Tuesday, March 6

Review: North [Nintendo Switch eShop]


I’m obviously a big fan of indie games, new experiences, and checking out games that are more on the fringes. That said, there are some lines that, once they’re crossed, my interest really wanes and a game can go from merely concerning to mediocre to downright irritating. A game that took me through that sort of emotional journey is North, an experience with a budget price that starts with a warning sign and never really recovers.


What little story there is I won’t ruin, though it could truthfully be summarized in less than a paragraph. I suppose its goal was to make a sort of philosophical point but I would rather it had stated it simply to start rather than making me slog through a collection of somewhat random 3D models thrown together with a ramshackle narrative.


You see, you’re given no direction and almost no feedback of any kind as you play, instead you’re left to stumble around trying to make sense of things. That brings us back to the note that shows up when you start the game. The only way to understand anything at all or get context for what you’re seeing and what you’re supposed to do is to find a mailbox and send your sister a letter. This is the central device in the game, your only guidepoint for understanding anything at all.


With that out of the way we can move on to what really sinks the game and that’s just its thoroughly janky nature. While I suppose you could try to argue that the presentation is “stylized” I’m more inclined to say this is all put together like a student project marrying borrowed assets with a lot of non-descript, empty open areas and hallways. Movement is floaty, turning with the right joystick is abrupt, and there’s no sense of polish anywhere to be found. In particular this makes any active element of the game painful as objects you’re supposed to interact with are far harder to trigger than they should be. Is this in some way a sophisticated link to the social commentary being made by the game? Nah, let’s just call it rushed and not ready for prime time instead.


While the themes and subject matter the game is supposed to be trying to tackle are interesting the implementation of the product itself is poor without question. There are absolutely brilliantly-told stories using simple mechanics, a few that I’ve reviewed recently, that prove you can do a lot with a little. Unfortunately North’s ambitions didn’t extend to its execution, leaving instead a forgettable mess trying very hard to make a point.

Score: 3.5

Pros:
  • There is a point buried underneath the horrible execution
  • If you choose to view minimalistic geometry and haphazard assets as representations of a dystopian landscape, sure you may like it

Cons:
  • The mechanic with writing letters seems to have been put in place to remove the need for anything in the game making contextual sense
  • Movement is sloppy and aggravating
  • As stated at the start there’s no ability to save, it is meant to be played through in one sitting