It used to be that describing a game's aesthetic as 'boxy' would be a negative. Zarvot developer Snowhydra, however, would likely see it as a boast. Zarvot's story mode stars two sentient cubes named Charcoal and Mustard, who set out on a journey to assemble a birthday present for their friend Red. It's a quest that's equal parts weird and mundane.
Weird because of the game's charmingly off-kilter tone. That present, for example, incorporates a toy duck and a ball of mochi that gobbles up your friend - a friend who speaks in typos and caps lock exclamations. At another point, you'll need to fight a giant banana.
Mundane because of the simple everyday scenes that are dotted throughout the game. You might engage in an encouraging chat with a depressed friend. A trip to a coffee shop, meanwhile, leads to a discussion with an irate caffeine addict. All for no particular reason and with minimal interactivity, we should add.
For most of its runtime, though, Zarvot is a fairly old-school isometric arcade arena blaster. You wander along tight corridors into simplistic blocky (there's that word again) arenas, which temporarily hem you in with force-field barriers. Here a variety of weird-shaped enemies will spawn into being, requiring you to blast them to smithereens before you'll be allowed to progress.
At the heart of this is a surprisingly nuanced control system that places a number of destructive tools at your disposal. You have your usual 'pew pew' blaster mapped to Y, which fires in the direction you're facing. Your immediate instinct will be to nudge the right analogue stick to aim, but this isn't a twin-stick shooter. Hold down the fire button and you'll charge up a devastating, penetrating laser attack. You also have a dodge, a jump, a spinning melee move, and a surrounding laser-wall attack.
The game largely leaves you to discover the finer points of this unorthodox control system for yourself, but each move comes into its own against a pleasingly varied (if thematically muddled) bunch of enemy units. They also come into their own in the game's local multiplayer modes, where you'll find yourself pitched up against the ingenuity and unpredictability of up to three human opponents.
Zarvot has ideas aplenty, then, but they don't always come together in a coherent way. It's a hodgepodge of influences, aesthetics and tonal shifts. On the one hand, that makes it feel quite fresh and distinctive. On the other, its scattershot approach can be faintly exhausting, and not all of its ideas hit home in terms of execution. For example, while the basic movement and jumping controls work well in combat, their limitations are rather exposed in an ill-advised precision platforming section.
We can't help thinking that a little more focus would have resulted in a more cohesive and satisfying game - or even games. As it is, we suspect that many solo players will prefer the straight-ahead wave-based thrills of Arcade mode. It's perhaps a shame, then, that you have to unlock this level by level through the main Story mode.
If you're after a fun, punchy arcade blaster with plenty of scope for local multiplayer hilarity, Zarvot is a solid pick. It's not quite at TowerFall's level of tightly machined competitive precision, or Super Bomberman R's timeless playability. But there's plenty of scope for improvisation and varying approaches, which bodes well for its longevity. For those after a meaty single player blaster with deceptive layers of depth, however, the Switch eShop is already formidably well stocked. Enter the Gungeon and The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ spring immediately to mind as more satisfying alternatives.
Zarvot offers the kind of tight arcade-shooter action that lends itself well to epic local competitive scraps; what we have here is a charming, eclectic package that goes all-out to appeal to both solo and social players. It's perhaps a little too scattershot in its mixture of styles and tones, and not all of its ideas hit the target, but there's a whole lot of heart and humour to Snowhydra's little box of tricks, and that goes a long way.