Crashlands (Switch) REVIEW – Lands On Both Feet

Crashlands Switch

Developer: Butterscotch Shenanigans
Publisher: Butterscotch Shenanigans
Platform(s): PC, Switch, iOS, Android
Review code provided

Crashlands has been out for some time on Steam and mobile, but it has now finally made its way to Nintendo’s hybrid console. As a whole, the package is pretty great and will give you plenty of hours’ worth of exploring, building and taming monsters. Being a handheld, the Switch is ideal for some low-key experiences like a crafting and building simulator. At home on the sofa, in the bathroom or on the bus, walking around a big open world while collecting resources, building up your base and discovering new places is a delight. That is, of course, if some parts don’t drive you up the wall at first.

At a first glance, Crashlands resembles Don’t Starve. They are both top-down crafting games with a cartoonish graphic design and quirky humor. But that’s where the comparisons stop, however. Don’t Starve is a ferocious survival game in which you need to constantly monitor things like hunger, warmth and mental health. On top of that, it has a ton of extremely dangerous lurking wherever you go. Crashlands takes a much gentler approach to the genre (though they have settings to make it tougher if you’d like): you don’t have to manage any survival stats, all you need to worry about is to restore health from the damage you take. Crashlands also has a much more hands-on type of story that will guide you through the steps of how to play the game and acts both as a narrative and a tutorial.

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Fans of the genre will feel right at home in Crashlands. You gather resources to build workstations which upgrade your gear and make it possible to advance further in the tech tree. It’s a familiar loop and works mostly as expected. There are some differences here, though. For instance, crafted gear is randomized, so making the same thing more than once is actually beneficial in Crashlands. Additionally, there’s a sort of Pokémon system in the game; sometimes monsters will drop eggs that you can hatch to gain them as pets. The pets can give you resources and help you out in battle; you can even feed them special items to evolve them to bigger, nastier versions.

Another difference from Don’t Starve and many other similar games is that death is largely inconsequential. When you bite the dust, you drop some of the stuff you gathered and respawn at camp or a spawn point. A short corpse run later and you’re back to normal again. This system is also tremendously helped by a very generous teleportation system. Wherever you are, you can bring up the map and teleport back to base, or any of the teleportation platforms that you uncover throughout the land.

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Graphically, Crashlands looks pretty neat: the characters are well designed and have a range of animations that make them feel more alive and interesting. However, the world is rather bland, ground textures look dull and there isn’t much that stands out, and the world’s water just looks strange. This is also a big drawback for the crafting system – it’s just not that fun to engage in.

In these kinds of games, there are two things that I find important when it comes to crafting. First, its usefulness: does the thing I’m making serve a need or a purpose? Second, the aesthetics of it all: does it look fun, cool or interesting? Crashlands has no problem with the first part of that equation but falls really flat in the second part. In games like Conan Exiles, there is satisfaction in seeing your tower rise up over the trees and mountains, placing torches and guards and decorating the walls you put down. In Terraria, it is fun to see the depths that you can go to in carving out the caverns underneath your house. Crashlands completely lacks these aspects. You can build out your walls and your base, sure, but it all looks fairly lackluster at the end of the day, which is a shame.

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Perhaps the biggest departure from many similar games is that Crashlands features a fully-fledged story. Sadly, it is a story with far too much dialogue. I suppose it is well written for what it is, but it is tremendously try-hard. It really, really, really wants to be witty and funny but in the end, it’s just too much. Pretty much any and all exchange between characters is an exercise in how much the writers can reference something and say: “nudge, nudge, see what I mean, see what I mean”. Personally, I found it extremely tiring and started skipping the dialogue rather quickly, which wasn’t ideal since I missed some quest and progression related information. On the other hand, having a campaign in these kinds of games at all is worth something, I suppose.

Aside from the campaign, Crashlands also comes with two other modes that are a bit more freeform and one of them even lets you build your own worlds and adventures. With the Switch, you can also engage in couch co-op mode that works much as it does on Diablo 3 for the Switch. Two players can grab one Joy-Con each and adventure together and since the game is laid-back and doesn’t require much precision, the small controllers work just fine. Overall, Crashlands controls relatively well, though it is clear this was initially designed to be played with a touchscreen and not a gamepad. Most of the time it is fine, but occasionally the auto-targeting will switch target and instead of fighting the monster, you start to saw down a tree. It’s irritating but the game is forgiving enough that this isn’t a major problem. The simplicity of Crashlands also makes it a good to play with people who are not used to the genre, or any. It’s a devcent ‘my first video game experience’ and if my son was a couple of years older, I could see us spending a lot of hours playing Crashlands together.

Crashlands is a laid-back take on the survival/builder genre that fits the Switch rather well. If you can stomach the tedious writing and some bland environments, you can do a lot worse for the price.

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Crashlands Switch
Not perfect, but if you're up for some laid-back exploring and building and can stomach the writing, Crashlands is pretty good. Microtransactions: none