[Review] Soul Searching – Nintendo Switch

Written by Mel Curtis
  • Developer: Kayabros
  • Publisher: Nakana.io
  • Release date: 25/10/2019
  • Price: £8.99 / $9.99
  • Review code provided by Nakana.io

Introducing: Soul Searching Review

Right now, things are kind of awful. At the time of writing, Covid-19 is still widespread, even if there is mumbling of the stay-at-home order I am living under being lifted slightly, and next week will be the one month anniversary of me working from home full time. Since that started, I have left my house only twice, so you could say that I need some escape, no matter how minimal. This is one of those times that I turn to my collection of games and ask myself which ones are going to let me feel like I’m not trapped here, even if just for a little while. Soul Searching caught my eye for the prospect of escape on concept alone, having me hoping that I might be able to fulfill a Moana fantasy for a few hours at a time.

Casting Off

In Soul Searching you take on the role of a person living on a small island in a vast ocean who is undertaking becoming a “soul searcher”. The meaning of this isn’t quite clear at first, but there are two things that are obvious. You’re meant to take a raft and set out towards other islands and nobody expects that you will ever be coming back. With that, you set off from your home in the direction of the nearest island in order to get what you need to continue island hopping to explore the world. That’s the surface of it, anyway, since there’s more going on under the hood that I’m not going to spoil here.

This game is one of those ones that you’re either really going to connect with the story of, or you’re not. Plain and simple. Unfortunately, I didn’t connect too much with it, though it did stir a little in me, but not always in the best of ways. This is a game where a lot of the characters you meet are frightened or anxious. Some live in a cave in order to hide from dragons that soar the skies and there was another who told me about how they battle depression nightly. There’s a severe sense of melancholy that radiates from this game, but there are points where I felt it was taking a straight turn into nihilism. It tries to inject some hope in order to balance those darker turns out, but I never felt like it was enough to fully bring it back up to just the melancholy tone that was initially set. I can see this game hitting me a lot harder if I were not in a good headspace when I played it, but I don’t know for sure if that would have been in a good or bad way.

There’s a lot in this game that’s able to get you down, even beyond the things that characters might say or the story itself. When you’re out on the ocean, you’re alone aside from the fish that you might see swim alongside you. When you do have encounters, it’s rare that it’s something that will be good for you. There were only two times where something happened that helped me along. Otherwise there were crows stealing my food, dragons lighting my boat aflame, or whatever else the scary ocean could throw at me. There’s nothing more terrifying that realizing that the dragon is finally leaving you alone, only to realize that one of the things that burned up was your map. You really are alone too, because the only other boats you are going to come across are those of other soul searchers and, well, there’s a reason your island didn’t think you would be coming back.

Man the Rudder

As a top down survival game with seafaring elements, what I was most curious about was how the actual mechanics of the boat would be handled in Soul Searching, since I felt that was the aspect that would make or break the game. Honestly, I really liked how they were done. Depending on where you stand, you can interact with the oars of your raft and then boat in order to get moving forward or turn. While they were simple to understand, I connected with my character a lot when I first started trying to row and was fumbling around. My turns were horrible at first as I would turn much farther than I needed to and go back too far when I tried to correct it. It wasn’t long before I was handling things just fine. The only downside was that there were a lot of moments where I was just sitting and holding one button down because my course was set and I just needed to go in one direction.

A lot of what you will be doing as you try to reach the mysterious island in the distance, the one that taunts you with it’s lack of a name, is just surviving. You need to balance your hunger, thirst, and energy while also trying to make headway. Not to mention trying to grab a few coins from the ocean along the way so that you can maybe buy a bigger boat on the next island! You have to keep in mind how much you have and hope that it’s enough to be able to make it. Energy is easily filled by sleeping, but you can only get a new bucket of fresh water on islands. So you can’t stay out on the ocean forever, even after you manage to get the fishing rod so you’re not just relying on the berries of islands for your food.

If you’re looking for something a little more relaxed and without the tone of the story mode, there’s also a random mode that drops you and the islands in a new setup where you have to explore and survive in much the same way as the main story, but without all the bells and whistles of the story. It’s a bit more of an open ended mode since you don’t have the thrust of the story trying to drive you in a certain direction. While it’s unclear, I feel like the difficulty may have been boosted a little here. While I never actually managed to end up dead in the story mode, I have yet to see everything I wanted in the random mode. Thankfully, I can have a little help as the random mode does allow for couch co-op play of up to four players so my sisters and I could take turns rowing to conserve energy or someone could fish while another is rowing.

Hoist the Sails

The pixel look of this game is simple in a way that I like, but at the same time I wouldn’t exactly say I am entirely happy with it. I do like that there is a level of customization to your character, but I never really felt like they looked like a person, even from above. It was a little disappointing. I love the way the boats and the animals looked, but the people just felt a little too abstract for me to ever really recognize them as people, which is a bit of a shame. Otherwise, though, the presentation was charming and the look suited the simplicity of the gameplay.

I was initially worried about how the music might be when selecting a different option in the menu and created a cacophony of noise that I didn’t like all that much, but it was unfounded. This game took the Breath of the Wild approach where a lot of the time there’s not going to be any music, but when it does come in it’s this relaxing folksy tune that mellows out the moment and reminds you to just take a breath. There’s nothing here that I am going to walk away humming, but it accented the game nicely and brought the tone together in a way that it needed.

Weigh Anchor

Everything ran just fine for the most part and I never had any major glitches or crashes, not that I would expect anything of the sort. The only problem that I ran into was the way that my character would kind of jitter in place if I had her standing in a bad spot on the boat while rowing. It was like the motion of the oar’s animation was knocking her around a little. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t be remedied without some re-positioning, but I knew that if I had to stare at it for a while it would have been more than frustrating.

Disembark

Soul Searching isn’t a game that taught me about myself or took me on a grand journey, though I could tell that it really wanted to. For me, Soul Searching was a nice game to play for a little while that I may or may not return to in the future. While I found it to be a simple escape for a few hours, I have no doubt that there is someone out there who is going to consider it an absolute masterpiece, and if they do, more power to them for connecting with it on a level that I couldn’t. In that way, Soul Searching reminds me of something like an underground indie movie that only a handful of people have seen, but there are a few people who will swear by it every single time.

Pros

  • Simple yet engaging game play
  • DLC purchase funds charity
  • Replayable randomized mode with co-op

Cons

  • Can go to some dark places
  • Graphics aren’t always my favorite

Verdict
Take a trip over the waves with the simple yet engaging design of this ocean-faring survival game.
4/5

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