Robbing Indigenous People For Fame And Profit

HIGH A fresh roguelike take that veers away from fast action.

LOW Forgetting the ‘examine’ function mapped to Y existed.

WTF Trying to finish the final map.

Curious Expedition is a 2D turn-based roguelike that offers a rich boardgame flavor — so much, in fact, that I had to jump on Google to see if it was an adaptation. As far as I can tell it isn’t, but the hex-based maps, bartering system and dice-reliant combat would easily fool one into thinking so.

This isn’t a bad thing, though. The Switch is a great platform for indie experiences, and I’m especially fond of projects that fall a bit outside the beaten (console) path. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I’m also a huge fan of roguelikes, and always keen to play one that doesn’t rely on twitch reflexes.

The premise of Curious Expedition is simple. A group of 19th century luminaries like Charles Darwin, Marie Curie, Rasputin (and many more) are members of an explorer’s club holding a contest – the one who makes the most discoveries and plunders the most riches from foreign lands will have a statue dedicated in their honor.

The premise is more than a little tone deaf when it comes to issues of imperialism, colonialism and indigenous rights, and I have to admit that once I realized what it was about, it gave me pause. Players who object to these sorts of ideas implemented as gameplay may want to steer clear.

Putting those issues — and they are issues — aside for a moment, the mechanics and design of Curious Expedition are well-considered and entertaining from a strategic standpoint.

Each character has their own set of stats, perks, quirks and starting crew to support them, and the choice can have a big effect on play. Is it better to start with a sturdy donkey to carry supplies, or would one be wiser to choose a hero who is loved by the locals?

Once an explorer is selected, the player sails to a distant part of the globe and arrives at a map obscured by a fog-of-war effect that lifts as travel happens. A small compass in the corner of the screen gives a general direction where the goal of every mission — a golden pyramid — might be, so it’s a matter of hacking through brush and forging through jungles to locate it.

Depending on the terrain, payers will lose sanity at various rates – less for easy plains, more for mosquito-infested swamps. Rest can be found at various campsites and villages, where players can also barter for goods or recruit locals to help if their standing in the area is favorable enough. (If it’s not, giving free loot to the villagers will improve their opinions in a hurry.) After restocking and restoring sanity with a good night’s sleep, it’s back into the field.

Wild animals, dinosaurs and other opponents will pop up as rivers are forded and caves explored. When combat occurs, the player rolls dice that are inherent to each character in the party. For example, one character might have dice featuring guns and knives, while another has dice marked with eyes and hands. Desired results can be used or saved while bad rolls can be done again, up to three times. Various combinations will have a range of attack or defense effects, and if the player is victorious, they’ll claim their spoils and move on. It’s more luck-based than I would like, but it makes sense.

Once a pyramid is found in an area, the player returns to home base, selects a new perk for their explorer, and then heads back out into the world to find the next one. The campaign ends after six jaunts, and whoever ends up with the most fame by tagging pyramids and bringing back artifacts is the winner.

While I’m sure some players might find the basic premise of Curious Expedition to be distasteful — and it is problematic, to be sure — the design is thoughtful and challenging, and the turn-based exploratory approach brings a fresh, welcome angle to the combat-heavy roguelike genre. It’s likely to incite some tough conversations, but roguelike fans and boardgame fans should check it out.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Maschinen-Mensch and published by Thunderful. It is currently available on PS4, XBO and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed (yet!) There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Blood, Drug Reference and Violence. I didn’t see any drugs, but alcohol plays a role in restoring sanity or in reinforcing certain characters’ loyalty. It also has high trade value. Otherwise, there’s no real concern with the blood or violence — the graphics are so tiny, it’s mostly just a few red pixels on the screen after a fight.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The text is a bit small and can’t be resized, but there are no audio cues necessary for play. I spent all of my time with this game playing on mute and had no problems at all. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable and there is no control diagram. The setup is fairly simple here. A confirms choices, B cancels, menu selection and cursor movement is mapped to the L stick, L shoulder brings up an item menu, R shoulder brings up the party menu, clicking the R stick pulls the map back and Y turns the cursor into a magnifying glass that explains icons on the screen.

Brad Gallaway
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