I really, really, don’t like this one. Every time I play this game, it feels like I’m on the Titanic, and Dread Natical is the iceberg. The gameplay and the overall look of the game sank my already low expectations. I’ve dreaded writing this because I’ll sound like an absolute jerk.
Warning: This is going to sound like a rant.
I’ve really liked Zen Studios’ previous work with their pinball games and KickBeat, but this ain’t it. The strategy elements of Dread Nautical fluster me. There isn’t an emphasis on gun gameplay like XCOM, and the combat is as simple as a dungeon crawler like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon. You take a hit, the enemy takes a hit, and oh look, the HP meter is too low and oh no, my character’s dead because of a lack of health items. Over and over, you’ll have to go through the tiresome strategy controls in an effort to find some sort of enjoyment out of the experience. I guess Zen Studios nailed that Giger-inspired horror; I wanted to get out of the ship as soon as possible. It’s just bad, plain and simple, and what makes it worse is its rogue-like format, so there’s no accessible checkpoint system. Dread Nautical is a game I indeed dread playing.
The less than engaging combat makes me want to snore as I try to toil through the level. It then, without any warning, adds in elements like bleeding and counter-attacks just to find that my character suddenly gets poisoned. With no ability to craft my own antidote or bandages on the fly, I just slowly died, not knowing how to overcome these frustrating obstacles. I was back to the beginning of the level, flummoxed and enraged at how I just wasted 10 or 15 minutes of my life so many times with atrocious loading times to boot. The reason why this is an impressions piece rather than a review is because I simply can’t get further in the game.
I just don’t understand why this wasn’t a top down action game instead. It would have controlled better, felt more natural to the concept of being a survivor on a boat with the weapons available, and I wouldn’t have to deal with the loose strategy controls on a portable device.
But what about the portable mode, Chris?
Well… the touch screen controls are sluggish and isn’t optimized well for the Switch. I should be able to pick the character and slide his or her path down the screen. It feels like it should be played on PC and nothing else. What would have helped is the addition of a genre staple: a rewind or undo button. In addition, there’s no way to turn off the touch screen controls in portable mode, meaning that you’ll accidentally move the camera occasionally. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like Zen Studios has done their homework on how to make strategy games, yet optimize one for console platforms.
Dread Nautical is as ugly as it’s gameplay. I grimaced at the gross character models and the over-exaggerated body animations (with their mouth not moving) akin to Sonic the Hedgehog (2006). The characters lack in detail, have overdone stereotypes, and offer terrible voice acting across the board. The special moves aren’t that engaging, and the game lacks the polish of other strategy games. Zen Studios even added a slow motion element to some attacks, which make each dull animation look even less impressive. It’s kind of laughable, to be honest.
In addition, the text is hard to read on the Switch Lite screen, and the music is dreary, which makes the experience ever-so-more depressing. The only saving grace is the environment art and the concept itself. There are cool elements to the design of the cruise ship, like a casino, the visual style of the vintage flooring/wallpaper, and the waves slapping the liner in a fit of rage. Exploring a horrific cruise ship and finding survivors with each level progressively getting more difficult is a unique concept, but the execution is incredibly lacking.
It’s a shame to report that Dread Nautical fails as a strategy game, but its gross graphics, poor controls, and aggravating repetitive gameplay all make up for a terrible experience on the Nintendo Switch. Just wait for XCOM 2.