Backlog Review: Curious Expedition (Switch)

Brave new worlds.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 06/09/2020 02:08 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Engaging premise; engrossing gameplay; high replayability
Poison Mushroom for...
Some elements get repetitive after a while; endgame is brutal, even on the easy mode; production values a matter of taste

Time for another Backlog Review, where we look at some older games that might have slipped through the cracks. This time, we’re talking Curious Expedition!

In 1904, a group of men met in New York and founded the Explorers Club, a society devoted to exploration. In the years since, its members have, among other exploits, reached the poles, ascended Mount Everest, and landed on the Moon.

Berlin-based developer Maschinen Mensch drew from that storied society in creating its debut game.

Curious Expedition is a multiplatform game that first released on Steam (PC) in 2015, but has since been ported across a number of platforms, including PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and, of course, Switch. At the time of this review, the game retails on the Nintendo eStore for $14.99. (Of note: while the Steam version has since rolled out a multiplayer mode, the console versions are currently single player only.)

Defining the game’s genre takes a bit of explanation. It’s a tabletop-style game, with turn-based action and a game field with hexagonal area markers. It’s a role playing game, with character perks and the ability to level up members of your party. It’s an adventure, with gear you can load out on your adventure and loot you can try to bring home. And it’s a roguelike game, with randomly generated maps and game over if the main character dies. All of this is wrapped around an 8-bit retro presentation style and a harpsichord-inspired soundtrack.

At the outset, players find themselves in an explorers club, where the club president explains the premise. You’re an explorer, and your job is to crisscross the world in search of fame, all while competing against other explorers. To accomplish this, you select a leader from several historical figures — and each with his or her own loadout, initial associates, and starting perks — and then, after choosing a difficulty level and a destination, you depart for the docks, where you outfit your ship and set sail.

The game plays out over the course of several voyages. In each voyage, the player and their AI competitors travel to various locations around the world, searching for treasure. There are a few ways you can end each voyage, but your optimal goal is to find an elusive golden pyramid. Your fame is based on a number of factors, including your speed and any loot you acquired on the way, and is compared against the scores of your AI opponents, who are engaging in their own voyages off-screen.

In addition to the search for the golden pyramid, each voyage has another wrinkle. Prior to every time you set sail, someone will approach you at the docks and offer you a side quest that you can accept or decline. Some side quests are simple, like delivering a person to a location, while others are more difficult, such as slaying a legendary beast. It’s up to the player in deciding whether to take up the side quest, but to fail costs some fame.

Destinations range from deserts to tundras, and there are innumerable opportunities and dangers at each. Players will encounter villages where they can recruit associates, shrines where they can loot treasure, and caves where they can explore, just to name a few. But they may also encounter savage animals, or curses that transform the landscape, or even mysterious portals that go far away.

Weighing risk and reward is a constant balance in Curious Expedition, because death is never that far away. The game uses two primary mechanics when it comes to survival — sanity and health — and you have to keep a close eye on both.

Sanity is measured by a purple bar at the top of the screen, and it declines every time a player moves, whether its traversing the wilds or fleeing an animal. It can be replenished either by sleeping at one of a few select locations, or by eating or drinking certain items. When sanity drops below a certain point, the exploration party becomes increasingly unhinged, and murder, desertion, or worse is soon to follow if it isn’t restored.

Each member of the party also has a health bar, and if that health bar drops to zero that character dies permanently. (While players can lose secondary characters and continue, the game ends if the primary character dies.) Combat is the most common way to lose health, although disease and infection, left untreated, can also be fatal.

With multiple characters to choose from, three difficulty levels, and various locations, Curious Expedition has a lot of replayability. Each game is a little bit different, and it’s enhanced further still by the fact that, through gameplay, players can unlock new primary explorers to play as.

The game isn’t easy, especially at the medium and hard settings. Sanity can drop surprisingly quickly, especially in rugged terrain, and some things are so dicey that a player will probably want to avoid them. Certain shrines, for example, unleash curses that are more treacherous than the loot is worth, and many of the animals are so strong that you’re almost certain to lose a party member or three if you fight them. If completing the game is your goal, you’ll have to weigh on the side of being risk averse.

Helpfully, the game has an easy mode, too, but it isn’t a cakewalk: while sanity drops more slowly, animals are still plenty dangerous, and a careless explorer can still get killed. And regardless of the difficultly level, finding the last golden pyramid is steeply difficult, as the last level bumps up the difficulty. Players can still return home without it by way of the ship or constructing a hot-air balloon, but securing the last pyramid is a major obstacle.

The elements of the game gets a bit repetitive after a while. As much as there is to do, much of the game seems to revolve around a handful of specific landmarks and dangers — villages, shrines, caves, huts, animals — and after several playthroughs those particular elements can get a little stale, especially since they often seem to turn out the same way each time. One silver lining: repeat gameplay brings experience, which can help players figure out what places to steer toward, and what to avoid.

Despite its flaws, though, Curious Expedition is a fun adventure and a well-crafted experience. With deep gameplay mechanics, lots of characters to choose from, and a high replayability factor, this is worth a look if you like exploration adventures.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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