Developed by ex-Melbourne House veterans, the Switch exclusive TurtlePop: Journey To Freedom appears, at first glance, to be a kid-friendly platformer featuring cute turtle heroes not of the ninja variety. However, it doesn’t take long into this rather extensive journey to figure out there is more to this title than meets the eye…
The single-player campaign tasks you with rescuing fellow turtles over 100 levels spread across seven distinct worlds. At first you are only able to play alone, but after some initial progress you can tackle the levels with a second player, upping the fun factor considerably. You'll quickly realise the regular platforming tropes are not what this game is all about, since you'll be able not only to control your main character, but also ‘turtle link’ to control every turtle on screen at the same time. But that's far from the only clever trick up TurtlePop’s sleeve.
Enter the Genie. You're able to summon this flying entity at any point to either deploy items (such as food or bombs) or manipulate certain rocks, blocks and other bits of the levels, adding a generous slice of puzzle solving action to the platforming antics. Some very clever game design is apparent here as both platforming and puzzle solving merge seamlessly just as easily as Switch is able to pop from docked to portable mode.
Yet that's still not everything. For every complete level or every time you level up, you get a treasure chest. Opening these will reveal game cards which randomly offer your turtle crew buildings that have certain bonuses or item production queues. You can upgrade these with both Suncoins and Mooncoins, rewarded for level completion. That is the third distinct genre crammed into a single product, and this is where the main issue with the game begins to come out of its shell.
Both graphic and music wise, TurtlePop looks and sounds absolutely lovely (at a stable 60fps when docked and in handheld mode), with bright colours and cute characters sure to appeal to the younger audience from the get go. Yet despite this charming look, the gameplay mechanics are deep and intricate, which means if you happen to be picking this up for the younger version of yourself, prepared to spend quite some time explaining what all the buttons do on each of the game’s different sections.
Clearly, TurtlePop has been designed to be enjoyed by both parents and their children, playing side by side. The multiplayer mode certainly adds great value to the whole product, with some top fun to be had up to four players in such modes as ‘Crown Thief’ and ‘Lick’em Up’ (featuring glorious turtle linked synchronised licking antics on the card). Despite the main slice of content still remaining on the single-player campaign, it's nice to see the developers not just sticking in the multiplayer component as a cheap afterthought.
TurtlePop: Journey To Freedom is an interesting first exclusive Switch offering from Zengami, but it's sadly lacking focus. While its myriad genres aren't pulled off poorly, their amalgamation might just prove to be slightly too overwhelming for the targeted younger audience. The main reptile protagonists Bebo, Deephi, Slimmie, Smarts, Willis and Sparky sum up the game’s overall feeling: jacks-of-all-trades yet masters of none. There are several superior individual options of all the genres represented in this game already out in Switch's library, but if do decide to take a plunge into this adventure, make sure you take someone along for the ride.