Saturday, March 10

Review: Turtle Pop - Journey to Freedom [Nintendo Switch eShop]


Ambition to do something different is always a tightrope walk when making games. Differentiation from the competition and taking risks tend to go hand in hand with finding success, especially for indies, so it isn’t unusual to see genre-mixing and other idea come to the table. In the case of Turtle Pop: Journey to Freedom what simply looks like a cute and cuddly platformer quickly reveals itself to have much more going on under the surface. At issue is whether everything thrown in enhances the game experience or simply muddles it.


Starting with the core gameplay, Turtle Pop is essentially a platformer but even in this mode some puzzle elements and even Match-3 get blended in. You’ll typically begin by controlling one turtle but over the course of the level it isn’t unusual to encounter more. In the interests of speed, especially since there is a time limit to the levels, typically you’ll want to try to move everyone in a big group. This has its drawbacks and risks but for the most part you can herd your pack or turtles along well enough until you encounter some bombs or other obstacles to be wary of, at which point you can shift to controlling each turtle individually if need be. As you move up in levels you’ll encounter more types of turtles, each generally having its own abilities and play styles.

Complicating things a bit further you’ll be able to switch to controlling a flying genie turtle who is able to support you either by throwing down items like fruit or bombs (among other things) or by rearranging certain blocks and enemies in order to help clear a path. Element of this can bog down the experience a bit, as I’d sometimes fight with keeping track of what I was doing, but with some practice it works well enough. For the most part if the game merely concerned itself with getting this gameplay right it would be a reasonably challenging and engaging platformer.


Where things begin to get complicated, and to some degree run off the rails with complexity, is where everything else gets involved. In a move that is reminiscent of mobile games, when you complete levels you’ll get chests that you can unlock, which will give you cards. These seem to be given randomly and as you accumulate them and level them up you’ll be able to gain additional inventory slots for your genie, new items, or accumulate the 3 currencies in the game more quickly. Yes, I said there are 3 forms of currency… it all gets a bit strange. There are daily challenges, bonuses, and ways to periodically accumulate currency from specific cards. Again, seemingly very mobile-like and also seemingly out of place on a console like this, aside from mostly being unnecessary. I can’t tell what the goal is in people somewhat randomly progressing, some doing better in one area, some in another, when everyone could have simply followed the same slow progression path and all of these sub-systems could have been removed. It’s odd, a bit confusing, and just really takes away from simply enjoying the gameplay itself, which can be a little uneven in challenge but is certainly enjoyable.

The developers additionally threw in provisions for co-op and even some 4-player battle modes as well but while these add some value the core experience is what defines the game for good or ill. As a platformer it has over 100 varied and increasingly challenging levels, some with just a simple time limit and some that the screen will stay on the move, forcing you to keep up. If the game had just focused on that it would be a reasonably good, if forgettable, experience. Unfortunately with the extra layer of menus, screens, and complexity to sort through it trips over itself while ultimately offering very little benefit for the investment. While Turtle Pop has some good ideas and novel gameplay, it is also a bit of a mess.


Score: 6

Pros:
  • Cute, bright, and charming visually
  • A reasonably challenging platforming experience, though not always for the right reasons

Cons:
  • The added layers of complexity ultimately don’t serve making the game more enjoyable, if anything they burden it
  • The pendulum can swing a bit wildly in difficulty between levels, especially in terms of time limits
  • The added multi-player modes are novel but forgettable