Both I and many of my colleagues constantly write that in order to stand out and become popular, modern games need new ideas, well-developed mechanics, an unbanal plot, and so on and so forth. But the authors of Eastward from the Shanghai studio Pixpil do not care about these arguments – they are sure (and absolutely right!) That for this it is enough to come up with a charming girl and make us fall in love with her.
Now you are my daughter
Eastward has cute pixel art, classic The Legend of Zelda-inspired gameplay, a touch of post-apocalypse, and a colorful world that needs to be saved from another contagion. But all this fades into the background when Sam (that’s the name of our heroine) sincerely rejoices at something, smiles and raises his hands, taking a picture with new friends as a keepsake. Or when he is just as sincerely sad when he learns that the remnants of the harvest will have to be burned. She feels sorry for vegetables, ears of corn or whatever they gathered there – they are alive …
“You are a very sensitive girl!” – the woman who, according to the plot, once sheltered Sam, tells her with tenderness. And she says this because she is lonely, wants the same daughter for herself and clearly makes plans for John, with whom the child travels all the way.
John is a man with a red nose, who, when he found Sam, found a new meaning in his life in caring for her. Since then, they have not parted. And if we continue the analogy with the above-mentioned domestic cartoon, he became for her the same Bear. The only difference is that Sam never mocks him, but cares about him. And John is as silent and kind as that bear. He silently smiles when the girl, squealing with joy and waving a cloud of her white hair, runs to show him her new boots. And just as silently sighing, she will turn her shoulders when she says that she is tired and wants to be in her arms.
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And so, with a blond child on his shoulders, John will go on to travel around the world of Eastward, breaking out of a gloomy underground settlement to the surface to see the sky and get to know many colorful characters. After them, the deadly Miasma will flow, which will destroy many settlements, including the one where a woman lived, who really wanted a daughter like Sam.
Sadness and joy … this is how the world works in Eastward
Yes, Eastward may seem cartoony and childish, but that’s deceptive. The sweetness and touchingness of Sam and her relationship with John; funny, kind or with their own cockroaches in the head, but invariably memorable characters; jokes (“John, look, they need a man who wants to save the world and knows how to cook well. That’s just the spitting image of you!“); ironic situations; the ability to play the built-in JRPG Earth Born and even set records there; scenes when a joyful Sam, clutching a lucky token given to her, minces into a large slot machine hall – all this is combined with real, adult drama.
That same Miasma is to blame for everything, and this muck is somehow connected with … Sam. Or with her ghostly twin? That one, just as small and blond, periodically appears, communicates with Sam, says strange things about the path, which she still learns about. And only our heroine sees her. Yes, and Sam herself seems strange to many – suffice it to say that in the opening video, John found her … in a large flask filled with liquid.
The mystery of the origin of our girl, who is the ghost twin, what is happening here and how it will end – this is the main intrigue of the fascinating Eastward plot, which, perhaps, slowly harnesses, but then tightly clings. The ending makes you cry, leaves questions, gives rise to interpretation and, thank God, hints at a sequel.
Doubles in Eastward
The gameplay, one might say, is also slowly harnessing. At first, everything seems recognizable in a good way, funny, but rustic. Armed with a frying pan, John dispenses “favors” to the slugs in the gut-like tunnels of the dungeons, collects the gold that falls out of them and finds it in chests to buy healing dishes that restore health hearts.
You can also look for special spheres, a certain number of which will increase the total supply of those same hearts. And the ingredients, so as not to buy, but to cook healing dishes yourself. It is the culinary process, where they are allowed to randomly mix fish, potatoes, mushrooms and milk, wondering what will happen, at first seems the most exciting, and it remains very useful.
And the riddles are mainly related to moving boxes and dropping bombs or throwing them for sports to destroy obstacles. Plus, you can buy upgrades for the backpack, increasing the space for consumables. At some point, it seems that playing the built-in Earth Born is more interesting and intense – there are many enemies, levels and a cool final boss.
But gradually the gameplay ceases to be just a background for the story and characters. Especially since Sam also becomes a playable character. Basically, she knows how to throw energy charges – this removes obstacles (like flowers or the same Miasma) and stuns enemies.
She can also slip into narrow passages where John can’t squeeze through, turn valves to remove scalding steam, and stand on pressure plates to open doors. Accordingly, there are puzzles for switching between characters and overcoming traps.
Yes, all this is generally familiar. As well as the subsequent issuance of a shotgun to John, a flamethrower (allows you to destroy biting plants that prevent you from passing) and other types of weapons. But, firstly, “familiar” is not the same as “bad”. Secondly, there is a good design: there are many situations, they are played out in different ways – the same bushes, sometimes, it’s not enough just to burn them, you also need to destroy the sources of their appearance.
And now imagine that we first burn with napalm, and then we run wildly and shoot these same sources (and there can be four of them at once!), Trying to be in time before you are again surrounded by deadly bushes. Or we destroy the plants, making way for Sam, who runs to the right button and destroys the clots of Miasma on the go, and they appear again. Or you have to run away from the advancing filth for a while, jumping onto the raft and using the same frying pan to speed up.
In general, somewhere from the third chapter, when there are more traps, and the enemies are stronger, and we are not allowed to cook healing dishes as often as before, the gameplay feels intense. Yes, and bosses are much more likely to cause trouble.
Eastward is a masterpiece that doesn’t look and feel like a niche love letter to the hits from our childhood, but like a big, serious game. Rich, beautiful, soulful and captivating – with a plot, characters, a combination of humor, drama and tragedy. Who can’t like her? Well, probably, to principled pixel-haters, although the art, the abundance of details and colors, of course, look great. For some, the gameplay will probably seem too rustic, although, I repeat, this is only at first. Some say that there are too many cut-scenes, dialogues and interesting, but essentially passable characters that, due to the nature of the script, do not receive development – flicker and remain behind.
But it’s like complaining about the redundancy of our world. You can study it, meet different people, listen to their stories, realizing that the majority will be left behind in your life. And you can go to your goal, build a career, take care of your family, and so on, without being distracted by anything else. So in Eastward – the authors came up with a big and interesting world, and it’s up to you to decide whether to look around and listen or follow the story. I made this journey with pleasure, and I wish you the same.
Pros: the plot, with all the clichés about saving the world, keeps you in suspense; characters, destinies that are not left indifferent; not open, but a large and interesting world that you want to explore; the gameplay, which at first seems primitive, becomes intense and begins to challenge; the music evokes nostalgia, and the graphics delight with the work of artists.
Cons: not all bosses are equally strong; it may seem to someone that there are a lot of pixels, cut-scenes and dialogues, but little gameplay.
Questions about this game:
The estimated time to beat Eastward is around 25-30 hours, depending on the player’s playstyle and whether they complete all the optional objectives and side quests. However, it’s worth noting that this is just an approximation and individual playtime may vary.
Eastward consists of a total of 9 chapters, each with its own unique setting, characters, and challenges.