. This means you’re often stuck with the traditional Chinese music channel, which features two tracks that could only be described as a cross between Father John Misty and the Kakariko themes from Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time. Now I like a bit of Father John Misty and I love the homely, nostalgic sounds of the Kakariko village themes, but this doesn’t quite hit the mark. The electronic channel doesn’t fare much better, as it feels out of place given the context of the game itself. In the end I found myself settling down with a podcast and treating the game more like a slog of a journey. Realistic perhaps, but not what I want after a hard day’s work!

Grinding the gears

If all of the above wasn’t disappointing enough, the game itself plays like a slideshow during the driving sections. The frame rate is poor and at times reminded me of Labo VR. For anyone who has experienced that particular “pleasure” you’ll know the dreadful nausea it can bring on.

I experienced a strange issue whilst playing the game where at times it would refuse to take screenshots. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. This may well be my machine playing up, but I’ve never had issues with any other game.

I also experienced some glitches whereby passing cars would float a few feet above the ground, which proved a welcome distraction from my (not so) slowly crumbling vehicle.

Final Thoughts

Road To Guangdong seemed like it would offer something new in the driving sim genre on Switch. If you are hoping for something that offers the simple, mundane pleasures of Euro Truck Sim or Spintires, prepare to be disappointed. The game offers the mundanity without that sprinkling of magic that makes these other games intoxicating. The gameplay is clunky and painful, the story fairly bland and the music mind numbing. There isn’t a great deal of content and the game isn’t exactly hitting a budget price point, so there isn’t a lot to recommend here.

Pros

  • Offers some moments of tenderness in the story.

Cons

  • Painful frame rate
  • Awful handling
  • Poorly balanced economy

Verdict

Road to Guangdong is disappointing. The driving mechanics are poor, the maintenance and economy are poorly balanced and overall performance is terrible. A disappointing experience all round!

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