West Of Loathing Review
If you’re like me, 2018 has been a crazy rollercoaster ride of Nintendo Switch eShop indie game releases. Every week there is a slew of new games hitting Nintendo’s hybrid, and it’s almost impossible to keep up with the names of the games, let alone if they’re worthy of your time or not. So it might be expected that at first glance West of Loathing might look like an instant pass from some gamers. After all, the game is presented in black and white and features stick figures as its main characters. However, as soon as you get past the visuals, which I must admit have grown on me with every hour I’ve poured into the game, you’ll find a hilarious (and I mean one of the funniest games I’ve ever played) turn-based RPG that is totally worth experiencing.
From the outset you’ll get to choose your character and class. You can take things head on by fighting your way out of any situation as the Cow Puncher (the class I chose). You can try to weasel your way out of trouble with wit and conversation by playing as the Snake Oiler. Or, you can go all Harry Potter on your adversaries by playing as the Beanslinger.
Speaking of bad guys, since this game is set in the 1800s and in the Wild West, you’ll encounter all sorts of cowboys gone bad. But, they’re not the real crisis at hand. Nope. It’s the cows. You see, they’ve become possessed and have started slaughtering mankind, burning everything in their wake. These Demon Cows will have to be put down if you want life to return to normal. Oh, but that’s not all! Necromancers have begun raising the dead, so you’ll have plenty of skeletons to deal with as well, not to mention the usual hazards found in the western wasteland, like snakes and the occasional cactus or two.
Exploring the world reminds me slightly of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. You’ll find all sorts of areas on your travels and these sections are side scrolling, with plenty of townsfolk to chat with and quests and missions to discover. The overworld is presented on a map, which at first is pretty empty. As you gain quest objectives, they’ll be placed on the map and you can ride your trusty steed across the vast desert. You basically point and click here, and the game will show your travel progress with hoof marks marching across the map. More times than not you’ll encounter something or someone along the way and a text box will appear describing the situation. For example, you might be on your way to the next town and you come across a bandit of clowns. Do you want to fight them, or perhaps you’ve leveled up some skills so you can intimidate them instead? Or maybe the best thing to do is let the whole clown situation pass you by. The thing is, it’s usually best to interact with these detours because more often than not there’s a reward of some sort waiting for you at the end. This could be a new weapon, piece of armor, or meat. Yes, meat. That’s the currency in this land. No wonder the cows are so upset.
Combat is exceedingly simple, yet fun. It’s turn-based so you can take all the time you need to pick your attack options. From the get-go your character will have a variety of options, depending slightly on what character class you chose at the beginning of the game. For me, I had a melee attack and a ranged attack. Throughout the game I kept finding new and improved weapons. My melee grew quite strong and carrying items like a crowbar or brass knuckles delivered more damage to the enemies. My ranged attack consisted of various guns – with some of them having elemental damage, like heat or poison. Near the beginning of the game you’ll get a partner character that you’ll have control over in the battles as well to help clear the way.
As you gain experience you can pour that into various skills, which will make your character stronger. You can find books that will teach you new abilities, such as the Haymaker or a triple punch. These special actions require AP, but are usually much more powerful than a normal attack. After every battle all of your HP and AP are recovered, so there’s really no micromanaging between fights, which is great.
Any good RPG needs a compelling story, and it’s here that West of Loathing excels. The writing throughout the entire journey is so witty and funny that I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much playing a game. There are times where you’ll literally have a wall of text to read, but it’s so descriptive and great to read that I never mashed buttons to cycle through it, instead hanging on every word. The game is filled with real world references, some of which I’m sure went over my head, but most of them I had a good chuckle over. The insanity of the story and over the top characters really sells the believability of this crazy world and this game would have fallen flat if not for the incredible writers. That smart wit weaved throughout the entire world of the game, not just during conversations. All of the items you find, skills you learn, characters you encounter, and places you visit have a comedic nature to them that just made me want to smile the entire time.
At first glance the graphics will look primitive, especially to those not actively playing the game. Sure, the entire thing is in black and white and the characters are mostly stick figures, with very little detail. However, the game surprisingly has modern day graphical effects baked in. As you walk about the foreground and backgrounds have heavy parallax scrolling, giving the game some depth. Even though the characters are simple, they animate very well and have an almost cartoon-like feel to them. There are also some great lighting techniques while in dark caves and whatnot. Look, I’m not saying this game’s a looker – it’s no Breath of the Wild, but it fits so well with the story it’s telling that the visuals began to grow on me the more I played. I had several people walk by while I was playing and they all were taken aback by how primitive the game looked, but after the initial shock value there’s some charm to it.
The sound was given a more modern day treatment. In other words, it’s not some 8-bit chiptune affair, but features current-gen instrumentation. There are plenty of twangs and whistles to give it a wild west feel. I’m not sure how I feel about the lack of voice acting. On one hand I think the game could have been elevated with the proper actors. However, with so much text the humor could have been lost without the right people in place. It sort of reminds me of the move from Maniac Mansion to Day of the Tentacle. The voice-overs were great in the sequel, but I’m not sure the jokes landed any better because of it. So, while some won’t like having to read so much, I was completely fine with it. However, I’d love to see a sequel with some voices – if they can find the right cast.
West of Loathing really surprised me. There’s more here than meets the eye. The developers have created a zany universe to explore that’s fun and exciting to discover what’s around the next bend. The writing is absolutely top-notch and the humor was right up my alley. Although I mainly played through the game on my TV, I could totally see this being the perfect handheld RPG to play on summer vacation or long car trips. The side quests are usually quite quick to solve and the game can easily be played in short bursts. Just don’t button mash through the text – you’ll be cutting out the heart of the game!
West of Loathing Review
- Graphics - 5/105/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 8/108/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8/108/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Thanks to its superb writing and zany cast of characters, West of Loathing is a must-play turn-based RPG for the Switch. What it lacks in graphical special effects, it totally makes up for in the humor department. It is yet another great addition to your Switch library!
West of Loathing was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.
Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He’s currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.