Developed and produced by Butterscotch Shenanigans, Crashlands is easily one of the finest independently created software on the Nintendo Switch console. A hybrid of sorts, Crashlands places players in the role of a female parcel delivery service worker named Flux, who plummets to an unknown planet during the middle of a routine package transport. Down on the planets surface, Flux is joined by her robot companion affectionately named Juicebox, and it from this point that players are introduced to the eco diverse planet of Biome. But this more than a mere run of the mill item gathering adventure. With a unique world design, charming characters, and leveling system, Crashlands is by far one of the most nuanced experiences players can have for under 20 dollars and it definitely should not be missed.
Crashlands is stylized in a pixel art design aesthetic reminiscent of the 16-bit era. The game is presented from an isometric point of view, meaning that the world map is displayed from a bird’s eye camera angle very similar to earlier Legend of Zelda games. While most of Biome is blanketed in darkness in the HUD, the map is gradually unlocked as Flux progresses through each area. This, unlike most crafting games in the genre, gives Crashlands a unique exploration system that makes players want to progress rather than quick grabbing every item they can find. Butterscotch Shenanigans produced a true work of art in this regard, as after hours of gameplay, Biome’s wide array of landscapes felt like a joy more than a chore to explore. Crashlands can even be explored with a second player that assumes the role of another employee at the parcel company seeking parts to repair Flux’s ship and save her job. It truly is a joy to venture into the world of Biome with a friend and Juicebox who continually spouts out sardonic one-liners as you forage and fight your way towards rebuilding a new spaceship. Everything can be used into creating something else, from the tall shrubs that can be churned into armor, to the woodland branches that are widdled into melee weapons. Nothing is wasted in the world of Biome.
With all this in mind, Crashlands charm derives from its world design. The pixel art symbolizes the developer’s love of old-school gaming and yet the innovative gameplay style represents the breaking of this tradition. The replay value is extremely high, as each section of the world map must be explored in order to reveal necessary items to complete your quest. After hours of venturing in the dense swamps and tall woodlands of Biome, enemy encounters were a joy to partake in. The developers made the genius decision to include an assortment of enemies based on what part of the world map you are in. For example, in the swamps Flux must combat a tribe of Wompits (pig-like creatures) that forage in the murky waters and wood gnomes when traveling in the forests. Such a colorful cast of enemies renders the game an organic feel that brings a new depth of scope to the planet of Biome. All enemy encounters are fought out in a real-time battle mechanic system most commonly associated with the action RPG genre. As players traverse the world of Biome, each NPC can be locked and targeted with the A button and thus navigating between characters is very easy. If you want to engage in combat just lock onto a gnome using the A button and take a swipe of your sword. Conversely, if you simply want Flux to engage with Juicebox is quest related dialogue, the method is the same. All involvement with the world map and its inhabitants are funneled through this facile lock-on targeting system. Such simplicity in a crafting genre makes newcomers feel at ease in the world of Crashlands and hence a much easier transition between the RPG and Crafting genres. But even with all such intricacies and nuances, Crashlands is no doubt without its flaws.
All art is a subjective experience and this rings very much the truth in the video game medium. Crashlands, with all its innovation and accessibility, has its own share of potholes in an otherwise smooth pavement. Flux, in particular, is the main focus of this criticism. Her dialogue at times can be repetitive when engaging Juicebox. The writing feels like it is geared towards a juvenile audience, with a lack of depth that is not present in other RPG experiences. The developers of this game seemed to emphasize more a visual motif rather than character depth or plot exposition. A shortcoming that pervaded the entirety of the gameplay experience. The battle system also felt rudimentary, especially during the midway point of the world map when Flux and Juicebox must find parts to rebuild her ship’s engine in the gnome leader’s hut on the Eastern portion of the map. Such mindless button mashing felt more like a mishap from the designers rather than a genuine boss battle. Even the fast travel system felt underwhelming as Telepods s appear once Flux builds a communication device from her sawmill station. The construction of your Telepod is laborious as it would have been better to create a fast travel system based on midway points and mapping rather than arduously finding parts to build at Flux’s sawmill station. But such hinderances do nothing to detract from the game’s greatness and hence it is easy to see why Crashlands is the must play budget title of 2018.
Because of its quality of gameplay, innovative mechanics, and world design, Crashlands is a fantastic experience. More RPG than crafting, the game had some minor flaws in an otherwise gem of an indy title. Flux and Juicebox’s journey onto the planet of Biome is truly a visual joy to behold. The throwback art styles mesh brilliantly with the isometric point of view of the world map and it harkens back to the greatness of the 16bit era. Crashlands has everything going for it and is a game worth revisiting upon completion. The three game modes, five difficulty levels, and map exploration epitomize the game’s designers aspirations for low budget, high-quality adventuring. Biome never fails to amaze players with each revelation of its landscape. Even with its simplicity in battle design, Crashlands’ visuals are enough to propel it into the upper echelons of a genre that is plagued by over formulaic tropes and uninspired world design. But this simply is not the case with Crashlands. What it lacks in scope it makes up with in terms of aspiration and imagination.
Anthony Frisina is a graduate of the City University of New York-Brooklyn College with a BA in Political Science with a minor in Psychology. After finishing his undergraduate degree, Anthony went on to attend Brooklyn College's Film Academy and Writer's workshop program, achieving an interdisciplinary degree in Screenwriting and Film theory in the Fine Arts. Transforming his love for classic American cinema, Anthony went on to adapt a number of his own works into different mediums, including his well-received Western novel The Regulator. Anthony likes to spend his free time writing articles for magazines and periodicals that cover a wide range of topics, from science fiction to popular culture. As a screenwriter, Anthony has had his screenplays featured at numerous spec script writing competitions across the country where he one day hopes to write the next great American film.