It takes a lot of courage to design, program, and release a game with an intentionally crude and simplistic art style, but when you’re basing it off a browser game from 2003, that’s just what you’ve got to do. West of Loathing is an almost entirely monochrome stick figure RPG that hides not only technical depth, but an immeasurable amount of charm, whimsy, and superb writing.
First impressions are always important, and the first impressions you’ll find here are unforgettable. As you wander around your parents’ house you’ll be interacting with bookcases, pets, family members, and if you’re persistent enough, you’ll find some Meat (the game’s primary currency), XP, and most importantly, a book which provides you with a perk that makes your character ‘walk’ in a random assortment of ludicrous and impractical ways. Does this affect the game in any way at all? Absolutely not, but it’s the perfect way to set you up for what the rest of your time will entail.
In terms of typical gameplay, West of Loathing is arguably light. There is a turn-based combat system that is affected by your choice of the three classes, namely Beanslinger, Cow Puncher, and Snake Oiler. Your stats are also affected by various Food, Booze, and Potions you consume each day, and your Stomach, Liver, and Spleen (?!) counters can be raised in turn to allow you to consume more. This is a system that is easily overlooked but is absolutely vital to getting the most out of each encounter and battle, as your stats, perks, and abilities are also vital for interactions outside of battle, as well.
The combat system itself is interesting enough, with novel mechanics and easy to learn nuances, but on the whole, the main bulk of the game takes place outside of this in simply exploring, interacting with characters and objects, completing side quests, and reading lines and lines and lines of text.
As previously alluded to, the writing is beyond excellent. Every instance is packed full of so much irreverent and dry humour to the point that it’s totally and utterly inescapable; if you’re not a fan of laughing, you’d better steer well clear. Various moments even caused us to laugh quite literally out loud, despite being totally alone and with the windows open, disturbing passers-by. Whether it’s a grotesquely detailed description of you plunging your hand into a rotten spittoon or receiving a boost to your armour skill called ‘Mostly Scabs’ because you’ve walked into too many cacti, you’d have to be dead inside not to enjoy the humour this game throws at you.
You could argue that what you’re playing is a text adventure, given the sheer amount of written wordage on screen, but that feels unfair. There are plenty of graphics to chew on, and although they’re simple, there's a distinct charm to them that couldn’t be easily recreated by an amateur 'just' drawing stick figures. They’re simple, but there’s been a lot of thought pumped into each design to give consistency and an intentional crudeness.
You may also feel you’re missing out on certain outcomes and possibilities when playing, and to put it bluntly, you are. Replayability is the order of the day, and to only play this through once is to only experience a fraction of the experience. There are 'moral' choices, the previously mentioned classes, what could be classed as a hidden fourth class if you’re especially dedicated, a selection of companions to choose from, different horses to select, and a wealth of other small factors that tailor your experience each time. You can even indulge yourself in the somewhat-hidden Hard Mode, which forces you to wear a single hat for the entire duration of the game, and unsurprisingly, it makes everything harder. We foolishly did this on our first playthrough and we can attest that you really shouldn’t, because it's one hell of a challenge.
West of Loathing is not your average RPG; in fact we’d go so far as to say you’ve probably never played anything quite like it in your life. Its combat won’t blow you away but don’t be lulled into believing that’s what this game is about, as really the whole thing is an adventure in exploration and interaction with a bit of fighting sprinkled in. It can occasionally be a little bit difficult to decipher, but the satisfaction felt upon working out a problem totally makes up for it. The humour is as wonderfully dry as the desert you’re traversing and the writing is some of the best you can find on the Switch. Unless you’ve not got a humorous bone in your body, this is one RPG you can’t risk skipping.