Death Road to Canada Nintendo Switch Review by SwitchWatch
Developer: Rocketcat Games
Publisher: Ukiyo Publishing
Release Date: 8th May 2018
Price as of Article: $11.99 USD, £10.99 GBP
Game code provided by Ukiyo Publishing for review
In Death Road to Canada a Zombie outbreak has devastated your home and all of the US, you decide to head to Canada, hoping it will be safer there.
You and a handful of odd allies along the way flee from the undead plague and make your way towards Canada by picking up cars, you must find food and fuel to get there and come across all sorts of randomly generated scenarios that are designed to stop you in your tracks.
Each day brings challenges and its the witty writing and different personalities of those you come across that develops the story during each play through.
Each journey in this 2D Rogue like survival game is fun and hilarious, some of the situations you end up in along the way will make you laugh whilst others will frustrate and upset you.
The soundtrack by Joey Grady is filled with catchy, retro bit tunes that make me think of Cowboys and the Wild West combined with Mario. My favourite track – Rigor Mortis Rag is upbeat and is the perfect companion to slaying zombies!
The game uses different tracks in the day and night well to give a sense of danger at night when more zombies will come out to feast on your flesh.
The sound effects are satisfying, there are a lot of different splats, crunches and squishes as you take to the roads.
Death Road to Canada features retro 8 bit pixel graphics, as a result zombie slicing and smashing feels more like an action dungeon crawler and less like a survival horror game. The game was originally made for mobile devices and when you play it on a TV it shows, the low fidelity of detail is highlighted. Pixel art is often mistaken with low quality graphics, instead its often painstakingly crafted – each pixel is drawn one a time so I appreciate the variety of settings, characters and items.
The above said I don’t find the graphics used here to be great, I would have preferred more detail. The game plays with a glitch, scratching a retro grain over the top to really highlight the old school vibe. Thankfully these can be turned off as I found the scratch in particular to be quite distracting.
On the move or on the go the visuals look the same but I preferred them on the smaller screen. One aspect of the graphics I appreciated was the use of light filters in various areas to highlight a mood or time of day.
In terms of performance I was surprised by some slowdown, particularly on areas with a large volume of zombies on screen. These were never terrible and never lasted very long but it was noticeable on these occassions.
Death Road to Canada is a randomised road trip simulator, combining action and survival elements. The creators flipped the genre on its head by mixing lots of surreal and silly situations with a more realistic view on what would happen in the event of a zombie breakout. Key resources dictate your journey, without food you and your allies will waste away or run away and without fuel you won’t be able to cover the distances needed to get to Canada. More often than not running away is the best thing to do.
Getting through the game is about this survival and the experiences you face along the way, the developer has stripped back the survival genre to an arcade like experience, gone are the tedious travelling back and forth to save points or crafting. Instead you get through the journey day by day across a series of screens, as you travel your team will chat, try to heal each other if skilled enough and argue until you encounter randomised situations. Often this is a choice between visiting places, for example do you want to visit a shopping Mall, a School or a Church? There is a fair bit of reading here similar to Oregon Trail where the stories plays out using this text.
Once you have made your choice you arrive on the scene and get to explore the area, some of these areas will have a light number of zombies whilst others will be completely infested. These areas are a chance to explore and find the essentials needed in fuel and food as well as having a chance to find weapons, medical supplies and other characters to interact with and maybe even join your team.
My first play through I tried to kill everything on screen, needless to say it didn’t last very long – thats not the way to play here, instead its about sneaking in, killing zombies which you really have to and then running away with your loot.
The controls are pretty simple here, you can pick up and hold up to 3 items at anyone time. Pick up a wrench for example and you can bash zombies to pieces or pickup a snooker cue and due the same until the cue snaps. You can also pick up objects such as chairs and thrown them at the undead, when you do pick up a gun its a simplified shooter with a sort of auto aim.
Death Road to Canada has an interesting dynamic for your characters, each will have a number of stats including physical attributes such as Strength, Fitness and Vitality as well as skill based stats including medical, shooting and mechanical.
Someone with high medical for example will be an excellent healer whilst a mechanic will be good at repairing your vehicle.
Each character also has personality stats such as wits, loyalty and attitude that will affect them in certain situations where wits are useful and will dictate how they interact with the rest of the team, low loyalty and a poor attitude can lead to arguments and characters running off with your food and fuel.
All of the stats are represented by an emoji which shows how low or high the value is for each but when you first get a character most of the stats will be hidden, if the character survives and sticks around long enough you will start to figure out their strengths and weaknesses.
The game uses a perks system that lean a survivor in a direction, these affect that characters starting stats and can grant unique abilities. For example an Athlete will start with a randomised sports weapon and an extra point in fitness and strength.
Traits are another system and these affect a survivors personality and tent to come with a benefit and a weakness. For example a Warrior gains extra strength and fitness but has a boring personality.
As you will die a lot the game uses Zombo Points as a way to keep progress from one play through to the next. These are quite rare and can be found randomly or through certain events. You can use these points to unlock additional perks and traits and level the perks up so that if you get a survivor with that perk they will be stronger.
Its a good idea and it does slowly make you that bit more powerful and likely to get closer to Canada.
In order to achieve that goal you can take a few different tactics from trying to go solo in order to not have to share your supplies, the downside is you will struggle to take on the Zombies. On the flip side if you have a large squad full of useless survivors with poor equipment you will likely lose resources and fail as well.
I found that balancing out your survivors was the most successful tactic, having someone capable with guns or other weapons along with a good mechanic and someone with a good medical skill gave me the best chance to get further.
Of course the game will throw curveballs at you, on one run I had everything going my way, a balanced team, lots of resources and a good arsenal of weapons and all of a sudden things went downhill. An argument between two of my survivors led one to leave in the night, taking a number of resources and dropping everyone else’s morale.
My next stop I made a poor choice choosing to raid a supermarket at night instead of camping and lost another survivor to a zombie and it quickly spiralled into a permadeath for my squad.
Its this randomness combined with skill that keeps you coming back.
At any point during a playthrough a local friend can jump in and get involved, taking on the role of one of your survivors.
Its nice to have a second person thats not AI to fight alongside. Outside of this combat the game plays the same way whether playing alone or with a friend but we did find one frustration that put me off of multiplayer.
When you head through a door the screen follows you leaving your buddy behind to move their joycon and hope to get through the door. It became quite frustrating as you have to co-ordinate moving through rooms together.
The game doesn’t take itself too seriously and the unique characters are hilarious, I picked up a character called Nimbus Ordeal AKA Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy 7 complete with oversized sword. His lines cracked me up and there are a lot of unique characters to find through your play throughs.
If you do manage to complete a run to Canada there is still plenty more to play, the game has a number of modes from a shorter trip that ramps up the difficulty at the end because of less time to prepare through to rare character mode where you will encounter rare survivors at a much higher rate.
Death Road to Canada is a very comprehensive game. Each run can be quite quick but will always be unique. With over 400 character variations and a lot of unique encounters there is a lot to explore. The fact that through the use of Zombie Points you will be able to see benefit from your play throughs.
There is also Co-Op and a bunch of modes and all of this together is a solid value package coming in at $11.99 in the US and £10.99 in the UK.
Like Enter The Gungeon this one has a one more play type of feel.
Simple, challenging gameplay
Some technical issues