North Switch Review by SwitchWatch
Publisher: Sometimes You
Release Date: March 6th 2018
Price as of Article: $2.99 USD, £2.69 GBP
After escaping the poor conditions of the South and braving fierce and deadly desert, you finally arrive in the city in the North as a refugee. Your journey begins here, within the city walls. Wandering through this mysterious city, you must work out how to become a free man. Constantly writing to your sister back in the South, you let them know the condition this place is in, and whether it is a place worth them braving the same desert you did to get here. But is everything here what it seems?
The way this story is presented is mainly through letters you write to your sister. Every aspect of this narrative though is confusing, disorienting, and seemingly devoid of purpose. What is actually going on in this story is ambiguous at best, deliberately unclear. The revelatory ending also comes off as rather pointlessly unsatisfying.
The themes essentially are rather cookie cutter. There’s a governing body ruling over everybody. You along with many others work a dangerous job in horrible conditions as a sort of slave labour. A religious cult exists that people blindly give themselves too. There is drug abuse and consciousness manipulation via said drug use. There is an overlying narrative about a refugee crisis. It is all just presented in a needlessly confusing and rather uninteresting way.
There isn’t too much here in terms of sound effects. The occasional interactive object will give off a sound here and there, and completing a main task nets you a quiet applause. It’s very minimalist in that regard, but those few sounds that do exist seem to be of a low recording quality. Cracks and pops can be heard, which generally denotes a poor recording. It was very noticeable and jarring to hear.
As for the music in North, it is all synth based. This “dark synthpop” is largely uninteresting, with all the different tracks feeling rather samey. Each song essentially breaks down to picking a generic synth tone on a keyboard, holding a few chords and there you go. Occasional an arpeggiator is used for the more lively tracks, but it just all sounds a bit amateurish.
The sound also highlights another downfall of North; it doesn’t run very well. The music will clip and go silent as the games framerate plunges into the dirt. The games framerate is never consistent either, making the simple act of turning a chore. When you stop turning, it will take another fraction of time to actually stop as the frames catch up. And this is all when the game is running at its best, North is prone to constant drops below this sub par framerate, making the game difficult to stomach.
I encountered quite a few game breaking bugs and crashes in my time as well. My first time playing, the game crashed within the first 15 minutes, forcing me to restart. My second attempt had me play a section where you must enter a room where you die if you are in there too long. You must drink a liquid that makes you move faster so you can complete what you need to do in there. I died my first try, which starts you back at the beginning of the room. Going back into the room I noticed I was moving slow again, but the game wouldn’t let me drink the liquid that makes you run fast again, which meant I couldn’t complete the section and had to restart. My third attempt had me end up in a room with nothing in it and nothing to interact with, forcing yet another restart.
All of these bugs are made worse tenfold by the fact there is no save system whatsoever. This is a narrative choice as the game is designed to be played in one sitting, but when the game is on the verge of breaking at every turn, running into a bug or having the game crash means having to replay from the start. It ended up becoming a cruel type of obscure torture, groundhog day the game, where I was forced to relive the same moments over and over again.
And with how ugly this game looks, I cannot say that was a pleasant experience. There seems to be a weird blur like filter over the whole game, which I found painful on the eyes, especially with the dipping framerate. There are solid black and grey walls, blurry lights, a red desert area, and that’s about as memorable as the environments got. Other characters in the game are these weird monster creatures. An interesting idea, except these people look like they are made of mud, a bland life form to go with an equally bland world. I guess that marriage is at least thematically coherent.
An actual quote from the description of this game is as follows, “…deeply rooted in a classical cyberpunk atmosphere à la Blade Runner…”. This seems irresponsibly deceptive, as there is little here that evokes Blade Runner. Heck, there is little that evokes cyberpunk for that matter. There is bleakness, and beyond that, nothingness.
I feel North is best described as a first person point and click adventure style puzzle game. The gameplay breaks down to you walking to an area, being presented with a puzzle, then working out what you need to complete the puzzle.
Working out what is needed to complete these puzzles is unnecessarily obtuse. You need to go to the puzzle, which will then show a letter icon at the bottom left of the screen. You then need to take that letter back to a mailbox, which is generally back in the starting areas. From here you mail a letter to your sister, which when read gives you the hints for the puzzle, and then finally you need to walk back to the puzzle area and complete it. Needing to mail the letter to read it makes the whole process a chore, a frustrating affair that seems completely unnecessary. It feels like it is there just to pad the play time.
What makes this whole process worse is the fact that you walk at a snail’s pace. The areas you walk around are small, but at the speed you walk they feel like the largest areas you have ever had to trudge through. There is no narrative reason for the slow pace, so I can’t see any reasonable excuse as to why you need to be walking around like your boots are made of concrete.
There is one particular puzzle that made me feel sick to my stomach. I’m not someone that suffers from epileptic episodes or motion sickness, but this moment nearly made me vomit. Quickly flashing colours appear on screen and race towards you, and it is so unbearable that I felt my lunch start to creep up my throat. It was a truly disgusting feeling. It felt completely irresponsible to have this in the game considering there is no form of epilepsy warning at all upon starting.
Speaking of starting the game, it didn’t give me the option to choose what profile was playing the game. A weird thing, but something to note.
Is North worth your hard earned cash? Well, it is maybe an hour long experience with no replayability. The story is not worth your time. It is buggy, can crash, and feels like it is barely holding together. One moment made me physically ill, and it was a moment I had to see three times to get the puzzle right. So my answer as to whether this is worth it is no, regardless of the price. If I was on a desert island with nothing but a Switch with only this game installed, I would throw the Switch into the ocean.
Major performance issues
Game breaking bugs and crashes
One particular puzzle may cause sickness