Several classic video games are referenced, with EarthBound and The Legend of Zelda nostalgia being the most overt. Throughout Eastward, you will notice that even the most detailed animations have been meticulously crafted, and the narrative is peppered with high points that transport you to a fresh side quest or slice of daily life. A few characters and plot threads feel neglected by the story’s conclusion in a narrative that struggles to keep a steady tempo. Despite this, Pixpil has shown they are a studio to keep an eye on in the future.
Sam has daydreamed about the outside world, which causes friction in the village and ultimately leads to the couple leaving and exploring the real world. The further east they go, the more Sam and John learn about the planet’s history and become friends with the people they encounter. Sam frequently enlists the aid of John to help with errands around town or to assist a new acquaintance with a problem that has been plaguing them.
A recurring gag in Eastward is that characters have one-sided conversations with John or recognize him on the radio when their calls go unanswered because he’s a silent protagonist. In many ways, it fits in with the overall comedic tone of Eastward.
Many of the jokes in Eastward are funny, but when things get more dramatic and tense, the pacing becomes awkward. Eastward is slow to establish its characters and give them depth. With John remaining silent and Sam being unaware at times, I found it difficult to become emotionally invested in the book’s first half.
When I got to New Dam City, Eastward’s most significant hub and the setting for one of the book’s longer chapters, I began to care about the people I was meeting. William and Daniel, a father-son duo, and Isabel and Alva, a couple, are two examples of similar pairs among the cast. In a nutshell, it’s one of the loveliest recent pixel art games. A character’s facial expressions, such as Lee’s scowl when Alva chastises him for smoking in the house or Isabel is reaching for her blade in the cold calculation, serve as constant reminders of who these people are and how they feel at the time.
On the other hand, Eastward’s soundtrack is a strong contender for the title of best soundtrack of the year for me. Small towns may have quiet tiny melodies or cheerful chirps, but it’s more likely to have a sad, nostalgic song playing in the background. Another possibility is that this is thematically significant and drops just in time for a dramatic on-screen scene, emphasizing the couple’s progress.
The music of Eastward is outstanding. In the beginning, John utilizes a cast-iron pan, which he also employs while cooking (which is a neat minigame with some clear Breath of the Wild inspiration and seems incredibly unsanitary).
At the end of the game, you will have amassed a large arsenal of weapons and explosives, which you may use to devastate enemies and set everything on fire (which, again, seems like a bad idea). In the game, opponents are straightforward to recognize and deal with, thus switching seems superfluous. Eventually, the number of opponents increased, and they learned a few tactics, but it took a long time for the ordinary adversaries to start bothering me.
Several boss encounters stand out as particularly interesting and enjoyable since they are frequently a spectacle. However, the Nintendo Switch does tend to lag in Eastward’s fast-paced action. Due to monsters’ significant damage and the skill required to avoid their strikes, a few critical battles experienced a lot of delays, making them tenser than they needed to be.
Fortunately, Eastward’s autosave feature is quite forgiving, so I only lost a few minutes’ worths of progress throughout my time with the game. Eastward left me with more questions than answers at the end of my time with them, but I felt I would achieve a satisfactory ending. This leaves space for a sequel, which I would welcome considering how certain aspects of the narrative were never fully developed, and some strands were left unresolved compared to others. Apart from me, Eastward had been tighter, with a more apparent emphasis on the ideas it wanted to convey.