Friday, February 8

Review: AWAY - Journey to the Unexpected [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When you play through a ton of titles, while gameplay always comes first there’s no doubt that personality counts for something. Throw in some quirk and charm and even if it can’t completely overcome its shortcomings those elements do make an impression and can at least make a game memorable. That’s about where I find myself with AWAY: Journey to the Unexpected. This roguelike first-person RPG hack and slasher isn’t quite like anything you’ve played, whether that will come out to a net positive or not really depends on what you’re looking for.

To say it’s an odd bird would be an understatement. You play the game as a young boy looking for his parents who have disappeared. On your journey you’ll travel through the forest, desert, snowy plains and more fighting an odd assortment of enemies from the relatively cute to the cold and robotic. Since you’re only armed with a pretty weak melee attack that has a limited range you’re going to need some help, and making friends seems to be one the game’s central themes.

Along your adventures you’ll acquire an item that will allow you to add to your party (you can have up to 3 of them). When you encounter one of the oddball denizens out there you’ll then have an opportunity to talk to them and if you make the right choices (or have the right money/item/etc) you’ll be able to enlist their help. Each of these potential allies is quite a bit more powerful than you but making use of their special abilities (these range from firing projectiles to setting traps and more) will drain their energy so you’ll need to be careful in how you use them. Hitting distant or more intimidating enemies will be tempting but some of the game’s bosses will have you wishing that you could do more than try to whack them into submission with a mere stick.

Being true to its roguelike nature you can definitely expect to fail, but fortunately as you continue to get further and do better you’ll accumulate experience which will unlock new traits and perks that kick in permanently to help make further runs a little easier. Experience pays off in general terms as well since you’ll begin to figure out which allies have abilities that best suit your needs and though you’ll still likely take some cheap hits you’ll continue to get a better feel for how to use that weak attack of yours more effectively. Aside from the difficulty there are simply some odd design choices that have been made. You’re given very little initial instruction and working out some of the game’s quirks can take a run or two. I’d also note that many of the areas are inexplicably big and a bit empty, which simply makes next to no sense at all and just needlessly wastes your time in some spots. None of it is crippling but it does make you scratch your head in spots why they implemented things the way they did, or perhaps they’re just a matter of a lack of polish.

I’d generally consider AWAY a bit too odd, inconsistent, and hard for more mainstream gamers but if you’re down to work for your victories it has a certain energy and charm to it. Certainly the first-person perspective and general style of play are a bit on the unique side, the randomness of the dungeons will keep you cautious and often working hard to survive, and the variety in ways that enemies will attack you can take some time to get used to. It is by no means a perfect game but there’s no denying that it has heart and is capable of representing hours of fun if you’re willing to give it a chance and deal with its rough edges.

Score: 7

  • It has a certain quirky charm and oddball characters that help it stand out from more generic fare
  • Variety in the enemies in the various zones and the game’s bosses force you to come up with different strategies depending on which allies you’ve been able to enlist the help of
  • The roguelike elements keep things changing up a bit between runs and help add some longevity

  • A lack of direction at the beginning and in certain in-game situations can be aggravating when you’re not sure what you should be doing
  • The roguelike elements can sometimes feel a bit extreme between runs, running from too easy to cruelly hard sometimes
  • Weird odds and ends like overly large and empty areas are a bit perplexing