Back in 2016, Butterscotch Shenanigans brought Crashlands and its top-down mix of RPG questing and crafting to PC and mobile, but its simplified approach to both proved to be a far more suitable experience for smartphones and tablets than it was for the world of keyboards and mice. Question is, almost three years on, will Nintendo Switch’s unique hardware premise provide the perfect crossover between the two?
Things start off badly. Well, at least for the unlikely heroine at the centre of Crashlands story, that is. Flux Dabes, a galactic trucker currently travelling the cosmos on an intergalactic delivery run, finds her logistical career derailed when a giant alien head by the name of Hewgodooko attacks her ship and leaves her stranded on a nearby alien planet. With your trusty robo pal JuiceBox floating at your side offering advice and helpful pokes in the right direction, you’ll need to explore your new locale, collect your lost packages and find a way to complete those deliveries.
If you’ve played Minecraft, Dragon Quest Builders or Don’t Starve you’ll immediately be familiar with the crafting mechanics at the heart of Flux’s mission to return to her duties. In terms of its top-down aesthetic, and the barren landscape of its opening hours, it might appear that Crashlands has a lot in common with Klei Entertainment’s survival hit, but rather than forcing you to battle hunger and thirst you’ll spend most of your time at a far more relaxed clip, exploring the map, collecting resources and crafting new armour as you go.
First, you’ll hack down local trees and grass so you can fashion some stable flooring. You’ll then need to build a saw so you can chop up more trees, which can be combined with even more grass and placed on that stable floor to build a workbench. From there, you can gather more resources to build a chest plate and a sword. Now you can head out and attack some of the resident creatures roaming the planet’s surface with you. For instance, you’ll need to harvest the skin and bones of the cow-like Wompits then use said resources to build a skinnery. From there... well, you get the idea.
This is, in a paragraph-sized nutshell, the feedback loop that links Crashlands' crafting and resource mechanics to its questing. Considering it was built with the short bursts of play of a mobile experience in mind, developer Butterscotch Shenanigans takes away the need to ferret through menus assigning this and equipping that by simply automating much of this busy-work for you. New tools and weapons are automatically fitted to your spacesuit, so when you start hacking a certain piece of fauna or griefing a certain beast, the right tool will magically appear in your hand.
The map itself slowly opens up as you traverse the planet’s surface, but you can teleport back to the remains of your escape pod at any time. There are also teleport pads littered across the map, so you can zip back to your pod if you happen to have set up your various crafting tables. It also helps when you need to return an item to one of the many NPCs who dole out quests at a regular rate. And while the dialogue is pithy enough to turn a smile, its quests soon fall back on the same old ‘visit this area on the map and fetch this item’.
This being an RPG - even a ‘lite’ one at that - there’s plenty of combat to hand, as much of the planet’s inhabitants aren’t that friendly. Each alien creature has a unique attack pattern, with a red indicator to warn you of where they’re going to strike next. There’s no real underlying depth to such encounters, and most just boil down to watching for where said enemy is going to strike, dodging out of the way and stepping back in for a few quick cheeky swipes of your chosen weapon. And you’ll craft new implements of cartoon death as you gather more resources, just as you would tools for mining.
The big hook is, of course, the grind of acquiring better weapons and armour by building the respective crafting table, but the feedback loop of searching for resources to build a slightly better suit of armour does start to lose its appeal after a while. As a result, Crashlands is a game that suits little pockets of play rather than extended sessions, but with so many vastly different places to visit and a silly but charming story there’s just enough of a reason to keep grinding away. You can even play in local co-op (a cool new feature for the Nintendo Switch version), and there’s support for both touchscreen and Joy-Con controls, too.
Crashlands' cartoon sci-fi world offers a fun-loving cross between Minecraft, Toejam & Earl and Don’t Starve with its ‘RPG-lite’ mix of crafting, questing and combat. It’s incredibly easy to pick up and play thanks to the streamlined design of its inventory and the automation of accessing tools and weapons, and while its grind for new armour can get a little repetitive after a while, there are some cute little mechanics to unearth, such as the power to incubate eggs and nurture your own pets. While it’s never going to hold a candle to the RPG chops of Diablo III: Eternal Collection, it still offers a colourful curio alternative on Switch.