You wake up on an isolated, deserted island. It's quiet. There are only a few rocks and trees to keep you company. But you have a pickaxe. Let's break up this rock, see what you get. Oh, a few bits of coal. Okay, let's smash up some more stuff. Now you can build a furnace. Good, let's get crafting. You've levelled up too – brilliant. And look, a sentient blob of jelly – best get rid of it before it attacks you. But oh no, there are suddenly too many trees sprouting from the ground, and you've caught a whole bunch of fish, but you've filled out your inventory, and you've built up a thriving community with banks and farms and museums but monsters are intent on destroying them and you're simply far too busy kitting out your character with a mask of Cthulhu to even care. Somehow, it's gone 3am, and you're still playing.
Breathe. This is Forager, a new game from developer HopFrog (real name Mariano Cavallero). It's an experience that feels familiar and yet completely different from anything else you've played. It's also one of the most relentlessly addictive games in recent memory, and is one that has all the potential to rival juggernauts such as Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon (provided, of course, that it has sufficient post-launch support, which judging by the game’s substantial roadmap, it will do).
Forager is, at its core, a scavenging game. You’ll spend a great of time chipping away at the land for new materials and items, all the while building up your own skills to effectively expand your land and increase your profits. Whilst perhaps not as in-depth as some of its contemporaries, Forager’s main strength lies in consistently giving you multiple reasons to keep playing. This may be scavenging minerals to craft items like shovels or backpacks, cultivating the land for crops, fighting your way through dungeons, or donating your overflowing inventory to the local museum. There’s always a reason to keep coming back for more.
You’ll only have one island to start off with. But after building up your wealth, you’ll be able to purchase land adjacent to your current islands. This not only opens up the game to give you more space for building machines and structures, but it also unlocks new materials to mine, new wildlife to hunt, and new monsters to slay. Not only that, but new areas of land might surprise you with new gameplay mechanics such as dungeons to explore and characters to interact with (some of which deliver a few Zelda references that fans of the series will love). At first, you’re completely alone, but after just a few short hours, the game really comes to life and bursts with character and charm, giving you quite literally dozens of potential avenues to explore as you figure out your next move.
Mining and crafting in the game is pretty simplistic, and some might go so far as to say it gets a bit repetitive. Not this writer, though. You’ll start off with a basic pickaxe, which is perfect for cutting down trees or chipping away at rocks, but it may take a good 10 or so whacks to fully harvest the material. Before long though, you’ll be crafting new tools, like the Fiery Pickaxe or the Water Shovel, which will gradually increase your ability to harvest materials in a quick and efficient way. Eventually, after a good few hours of manual labour, savvy salesmanship and daring bravery, you'll see an endless stream of minerals and materials flowing into your inventory. It’s incredibly satisfying stuff.
Alongside building up your land, you’ll also need to build up your own character. Carrying out most tasks within the game will gain you XP points. Building this up enough will level up your character, granting you a skill point in the process. You can then use this to unlock a new perk or ability from a grid of 84 possible choices. This includes Smelting, which increases your forging efficiency, Treasury, which improves the output of gold from your available banks, and many more. There’s no right or wrong path when you choose your perks, and the game gives you ample opportunity to experiment with your progression.
In addition to perks, you can also unlock feats. These are specific tasks such as defeating a set number of enemies or playing the game for a certain amount of hours. Whilst there are no benefits in-game for unlocking these, it does allow you to view extras in the main menu. This includes comics featured the adorable main character from Forager, but more importantly contains a beautifully realised story of how Mariano Cavellero overcame heartbreak, financial strain, social anxiety and faltering technology to create his passion project. It’s a genuinely tear-jerking little read, and one we’d encourage anyone looking into making games to check out for a bit of inspiration.
Is it perfect? No. There can be occasional visual hiccups, including rocks blocked by buildings, or bridges obscured by a group of trees, and we wish the day and night cycle lasted a little longer. Our biggest gripe, however, is that if you happen to die, you’ll quite simply restart right back where you left off, but the game insists on kicking you back to the main menu beforehand. It’s a completely unnecessary obstacle that we hope will easily be patched out at a later date. And regardless of our own opinions, we’ve no doubt that there are some people out there who find the idea of mining for minerals and crafting items utterly abhorrent. If that’s you, then this game isn’t for you. For everyone else, grab your pickaxe and get foraging,
Every now and then, a game comes along that captures our hearts and reminds us why we love the medium in the first place. Forager is the latest in a line of stellar independent games to grace the Switch, featuring wonderfully designed crafting mechanics, addictive progression systems and more charm than you can possibly handle. It has very minor drawbacks, and its longevity will ultimately depend on how comprehensive its upcoming DLC will prove to be. Nonetheless, there's enough good stuff present here for us to confidently declare that Forager is a game all Switch owners should look into adding to their collection.