Author Topic: Kudzu (Switch eShop) Review  (Read 596 times)

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Offline Halbred

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Kudzu (Switch eShop) Review
« on: April 15, 2024, 01:31:21 PM »

Little annoyances add up to big problems in this Zelda-like.

Kudzu is another retro game receiving an original cartridge, as in Dungeons & Doomknights. This one, however, is for the original Game Boy. It follows the trials and tribulations of Max, a gardener and protégé of garden master Zoen, as he explores a surprisingly large Link’s Awakening-style world in search of better gardening tools to fight back against Kudzu, a real, but invasive, vine-like plant (Pueraria sp.>. The game is competent and well-meaning, but a rash of technical issues and small spaces really hold it back.

The core gameplay is pretty simple: Max wanders through the world in overhead view while brandishing a machete and (eventually) various other gardening tools. An interesting twist on the Zelda formula is that “dungeons,” which have their own title screens, provide connection between zones of the overworld, so you’ll find yourself repeatedly traipsing through older dungeons to access new overworld areas. This isn’t actually bad, as you usually have new garden tools to further explore any given area. Max will come across various obstacles, including rocky ground (which you’ll need a rake for), actual rocks (which you’ll need gloves for), and thorny terrain (which you’ll need boots for). This is all fun in theory, but it winds up feeling like every new implement is a key. Max’s combat abilities never really change.

I’d say he could use a projectile weapon, but the spaces are so confined that it might not be useful. Most rooms (or “screens” in Zelda parlance) aren’t open spaces. Instead, Max will be moving around obstacles to kill enemies, which makes most areas feel very confined. I suspect that part of this is that the sprites are quite large. I would analogize this with the Mega Man games on Game Boy; because they don’t scale down the sprites, the valuable real estate of the Game Boy screen means that everything looks way too zoomed-in. I got a similar feeling during Kudzu.

Combat should be pretty straightforward, but winds up feeling tragically imprecise, and I think it’s due to technical issues. Because Max always moves a little bit forward when you press a direction, he often runs into enemies due to the confined paths through most screens. Some enemies also have wildly unpredictable movement patterns (none more so than the rats in the haunted house). In addition, Max’s attacks don’t always “count,” and sometimes just push an enemy away in a random direction. To be fair, this also occasionally happens to Max, where an enemy will seemingly hit him but no damage is taken. In addition, pressing pause, on many screens, will cause previously-destroyed objects (like vines) or damaged enemies to “reset,” which I found bizarre.

The pause menu itself also deserves some consternation. Moving the cursor within the pause menu is an exercise in frustrating tedium. It takes a lot of button presses for the cursor to “register” and actually move to the next thing. Max’s health is displayed on the pause screen but not, weirdly, on the gameplay screen. When he takes damage, a little bubble will appear over his head that displays how much damage he’s taken but not always--and it's occasionally wrong. Max can use jelly, sometimes dropped by fallen enemies, to restore health. When the game begins, he only has one jelly “jar” available but he can buy more jars over the course of the game.

The pause menu also shows how many mushrooms (currency) Max has as well as how many goats (collectibles) he’s found. Unfortunately, and unlike every other Zelda-like on the planet, no number is displayed by the mushrooms or goats. You have to navigate over to the mushrooms or goats and press A, which then brings up a dialogue box telling you how many you have. Once you buy a map of a given area, you can press the - button to view it, and the map is far more responsive than the pause menu. However, even late in the game, I'd not found a map to one of the early areas, which means that map-finding is more uncertain than you'd like.

Although save points are fairly evenly distributed throughout the world, Max will die more often than you’ll think is fair given the hit detection problems explained above. There are boss fights, and they are mercifully simple. Finding a new piece of gardening equipment should feel great but in practice it’s pretty underwhelming. Finding the rake, for example, doesn’t give you a new item to “equip” as there is no equipping. Your standard machete swing now also destroys rocky ground. It all feels very passive.

That undercooked feeling extends to the game’s options. The digital version of Kudzu displays in true Game Boy pea soup green, but there are no other filters. How about a Game Boy Pocket or Game Boy Color option? How about a pixel perfect option? You can choose a few different screen borders, including key art (which I don’t like) and two slightly different console borders, neither of which is a Game Boy, but instead looks like an off-brand Atari 2600.

I think you get the point. Kudzu is going to be compared with Link’s Awakening at every turn, and in fact the publisher’s own PR does just that, but it can’t hold a candle to that beloved Zelda entry. It all feels very undercooked and I can’t recommend it.

This would be my PSN Trophy Card, but I guess I can't post HTML in my Signature. I'm the pixel spaceship, and I have nine Gold trophies.

Offline melaniewalker

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Re: Kudzu (Switch eShop) Review
« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2024, 12:15:32 AM »
Best review I've read so far of this game. Thanks