In the modern age of gaming, one must wonder if there’s still a place for the ‘okay’ games in a marketplace that becomes ever more crowded with quality content. The rise of indie game development and the production values of AAA game development have resulted in a world where players have neither the time nor the money to play all the quality game releases that arrive at an ever-increasing rate, let alone the ‘decent’ or ‘meh’ games that have some strong positives, but a significant negative or two. Toast Time: Smash Up! occupies this latter category, offering players a unique competitive experience that can be enormously enjoyable when you have some like-minded friends nearby, but not one that will hold your attention for too long.
Gameplay can most closely be described as a riff on Towerfall with twin-stick shooter elements thrown in; a mixture that feels a little odd at first, but becomes considerably more enjoyable once you get the hang of it. You take control of a grinning toaster who shoots bread at their enemies, but shooting is also used as your main mobility tool, with each shot sending your toaster rocketing in the other direction. Not only do you have to account for lining up accurate shots, then, but you also have to take into consideration where each shot is going to send you. It’s a surprisingly cerebral experience, and one that necessitates some applied strategy if you want to come out on top.
Toast Time evokes pleasant feelings of Warioware in some ways due to the madness and extreme brevity; each round in multiplayer lasts about ten to thirty seconds before a winner is decided. The top player is typically the one who can best keep track of all the madness happening on screen; every piece of plain white bread (your standard ammo) travels relatively slowly through the air, so it doesn’t take too long for the screen to be full of flying pieces of bread and toasters bouncing around walls like pinballs. Knowing when to fire and when not to fire, or when to ‘anchor’ yourself to one spot momentarily through a button press, is utterly critical here; many deaths are caused by inadvertently blasting yourself into a slice that you otherwise would’ve missed.
Plain white bread is the standard ammo, but occasionally spawning crates can give you access to other carbohydrate-loaded punishments such as baguettes, farmhouse slices, and bagels, which function as grenades, shotguns, etc. Indeed, these can often feel enormously unfair, but part of the fun in each match is found in the desperate struggle for the crate that just dropped; rather like a Smash Ball, there’s a humorous reversal in everyone scrambling for the crate when it spawns, followed by a moment of terrified flight as everyone tries to escape the player that managed to snag the power up. For those of you that would prefer a more ‘pure’ experience, power-ups can be turned off in the settings prior to a match, along with a host of other rule tweaks that help to make longer sessions feel fresh.
While Toast Time can feel a little light on unique content the longer you play, a strong part of its charm is found in the simple, rapid-fire gameplay; it encourages ‘one more match’ and can be picked up in seconds by anyone. Due to the extremely chaotic nature of each match, new players are more or less on equal footing with veterans, and it’s always so satisfying when you line up that perfect shot that catches your opponent off guard and clinches the victory. Toast Time isn’t the kind of game that would be a centerpiece of a gaming night with some friends, then, but it’s certainly something that would act as a wonderful introduction to the ease and enjoyment of multiplayer gaming when on the go.
For those of you that prefer to play in single player, there’s a relatively robust solo mode that sees you tackling individual stages in a sort of horde mode where you have to defend a countdown clock from waves of enemies. Every kill grants you a higher combo multiplier that adds to how many points each enemy nets you, and these points then dictate how many stars you’re awarded at the end of the level. All told, it only takes an hour or two to master these levels and mop up the in-game achievements attached to them, but there is an ‘Iron Man’ mode that you can play at any time that has you running a gauntlet of all levels continuously until you fail.
Though Toast Time offers up a great local multiplayer experience and a decent single player one, the lack of online play drags down what could’ve been a much more engrossing experience. The focus on multiplayer makes it seem like online play would be a no-brainer, but there’s nothing of the sort here, not even leaderboards for the single player content. This limits Toast Time’s shelf life considerably, as there’s not enough single player content to justify the price tag and the multiplayer is dependent on how many participants you happen to have on hand. Make no mistake, the content that’s present in Toast Time is well worth your time, but we wish there was a little more here to keep players engaged.
From a presentation standpoint, Toast Time takes after Slime-San a bit with its minimalistic art style and square display area; it may not be to everyone’s taste, but it looks sharp in motion. Each screen is dichromatic in nature, consisting of a colored background and white lines in the foreground to mark the play area. Though this works fine in single player mode, some issues arise in multiplayer with readability; there’s simply too much happening on screen and there are not enough visual elements to distinguish characters. Differently colored hats only go so far in differentiating the otherwise identical toasters, leading to some deaths that feel unearned because one has lost track of which toaster is theirs.
Similarly, the soundtrack leaves something to be desired, offering up a forgettable mixture of perky chiptune tracks that quickly overstay their welcome; these songs just loop a little too frequently and sound rather meandering. Luckily, the issue of this repetitive music doesn’t rear its head too much due to how quickly each round takes, but extended sessions can lead to an experience that’s more grating than we would like. It’s not a terrible soundtrack by any means, but we’d only describe it as ‘okay’.
Toast Time is the kind of game that feels like it could’ve been something truly special if it spent a little more time in the oven; the core gameplay of toast blasting madness is fantastic fun, but the sparse offering of content makes this a game that doesn’t take too long to chew through. If you’ve exhausted all the Mario Karts and Towerfalls for your multiplayer escapades and want to take a chance on something a little different, Toast Time is a great option that’s sure to bring you hours of entertainment; just be mindful of the fact that there are much better local multiplayer games on the Switch eShop.