Groan…another pixel art indie game on the Switch. Surely, this is as good as it gets, right? Well, if they are anything like Forager, let these titles continue as this game is ace. Another dream project by an individual (similar to Streets of Rogue), more on that later, Forager is a multi-platform grind-fest from the publisher Humble Bundle, out now on the Nintendo eShop.
Not knowing a whole lot about the game other than seeing the trailer, I jumped in feet first as I believed this to be a game worth trying out. ‘Worth trying out’ came at a price though as this isn’t one of the cheapest titles available, but it’s value for money if the following read makes it sound like this is the type of game you like to play.
In Forager, you play as a little sprite that resembles Fez without his signature hat. Like most pixel art type games, it’s a top-down view game where you run from island to island collecting resources to either craft new items or to build new buildings. From the outset, the game throws you straight into the thick of things without any introductions. There aren’t any cutscenes or background stories of princesses or oppressed folk looking to overthrow a warlock. You’re simply told to build a furnace. Even then, it seems like an option.
Without a story, the purpose of Forager is to better yourself. Some may lack the desire to stick with the game, but for myself and anyone who likes to improve themselves with a good old grind (seems like I’ll have a catchphrase soon), the reward of leveling up, earning a new skill or simply upgrading an item to improve your workflow is enjoyable enough.
Armed with a Pickaxe
Armed with a pickaxe, you gradually upgrade that, build new tools and craft new items. That’s about it. But that’s enough. The pickaxe alone can be used to destroy rocks, cut down trees, attack enemies and, of course, forage. Later variations of the pickaxe can burn through resources, cutting time and consequently your output. You can build shovels to source sand, dig for bones and be able to plant items to harvest. There is no set path to follow, and depending on how you wish to play, you can avoid a lot of aspects of the game – such as combat.
Combat itself is straightforward, and the difficulty level of the game is incredibly easy. Not so easy that it isn’t enjoyable, but conflict isn’t the focus. You can quickly get away with just using the pickaxe, but there is the option for bows and projectiles, as well as swords. It all depends on you. Early on in the game, I was trying to source bone materials and could only locate them from digging. I later purchased some land that had gravestones and skeletons present. After beating them, I was awarded more than enough bones to craft new items and progress through the route I wanted to take.
Progress is critical in this game, and aside from the resources you earn and items you craft, you also need to level your character up. In the early stages, it’s effortless to do so. Each time you cut down a tree or collect a fairy or even defeat an enemy, you earn XP. When you ascend a level, you have the option to purchase a new skill point. The path you can take is vast – from speeding up your time cutting trees to drilling for oil, even learning magic – the choices are abundant.
These skills then help you progress with your crafting. There are four main areas for crafting: industry, farming, commerce and magic. Industry covers everything from making tools to drilling for oil. Farming is a select trade of harvesting resources for consumption or to later sell in markets, and commerce is how much gold you earn and how to invest it. Finally, magic allows you to craft potions and scrolls to increase your resources and many other goodies.
Gold has its uses, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. The primary purpose for gold would be to buy more areas on the world map. When you start, you have a small space in which to craft. You later have the option to purchase land adjacent to your starting point with gold coins. The first area is relatively cheap, but prices start to increase further down the line, the reason being that some of these other lands have better resources, puzzles that allow you to increase your stats and even dungeons to raid.
A Mixed Bag
On one side of the game, you have the grinding and crafting, but you also have the dungeon areas and puzzles. Forager doesn’t lack an identity here, and it isn’t a mashup for the sake of it, but the style of gameplay differs between these areas.
As has been the focus throughout this review, grinding is crucial, and you need to invest a lot of time in the game, but at no time does it drag. While you may tell yourself you only want to play a quick 20-minute session, that will soon escalate into a couple of hours. The pace is up to you, but regardless, Forager feels comfortable to play and is perhaps the complete opposite of a rage quit type game, such as Robbie Swifthand and the Orb of Mysteries. Leveling up is relatively swift, but when you get to around level 30 and above, everything slows down. By that time, of course, you will have unlocked quite a few skills to keep yourself going. So, while you aren’t leveling up as before, you will find that your path is more apparent to building bigger and better items.
You begin the game with three hearts that represent your health. Lose all three, and it’s game over. No continues, no respawning, straight back to the main menu. At first, I was horrified as I had spent a good four hours without dying. It put me off initially, but as the game auto-saves regularly, you can go to the menu and continue from where you died (usually face to face with the same enemy that killed you).
Like Stardew Valley, each action you take dips into your energy. When your energy depletes, you lose health, but to be honest, this only happened to me twice as your character will say that they are hungry or exhausted as a warning that your energy is low. There are no areas to rest, but you can eat some of the produce you collect to regain energy (some of the food you can make even restores health as well) and immediately continue.
Forager has a day-night cycle. As mentioned above, you don’t rest and work through the night. At nighttime visibility is reduced, but areas can be lit up with torches, braziers and fireflies in the wild. Early on in the game, I unlocked a lantern that follows me everywhere, so I never had a problem during the night.
Resources in the game are endless. When you chop down one tree or mine some rocks, they will respawn a few minutes later. These resources are random, but certain areas spawn certain specific items. such as crystals, peppers or berries. What can be frustrating is the amount of regrowth on the land. There are times when you run from one place to the other and find the areas completely overgrown, so you end up having to cut everything back again manually, or you can later craft devices that collate the resources for you. Either way, it’s a little annoying – especially if you’ve built an excellent area to work in, only to then find the area overgrown with trees a few minutes later.
Forager Has a Lot to Unlock
Aside from the numerous items you craft, the buildings you construct or the skills you acquire, you are also able to customise your character. This was surprisingly fun as there are so many costumes I’ve unlocked so far just from silly achievements. Almost all of them are aesthetic, though you can unlock items such as the skeleton mask that stops skeletons from attacking you. A select few include donning a fedora and sombrero – but there are some cameos, so to speak, from Hollow Knight, Cuphead and Shovel Knight.
The unlockables don’t just stop there as there are some extras you can obtain from the main menu by progressing through the game. The standout extra is the very first one that explains the background into how the game was made by Mariano Cavallero a.k.a. HopFrog. It’s both charming and enlightening and made me appreciate the game more. Other extras include a comic and the soundtrack. I forgot all about the soundtrack as I had inadvertently muted it when playing, but when I played through the song list, they were pretty good tracks and suited to the game.
Forager is quite expensive for an eShop game, but then again, there is a lot of DLC coming for the game, according to the developer. On the main screen, there is a road map of the upcoming content, such as farming and combat. I understand that the DLC is also free, so in all, good value. I’ve spent hours on this already, and I will continue to do so when it’s released.
Publisher: Humble Bundle
Platform: PC, Switch
Release Date: 30th July 2019