Funny. Absurd. Ridiculous.
With an absurd sense of humor and unconventional RPG elements, West of Loathing is a downloadable Switch eShop title that shouldn’t be overlooked.
West of Loathing is a Western RPG that is more ridiculous than its name. Presented through a stick figure black and white hand drawn art style, the focus of gameplay is about the laughing at the jokes found in every speech bubble, finding a sweet hat, and fulfilling bizarre quests. The writing is so well done, it gives this game its atmosphere and is far and away the stand out feature. For example, any Western game would assumingly have the player confronting bandits, possibly digging for gold, horse wrangling, exploring the frontier, and drinking at the local saloon. West of Loathing has all that but puts a funny twist on everything like sticking your hand in a spittoon to search for treasure, taking out a gremlin in the saloon basement, or reading a book that allows the player walk in funny ways. The moment-to-moment quirkiness sparks continuous laugh-out-loud moments but without being rude or immature. The absurdity is self-aware and uses smart writing in every instance to create a refreshing game experience.
Even character classes are ridiculous. Instead of choosing between a knight, archer, or mage, the player must select from Beanslinger, Snake Oiler, or Cow Puncher. Combat is based around action points which regenerate after each battle and is actually a rather simple gameplay mechanic. However, combat takes a backseat in comparison to the narrative and constant jokes. In fact, battle only happens on a rare occasion and is never truly challenging. I wound up using my grandma’s brass knuckles to take out many a snake in the earlier portions of the game, for example. Even the unlockable perks have silly names that also add to the humor.
This isn’t a typical RPG in which you make your way from one town to the next, killing endless baddies along the way while trying to save a princess. While West of Loathing isn’t open world, the player is free to explore areas in any order from the map screen to fulfill quest objectives. Most places on the map are small areas that can be explored in a minute or two and more will randomly be unlocked while riding the horse (which defaulted me to naming it Epona). Since each area is small, mission objectives are usually completed easily and quickly which always keeps the story moving forward at a good pace. My only gripe with this casual narrative is the player has to talk to each and every character to register and activate quests; there is no quest indicator above the heads of NPCs. It can be a little tedious at times but usually doesn’t take long to find the next objective or place to go. But talking to people, clicking on parts of the environment, and completing quests is the meat of West of Loathing, not so much combat or leveling up, which actually makes this a good game for non-RPG fans.
The entire game looks like something a bored junior high student would scribble in a note pad but there is actually plenty of detail in the presentation. Rocks, for example, cast real time shadows depending on the way your lantern’s light hits it. Animations, including the main character’s idle animations, also convey humor and fill out the goofy aesthetic of the game. The soundtrack also provides that Western vibe players would expect.
West of Loathing’s biggest problem is its inventory system. During the campaign, the player will wind up collecting more and more items, clogging the inventory screen which actually seems to increase load times. Without a meaningful way to sort these items, especially since some are just there to make you laugh, they can get in the way. The same goes for the quests. Not having everything spelled out from the menu to guide or recap for the player can be confusing especially if you have not played in a few days and can’t remember what do to or where to go. This can leave the player hanging and left to click around the environment until it all makes sense again. The player will usually have more than one objective at time so keeping track of everything can be difficult. While the menu system isn’t broken, it definitely could use some work to be more intuitive and not so busy.
West of Loathing is not only unique for its different take on the RPG genre but also because of the humorous writing. This feature cannot be underestimated. When you think of humorous games you’ll probably think of Conker’s Bad Fur Day which relied on toilet humor, maybe Psychonauts for being just weird and way out there, or possibly even Mario & Luigi for fighting zany characters kidnapping princesses. But West of Loathing is different because it puts the thoughtful writing first, then adds gameplay elements around it. Again, this is an RPG with minimal combat, it is all about having each text bubble stating something funny. Instead of collecting money, the player gathers meat as currency. You don’t have a partner, you have a pardner. If you want to enter the bar, you need to wear a stupid hat. The game even makes you regret sticking your hand in a spittoon with page long paragraphs. Every aspect of this game is based on humor and hits the nail square on the head. This game is so well written and not an RPG even though it is an RPG, it shouldn’t be missed. Oh yeah, and it only costs about $10.
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