Release Date: February 14, 2020
Rating: T (Teen)
Platform: Nintendo Switch
What's It About?
Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl – Gold (whew, what a title!) is the latest release from Japanese powerhouse developer Level-5 (Dragon Quest IX, Ni No Kuni), and is an expanded port of their 2017 Japan-only 3DS game, Snack World: Trejarers. The Snack World franchise is quite successful in Japan, with a tie-in manga and anime series, as well as a plethora of Amiibo-like figures used to summon items and allies into the game world. The game is an action-RPG with an emphasis on collecting loot from randomized dungeons and crafting equipment. Think Diablo, only with a vibrant, lighthearted world and a heck of a lot more puns.
As is the case with any Level-5 game, Snack World has an absolutely charming presentation. Right off the bat, you’re greeted with a stunning introduction in the style of stop-motion animation, set to the tune of a song with lyrics about… eating pork chops. After wiping the drool from your chin, you make your custom character (mine looks like a broad-shouldered version of an Animal Crossing main character) and enter the kingdom of Tutti-Frutti, where King Papaya and his daughter, princess Melonia, waste no time setting you off on a lengthy series of fetch quests.
The graphics convey a lot of charm, but it’s fairly obvious that this is a remaster of a 3DS game. That being said, each character and creature model is unique and visually pleasing. Performance is generally smooth, though the frame rate takes a minor hit when there are many enemies on the screen. I noticed that the performance was slightly better in handheld mode than when playing with the Switch docked, but the game is practically begging to be played while on the go. The soundtrack is upbeat and memorable, and I couldn’t shake the feeling of walking down Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. whenever I’d hear the town music, which is clearly inspired by early 20th century jazz.
As its title implies, Snack World is all about food. Nearly every character’s name contains some sort of food-related pun, and while some are more clever than others, it’s hard not to admire the localizers’ dedication to consistency since there are a lot of recruitable creatures, or “snacks” as they’re referred to in the game world. The writing in Snack World is generally hilarious, and I had a grin plastered to my face while watching the game’s absurd characters interact with one another. Whether having a hot-and-cold conversation with the timid Ciderella, who transforms into her violent alter-ego, Ciderfella, at the drop of a hat, or helping the robotic, antenna-nosed P-gnocchi-0 in his vain attempt to win the princess’ hand in marriage, I enjoyed every moment I spent with the ridiculous residents of Tutti-Frutti.
The colorful world, catchy music, and memorable characters of Snack World did an effective job of pulling me in, but the core of the game is still its action-based dungeon exploration. You equip up to six weapons, or “jaras,” each with its own traits and skills, accept quests from NPCs (or hook up with some friends online to run through generic side quests), and work your way through a handful of bite-sized (sorry, couldn’t help it) missions before tackling a multi-level, randomized dungeon. As you progress through the game, you earn permits that allow you to carry more items and bring along more snack companions.
Combat is fairly simple, with an emphasis on switching out weapons to exploit enemy weaknesses. Fortunately, you automatically switch to the most effective weapon for the closest monster at the press of a button, so you don’t have to spend too much time studying enemy traits. You can bring along a couple of “snack” AI companions who each fall under a specific role (attacker, supporter, etc.), and can even occasionally transform into a snack yourself for a limited time. A boss lies in wait at the bottom floor of each dungeon, and most have a gimmick that forces you to patiently observe their patterns and wait for an opportune time to strike.
Combat is also where the game falters a bit. While it’s convenient to be able to automatically switch to the most effective weapon, it also becomes tedious when you have to switch after nearly every defeated enemy. Sometimes, I’d stick with a less-than-efficient weapon out of sheer stubbornness, or because the more effective weapon had lousy skills. If you take a big swing at an enemy with a heavy axe at the exact moment it is preparing its own attack, you can quickly lose a substantial amount of health. Because of this, I tend to favor faster weapons, but you’re often at the mercy of the weapon traits – especially when facing a damage sponge of a boss.
Crafting is an extremely important aspect of Snack World, but it could be far better handled. You can purchase or find equipment blueprints with relative ease, but there is no simple way of comparing craftable items to what you already have equipped. This makes upgrading gear a bit of a slog, since you have to go into your gear menu, take note of each item’s stats, and then go back to the crafting menu with only your memory or a written note to help you determine if it’s worth sacrificing your hard-earned materials to make a new item. I’d often just throw my hands into the air in frustration and settle on the gear I already had equipped, unless I was having a particularly hard time with a quest.
For the most part, Snack World is a very well-balanced game. Occasionally, however, you’ll find yourself going from full strength to staring at a Game Over screen in a matter of seconds – often while fully stocked with healing potions. Difficulty balance is sometimes thrown out the window – especially during boss battles – and you might even be forced to grind through some side quests after breezing through most of the story-related missions. Upgrading your equipment often requires duplicates to be used as crafting materials, so prepare to spend a lot of time repeating quests if you want to upgrade a particularly rare weapon. AI snack companions don’t help as much as they should, often neglecting to heal at key moments of crisis and seemingly doing everything in their power to step directly in front of enemies who are preparing devastating attacks. The balance issues are far from a deal-breaker, but certainly detract from an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Snack World scratches a very particular dungeon-crawling itch, and it won’t be for everyone. Its simplicity belies its lively world, and quests can become repetitive after a few chapters. It’s much more action-oriented than Level-5’s own aesthetically-similar Fantasy Life for 3DS, and has its share of frustrating flaws. Those who succumb to its charms, however, will be scrambling for their Switch AC adapters so they can go on just one more quest. And then another.