What you see above is the awesome anime intro that plays when you load up AWAY: Journey to the Unexpected. It took me completely by surprise, but it’s a nice little summary of the game’s story. The protagonist is not a hero or a warrior, just a regular boy whose world changes with a bang. A sinister construction company burrows into his grandparent’s house, at the same time as your parents’ mysterious disappearance. You need to adventure out into the unknown to find out what’s going on and where they’ve gone.
It’s not the strongest story ever, but I certainly enjoyed the presentation. The game is set out in a style reminiscent of Super Mario 64, with doors to new areas locked behind star requirements. The game refers to itself as a “feel-good FPS”, which is a pretty good summary. You have light platforming sections and some rogue-lite elements with multiple runs required through the short campaign to reach the true ending.
Not being a traditional hero, your protagonist is quite frail and doesn’t do a lot of damage with his trusty stick, either. You start with 3 hearts, so only a few hits and you’ll be keeling over and heading back to the beginning of your adventure. It’s not all bad, though, as there’s a hidden EXP levelling system. When you die or restart a run, it will show you how much you’ve earned and unlock new powers, including a charged attack, a shield, and more hearts.
To help you on your journey, you can find ally cubes that let you convince NPCs to join your party. This is described as ‘negotiation’, but it’s often unclear why some options lead to a dead end and feels more like pot-luck than a tactical conversation at times. Once they do decide to join you, you can swap to them with the L or R button. Allies will often have stronger attacks than you, and you don’t have to worry about them losing health, so you’ll find yourself swapping to them regularly.
As AWAY: Journey to the Unexpected is a game predominantly developed by just two people, it’s understandably a little rough around the edges. There were a couple of instances of enemies glitching through the floor, and the controls let it down a bit. Y is the run button and you use B to jump, with no way of changing these, which makes running, jumping and adjusting the camera almost impossible. The hitboxes feel somewhat delayed, too – either your swing is much further in front of you than the animation suggests, or the hitbox lasts for an extended amount of time. It’s not a massive issue, but it does make combat feel a little clunky.
The sound effects and music in AWAY are all reasonably high quality, with a familiar home-life anime theme playing while you’re at home and more dynamic action tunes while you’re out and about on your adventures. The jingles when you collect currency or open chests are quaint and fitting, too.
It’s far from perfect, though. Away could definitely do with some voice talent to pad out the audio quality, and the ambient sounds of the wilderness often aren’t enough to distract you from the fact that there are large barren plateaus in the environments.
Visuals & Performance
I loved the cel-shaded 2D sprites in AWAY: Journey to the Unexpected, it was what drew me to the game originally. These are definitely the highlight of the game, though the rest of the visuals are generally pretty to look at, too. The environments have decent variety but, as I mentioned, there are large expanses that are pretty bare. One nice little visual touch was time slowing down and “CRITICAL HIT” splashing on the screen in capitals when you get a critical swing of your stick.
The performance was decent overall, but it doesn’t run as smoothly as other titles on the Switch. It runs at a pretty stable 30fps, though there were the aforementioned technical hitches I experienced. I’d definitely recommend docked play over handheld for this title.
AWAY: Journey to the Unexpected will set you back $16.99 USD or £14.99 GBP on the Switch. Considering the developers have estimated 4-12 hours of gameplay, that’s more than I’d like to pay for the amount of replay value offered, but it’s not unreasonably high, either. I think it’s a solid buy at £10, so it might be worth waiting for a sale of 33% or more if you’re not thoroughly sold on the offering provided. If they do implement some quality of life patches, the value will undoubtedly increase though.
Rough around the edges, visually and technically
Feels somewhat hollow