When publisher Chucklefish revealed that Eastward would come to Nintendo Switch this past August at a Nintendo Indie World, the Nintendo world stopped in awe for one brief moment. This adventure game from small Shanghai indie developer Pixpil boasts some of the most beautiful and distinct pixel art ever seen. This weekend, as part of The Game Festival that stemmed from The Game Awards, Steam received a variety of 48-hour demos for upcoming games, including Eastward. I jumped on the opportunity to play it.
It was a quite short demo. In fact, there’s a year-old 15-minute gameplay video on YouTube that seems to showcase a nearly identical version of the entire demo I played. Nevertheless, it did its job of sharing a teaser of what Eastward will be like.
You play simultaneously as grown man John and little girl Sam, able to switch between characters as needed to solve puzzles or battle enemies. Though Eastward promises to have some RPG elements, it’s very much more in the vein of Zelda, and John can even drop bombs to break cave walls and hurt enemies. John can also swing a frying pan as a melee weapon (or to break boxes) or fire something resembling a shotgun that has limited ammo. Sam has energy projectiles that can clear out large plant barriers or stun enemies. More options seem like they will unlock as gameplay goes on.
Unexpectedly, combat basically uses a twin-stick shooter control scheme to aim attacks, except I was playing with keyboard and mouse on PC. I imagine mouse aiming is replaced by the right thumbstick on a controller, which means it will control just fine. But using the mouse specifically was a nightmare on the default sensitivity settings, as the angle of attacks would fall out of sync with the location of my mouse almost instantly. It made the boss fight against a skeleton that throws bombs and fires fast bullets much harder than it needed to be, but again — this should be a non-issue once played on a Joy-Con or Switch Pro Controller.
Otherwise, Eastward’s gameplay was pretty standard, with woods and a cave feeling like a typical tutorial area. Combat was simple and quick in a Zelda-like way. The only form of puzzle, if you can even call it that in this case, was while standing on rafts. John had to use a charged frying pan attack on a nearby stationary object to propel the raft away and to send the characters to wherever they needed to go next. Sometimes Sam had to zap some plant growths that blocked progress, and that was about it. Then the aforementioned skeleton boss showed up, and the demo ended after his goose was cooked. Little semblance of plot was ever attached to any of it.
So the bottom line on Eastward’s gameplay is — the foundational elements are here. Whether they’ll blossom into something new and interesting remains to be seen.
Walking around the single provided town in the demo offered colorful and quirky characters, drawing the same inevitable EarthBound comparisons that every game of this ilk does, but in a good way. NPCs are as outstandingly well designed as the environments. However, half the people in town just wanted to sell me cooking ingredients, suggesting that cooking will become a major gameplay element. There were a couple not-so-subtly hinted secrets to find in town as well, which wound up giving hearts to expand player health.
The real standout of the town though — aside from its breathtaking design — was the song that played over it. It was simultaneously serene and highly energetic, like something that would play on this “Weatherscan Local” channel we used to have on TV when I was younger. If the whole game sounds like that, players are in for an audio feast.
So that’s really all there is to say about Eastward based off its bite-sized demo. Aesthetically, it’s already on the verge of being a masterpiece. In terms of delivering actual fun gameplay though, the verdict is still out. I want to give Pixpil the benefit of the doubt though; they’ve earned it.