Now that Minecraft: Wii U Edition has been released for the Wii U, one would think that the tide of block based sandbox games on the eShop would be stemmed. Evidently that's not the case quite yet, as Discovery is the next arrival on the Wii U eShop. So, how does the game stack up? While Discovery may feel a bit half-baked in terms of general content being offered, it nonetheless provides a solid (and affordable) alternative for those who just want want to be creative.
Visually speaking, this is probably the best looking cube sandbox game we've seen yet. Yes, it even looks better than Minecraft, if only by a hair. Sunbeams stream in between the leaves of trees, the hue and colour of the sky changes according to the in-game hour, and the lighting and shadows have a semi-realistic quality to them. Draw distance is pretty solid as well, and what can't be displayed is masked by a blank fog. While the frame rate rarely makes 60 FPS and stutters now and then, it never dips to a point that it greatly affects the overall flow of gameplay. Pop-in is also a bit noticeable here when distant landforms are loaded in, but once again it isn't too invasive.
In terms of gameplay, this is where the game will likely be a deal breaker for some. Essentially, Discovery is just the 'creative mode' that's present in most games in this genre, but it doesn't have any sort of 'survival mode'. That being said, what is here is a more than sufficient toolset for building whatever the heck you feel like. Maps can be generated as flat or with varied landscapes, and there are three different biomes possible. Slopes can be used in addition to various 90-degree items, which allows for a lot of variation in the design and look of structures that are built. Also, a friend can play locally with a Classic Controller Pro or Pro Controller, which can make projects that much easier to execute.
A tap of a button will allow your character to toggle between flying and walking states and up to ten items at a time are available on a quick select menu. The full block set is another button press away, and features a standard assortment of wood, dirt, lava, stone, etc. A few animals - such as foxes and sheep - can be spawned in as well, but they don't blend very well with the environment; their rounded (and admittedly low poly) models clash with the angular look of everything else.
As for GamePad integration, there is some, but perhaps not the way you imagined it. A bird's eye view of the map is displayed on the screen along with the coordinates and altitude of your current location. This is especially welcome considering the maps are well over one thousand square blocks, but it feel like more perhaps could've been done here. There's no inventory management whatsoever and there is no off-TV play, and this feels like something of a missed opportunity.
The music is nothing to write home about, but it does a good job of filling the silence and giving the game a bit of atmosphere. There are some awkward periods in between songs where there's complete silence, but that's a nitpick and will likely only bother a very select number of individuals. While it would be nice to have a bit more variety in the soundtrack, there's nothing here that actively takes away from the overall experience.
Discovery is a strong sandbox game that, in terms of creative options, arguably even manages to surpass the game it so clearly draws its inspiration from. That being said, many will no doubt be turned off by the lack of any sort of survival mode. We're giving Discovery a recommendation, but only to those of you who prefer spending more of your time building things instead of exploring caves and fighting monsters. For this price you won't find a better creative toolset, but bear in mind that's essentially all it is.