Being cursed with an insatiable sweet tooth, I've long since come to terms with the fact that my relationship with sugar is not at all mutually beneficial. It tastes excellent initially, but no matter how hard I try and fight it, it is always followed by a dreadful sugar-crash. Can Level-5's Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl Gold avoid falling into the same traps by providing an all-around buffet of gaming delights or will it leave you hungry for something of more substance? Let's grab the serviettes and chew our way through the latest dungeon crawler on the Nintendo Switch.
If you've never heard of Snack World, you are not alone. Despite being developed by Level-5, of Professor Layton fame, the game released with little to no marketing or fanfare in the west. It's somewhat surprising considering that the game will likely appeal to fans of Pokemon and Digimon, with it's sugar-coated aesthetic and pun-filled dialogue and design. Or so I thought... Having now spent the better part of fifty hours chewing my way through, I'm can see why the game was basically left for dead outside of Japan.
When I first saw the trailer for Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl Gold, I was intrigued by the games charming style. Being a massive fan of the likes of Diablo, I find the genre fits wonderfully on the Switch. I hoped that Snack World would scratch my RPG itch, but as the hours wore on and I still found myself stuck in the same loop of dull gameplay, I began to realise that this game would likely leave me feeling worn down by it's repetitive nature and infuriating design.
Now, before you cry afoul "but Billy, even Diablo is repetitive!", you need to understand just how dull this vibrant and colourful world really is. It's like a tasty looking cupcake, but when bitten, turns out to be completely empty and devoid of flavour.
The game starts with a trite story we've seen a thousand times before but attempts to pepper the rote story with food puns and innuendo (of the kind, not appropriate for kids). It may look like a kids game, but with dialogue that mentions things like characters being "lubed up" feels entirely out of touch with the target audience for the game. It's sugary presentation likely won't appeal to adults, but the dialogue is definitely not very kid-friendly. The design dissonance leaves the game in this strange limbo, where I'm not sure who the target audience actually is. It attempts to be humorous frequently, but only occasionally sticks the landing. The rest of the time, you'll likely just find yourself cringing and skipping through all of the dialogue and story.
Getting to the gameplay, there's unfortunately not a lot to get excited about either. The game sees you plodding through procedurally-generated dungeons ad nauseam. The setup is simple. You're placed in a hub-area with NPCs and a handful of shops from which you can but new weapons, outfits and items. From this hub, you select story or side-missions (these are found by talking to select NPCs throughout the story). After selecting your next mission, you can equip your weapons and outfit, or just hit auto-equip (I did this almost every single time) so the game equips you with the best of your gear and items for the mission. From there's you're transported to the mission area. There's no real open-world to explore, outside of the small hub and the areas you visit all follow the same grid-based layout. Sure the layout changes from mission to mission, but that doesn't stop areas from wearing out their welcome long before you move on. It also doesn't help that the game has you repeating quests frequently. It's mind-numbing stuff, and when the whole game is centred around combat, there's nothing else here to really maintain interest.
Weapons come in the form of Jaras. Small key-chains that you equip and cycle between when in combat (they turn normal-sized once in hand). From here you have a soft and hard attack for each weapon along with two special moves. Jaras come in the form of daggers, swords, wands and more but all operate mostly the same. Each enemy will be weak against a particular type of jaJara, and thankfully the game prompts you to hit ZR when using the wrong Jara and will switch to the most effective one on hand. You'll have potions you can take during missions to heal or boost certain stats, but that's about it. The combat is woefully standard, and I honestly was bored with it after about five hours. Sure, it's exciting getting a cool looking new ice cream dagger, but when it works almost exactly the same as the one I had prior, progression feels stagnant.
Thankfully you don't have to take on missions alone. Throughout the game, you capture enemies and can then add them to your team for extra help on harder quests. Level-5 have done a great job with the creature designs and names, and they do add a touch of diversity to how you run missions. Selecting the right group of defensive, support or attacking creatures is a breeze and goes a long way with adding a bit more excitement to the screen. Still, even with up to three other creatures at your back, the combat never elevates above what you encounter in the first hour. Fifty hours later, and I was still doing exactly the same thing. You can also tackle side-missions with a friend online, but I wasn't able to test this out prior to launch. The game doesn't allow you to play multi-player on story missions, which is downright ridiculous.
Missions get exponentially more challenging as you progress and you'll have to upgrade your gear and Jaras to get through. Doing so requires you to rely on random drops or hoping that if you select a mission with a reward you need, the games RNG is kind enough to actually give you that drop at the end. More times than not, I had to run the same missions over and over again before I lucked out and got the actual main mission reward. RNG is a nightmare, and when coupled with how much repetition is involved, it feels like the game has no respect for your time.
Perhaps the best thing about Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl Gold is the art style. Creature and world design are solid, and there is plenty of cool loot to hunt. The process involved in seeing it all just isn't nearly as fun as it should be. I honestly think this game would be more at home as a free-to-play mobile title. Graphically it doesn't push the Switch much either. Textures are fairly flat, and everything has a very cartoony aesthetic. I did also notice the occasional bout of frame-stutter and slowdown, which seems strange for a game that was ported from the 3DS.
I could talk more about the games upgrade systems and the multitude of items you collect, but I feel begrudged giving it any more of my time. Even if you are a fan of similar games, I can't recommend this one. I struggled to make my way through and will never touch the game again, having finished this review. Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl Gold is perhaps one of the most monotonous and uninteresting games I've played in recent memory. I had high hopes that Level-5 would deliver the goods, but instead, I'm left hungry for something with just a little substance.
+ Some funny food puns.
- RNG nonsense.
- Dated visuals & flat textures,
- Excessive mission back-tracking.
- By the numbers story.
- Some strange innuendo.
- Difficulty spikes force grinding.