Ono Kine Grind
HIGH Makes busywork engaging and addicting.
LOW The time and materials required to finish are way too much.
WTF How long it took me to find the Royal recipes.
Forager is a small indie coming from developer HopFrog. There’s not much of a story to it, but that’s just fine since the gameplay carries it a long way. Maybe not all the way, but a long way.
In this 2D pixel-art title, the player’s character is dropped onto a tiny island where resources like rocks, trees and animals poof into existence right before their eyes. All they have is a pickaxe, so it’s pretty obvious what needs to be done. Before long, the player has a healthy little stack of materials to make things with, and when the island is bare, no worries! More things appear and the process continues.
While Forager initially seems like any one of a thousand other gathering/crafting titles, it comes into its own by streamlining and downsizing the experience to its absolute core — although it does hold secrets to be discovered, what Forager really wants is for the player to revel in the joy of performing simple tasks, and there is joy to be found.
Once the player gets into Forager’s groove of collecting and builds something – an anvil, a forge, a weaving machine – they’ll use that item to build something new which will then require more resources. Another doodad that leads to more doodads is created, and the cycle continues. It’s all so effortless and straightforward that simply participating in the system is fairly satisfying. However, it won’t be long before Forager presents the player with more complex opportunities.
After accumulating a bit of wealth, the player will be able to buy more islands to expand their terrain. The new landmasses are all of similar tiny size and fit into each other like puzzle pieces. These additions each add something to the mix — different biomes with new resources, puzzles or a challenge. Some of these are obvious, like dousing a flaming chest before opening it, but the majority are more devious and require experimentation, creative use of a specific item, or a leap of intuition.
The flow of Forager from the opening minutes through the first few hours is wonderful. The player will be discovering new things, unlocking new things, and making new things at a very quick clip, and this rapid pace of advancement offsets the slow, tedious nature of traditional crafting and resource gathering. Unfortunately, HopFrog loses sight of where Forager is strongest and ruins a great thing by raising its goalposts tediously high before the player gets to the finish line.
In order to unlock new abilities and recipes that push the game forward, the player must level up. When they earn enough EXP they’re awarded one point which can be used on a skill tree, and these skills generally give the player new choices that unlock more gameplay.
The purpose of some skills are straightforward, like faster resource generation or lower costs, but the utility of many are vague or unclear before use. Without consulting a wiki, there’s no way to know what a “Mining Rod” does until it’s active and tested, or if it’s better or worse than unlocking a slot machine or a lighthouse. This makes spending skill points a gamble, and worse, the player has no idea what other skills will be opened up afterwards. The only thing to do is cross their fingers and hope that they’re on track towards vital progress.
Unfortunately, while choosing a skill at random sometimes leads to a pleasant surprise, the EXP requirements to level up get higher and higher – after a certain point, it takes forever to get another skill unlocked. It’s not a problem early on when the player is learning the game and points are coming effortlessly, but when a specific skill is needed to move forward and the player has no idea where on the tree it is, the grind time added by making a few wrong choices is absolutely soul-crushing.
Forager’s other big problem is that the cost of buying new islands also gets too high. Despite items that mitigate the cost (a shrine that cuts prices in half, wallets that multiply coins, etc.) it still takes way too long to afford late-game islands. When new areas stop coming, the adventure stagnates and players are again reduced to waiting for resources to build up.
The bloated requirements of the late game kill the energy and fast pace that made the beginning such a joy – Forager goes from being quick and light to a mire of pointless drudgery. When I started letting my Switch run unattended to build up gold while I did errands around the house, I knew it was time to move on to a different game.
As it stands, Forager is a wonderful reimagining of common concepts and systems that have grown stale… or at least it is until it falls prey to the very things it was subverting. It’s a shame, but hopefully it will get patched or rebalanced in the future. With just a few tweaks to its numbers, I’d happily return to this small-scale adventure and keep on crafting.
Disclosures: This game is developed by HopFrog and published by Humble Bundle. It is currently available on PC, PS4 and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 14 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence and Mild Blood. The official ESRB description is as follows: This is an adventure-strategy game in which players explore a 2D open-world environment to expand their base. From an overhead perspective, players forage/gather resources, craft items and structures, and battle enemy creatures. Players use swords, bows, and magic wands to attack fantasy creatures (e.g., skeletons, ghouls). Battles are accompanied by screen-shaking effects, mild explosions, and impact sounds. Players can customize their characters with different body parts and accessories; some head parts depict small blood stains around open wounds. One character is depicted with a brown “poo-coil” on his head.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue comes via text that is not resizable. I played the entire game on mute and had no issues at all. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
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