Game Review #277: Reverse Crawl (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: Steven G.
Developer: Nerdook Productions
Porting Studio: Stage Clear Studios
Category: Turn-based SRPG
Release Date: 05.10.2019
Price (at time of review): $12.99 (Currently on sale for $10.39 until May 30th in the U.S.)
Buy Reverse Crawl from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Flipping the Script
Reverse Crawl is the newest title from the maker of Vertical Drop Heroes to come to the Nintendo Switch. This fantasy SRPG takes on the task of flipping the traditional idea for a dungeon crawler on its head by making you go out and recruit the “bad guys” to fight the heroes and take back the kingdom that was stolen from you by The Red Queen.
Back from the Grave
You play as the Revenant King, a recently-deceased father and keeper of the lands who tragically meets his end and is resurrected by his necromancy-wielding daughter, The Princess. Most of your soldiers have been defeated in the invasion, and with a little convincing from your daughter, you decide it’s time to play dirty and get the toughest and most horrible monsters from across your kingdom to join you and take on The Red Queen. You proceed to meet a vast array of characters and creatures, and you must find a way to convince them to join your cause—which mostly leads to you defeating them in battle. From there, you gain a large army and some really interesting faces, and are able to have a fighting chance to take back what was once yours. A pretty classic story of “they took what was mine and now I want it back”. This game features multiple branching paths and ways the story can completely change, depending on which routes and choices you decide to make. The story is fun and the characters are quirky, and this, along with the branching paths system, are really where this game shines.
Choose Your Own Adventure
The gameplay loop basically consists of choosing between a three-way path of options, and then taking that option to a fight screen to choose which loadout of characters you want to take into the fray. Reverse Crawl features branching options that let you choose which characters you want to bring into your army, and with that comes a lot of strategy as well as interesting story beats that make multiple playthroughs possible. Personally, I chose to use the Dark Elves, Spiders, and Goblins as my main focus, and was quite happy with the results. Several other options were available as well, and they all have different uses, abilities, and strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to really diversify the way in which you take on battles.
When in battles, you have multiple deployments of troops you can use, and so does the enemy. You get a preview of what they are planning on sending out next so you can plan out your attack to counter them. As you grow more powerful through the story, different power-ups and stronger character classes become available, giving you more in-depth choices for counters. The name of the game here is countering properly. There isn’t a ton of allowance for strategy when it comes to troop placement on the field, as the only real thing you are trying to do is surround enemies to get “flanking” modifiers, which increase damage for each character to be on an adjacent square to an enemy. Because of this, you really need to choose properly at initial deployment, and utilize the “re-roll” ability to get your troop deployment of choice the best personality trait possible. Through each deployment, your troops are given modifying personalities for that round that increase or decrease certain stats.
You also gain something known as “Threat” as you go through the actual fight. Threat increases with each defeated enemy and can be used to use one-time-use spells, like direct damage attacks to individual enemies, healing, as well as summoning of extra troops. This also adds to the strategy, as using this Threat wisely is important in some of the more challenging levels, and also becomes crucial in the story-telling in the end game.
Through all of this I would say Reverse Crawl offers a very serviceable SRPG gameplay loop that is fun and charming. There is a TON of jump-in-and-play-for-an-hour value here, especially if you choose to play on the go. I wouldn’t say the strategy elements go that deep, as early in the game you really just have to use the proper counters in troop deployment, followed by proper Threat usage.
In the end game, you have a system that I would honestly say is somewhat unbalanced. When you are in tough fights, especially as the story progresses, it gets to a point that you have to throw out the counters that you have learned throughout the game due to the enemies getting extremely powerful.
Troop deployments each contain certain classes of characters, on both sides of the fight, and the majority of your troops in the early game include undead characters. As you move through the game, the Heroes gain a class called the Cleric that, as many might ascertain, is powerful against the undead. Thus, if you haven’t spent time buffing up one of your non-undead groups of soldiers, you are in some serious trouble, as Clerics are quite common Hero deployments, and in the end game are almost a part of every single troop deployment the enemy has.
I found that I had to predominately use tank-based classes, or classes that can absorb a ton of damage, with every deployment once I got into tough battles. Counters become obsolete, because the enemies are too strong, and anything but these tank classes just get destroyed, especially in the final fights; if you don’t have a tank, you will not progress. This makes for these exciting and thrilling story-based fights to be turned into a bit of a slug-fest, with punches being thrown back and forth with little excitement and no strategy.
The game offers a lot of options with spells, deployments, attack stances, and the like, but overall, a lot of this goes unused, and isn’t strong enough to consider. A lot of strategy potential here is lost on some balancing issues throughout the game, and with some things potentially not working as they should.
The spell slots used in the game are also a bit disappointing. Direct attack spells used with Threat are quite useless. Unless you are just cleaning up a character with 1 HP, they don’t do very much damage. What is really frustrating is you get a preview of how much damage will be dealt based on the attack you choose, and every time with these spells, it doesn’t do even close to how much damage it previewed for.
I also found a game-breaking bug with these spells. You can use a spell called the “Trap” that you can potentially unlock through the story. It deploys a scarecrow-looking punching bag onto the field that, if it doesn’t get destroyed by an enemy, explodes into some kind of damage or negative buff attack against the enemies on the field. One of those attacks is a barrage of arrows that hits all enemy characters, and when this trap attack would happen in some of the castle scenes, the game would freeze up and not progress once the arrows hit the enemies. Nothing I could do would fix this but a hard game reset. This was a huge bummer, as the Trap spell is extremely useful, and this was during a tough fight where that spell became unusable. Luckily, hard resets on the Switch are easy to do, but the whole multi-stage fight had to be replayed a couple of times. I will say, this bug didn’t ruin the experience for me, but it's pretty unfortunate.
The game uses pleasant background audio that is fitting to the battle style and is exciting throughout. It can be a bit boisterous at times, and definitely only features a small variety of tracks, but was nothing that affected my gameplay experience negatively. The battle sounds and movement sounds are where the game makes strides in the audio department. They are fun, and I found myself making “BOOM” noises along with the game when making a big hit.
Visually, the game feels like playing through a comic book or an anime. The cut scenes have a very anime-esque feel due to the added quirkiness and 4th wall breaking jokes. The character models are fairly detailed and varied for being in a hand-drawn, chibi-like style. The game is charming visually, and is very pleasing to the eyes. Proper coloring in the UI makes for easy traversal of information and allowed for a very positive experience. They also offer options to make the battlefield more user-friendly, with options to make deployed characters opaque, and to have the names of characters up permanently or not, allowing for you to customize the battlefield experience a bit.
I had a really good time with Reverse Crawl. I am a huge fan of everything this game was offering: fantasy setting, turn-based RPG gameplay, strategy elements, and a surprisingly satisfying branching story with multiple playthrough options. However, the game falls short in a few of those categories, while exceeding the expectations I had in others. If you are a fan of SRPGs, then give this game a try; I am more than happy with my 10-hour plus playthrough. And with the game offering local multiplayer exclusive to the Switch, and what appears to be a fairly extensive New Game+ and Endless Dungeons mode, Reverse Crawl offers a ton of replay potential. I also will commend the game for how it offers you the perfect jump in and jump out play style that is crucial when travelling with your Switch. A couple of balancing issues aside, the gameplay is fun, and I always was ready for the next fight. This was due more so to the story and wanting to try different paths than it was the strategy gameplay, but whatever gives the game the fun it needs to make you want to keep playing is good in my book.
Buy Reverse Crawl from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Follow Nerdook Productions
Follow Stage Clear Studios
*Review Code Provided by Digerati