“You want a nice SCAR?!”, cries my Penguin Paladin as it unleashes a special attack. Followed by another. And another. Each time, yelling its catchphrase in identical fashion. Each time the words, “You want a nice SCAR?!” worming their way deeper and deeper into my cerebral cortex until they are no longer just words from the mouth of a virtual penguin – they are a part of me. “You want a nice SCAR?!”, I yell involuntarily as I awake in a cold sweat that night. It’s been a while since a game has really stuck with me long after playing it, but this isn’t what I wanted. Not like this.
Let’s rewind it a little though, to my early hours with Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl – Gold, the long-awaited Western localisation of the Switch port of a 3DS adaptation of an original Japanese multimedia franchise. Snack World’s marketing materials describe it as a ‘Deliciously Meta Adventure’, a quality that presents itself almost immediately. Shortly after making my own, adorable customer adventurer, it comes to light that – in true RPG fashion – they’ve washed up on a beach with no recollection of the past. When this news is reported to the local kingdom’s ruler, though, along with the notion that this could be a Hero of Legend come to save them from a looming evil, the king quickly dismisses the idea. “In any other RPG, almost certainly. But we have no such legend in this kingdom…” Nice.
The thing is though – and I’m leading with this point in the assumption that it might affect others enjoyment of the game as much as it did mine – for every fourth-wall-breaking story beat and every brilliant pun, there’s a disappointingly cheap and often blatantly ‘phobic’ dig made at someone’s expense or another goddamn annoying penguin (yes, I’m still on that). For all its vibrancy and charm and silly, food-based wordplay, Snack World somehow also manages to be jarringly mean-spirited on the regular. Between jokes about a character’s unclear gender identity, overuse of tired, ‘predatory gay’ tropes, and a penchant for overweight takes on fairytale characters named things like Sloe White and Peter Pancake, it sure does love to punch down. It’s not clear how much of this stems from the original Japanese writing, but whether these were conscious decisions on the translation team’s behalf or a faithful interpretation of the source material simply means it’s all either in poor taste or plain lazy.
Which makes it all the more frustrating that, underneath its desperately edgy and unfunny moments, Snack World is still an addictive and enjoyable dungeon crawler that I can’t help coming back to. There’s no doubting that the game was built with handheld platforms in mind, its short form dungeons and time-based loot meta make the core gameplay loop perfect for quick, daily sessions. One of the game’s more unique features is a daily fashion system that rewards players with increased odds of finding rare loot for wearing headwear, armour, and accessories that match the day’s fashion trend. Of course, this equipment is also necessary for the stat and ability bonuses it provides, so the game thoughtfully allows players to choose their ‘style’ gear independent of their ‘utility’ gear. There’s a definite sense that Snack World is best played in regular, small chunks as opposed to consumed in large doses.
This extends to the real meat of the game; the dungeons. Randomly generated and typically taking less than ten minutes to clear, dungeons are mostly simple action-RPG fare. Still, the real fun comes from mixing and matching your weapons and companions to suit the challenges ahead. You can’t change your loadout in-dungeon (most of the time), but the quest select screen provides more than enough information ahead of time. There’s welcome depth in all of the gear systems. Still, the game caters nicely to more casual play by (optionally) auto-equipping the best stuff you’ve got for the job. Snack World has nailed quality of life design down pat. That is, aside from the bewildering decision to have foreground objects regularly obscure the action in dungeons. Camera control is an option, but with an unnecessarily limited degree of movement that winds up making things fiddlier than they should be.
Luckily though, you won’t be going it alone in Snack World’s many dungeons – the game’s monsters (called Snacks) can be added to your team after taking out enough of them, up to three at a time once you’re far enough into the game. Like weapons and armour, the key to success is in mixing and matching Snacks to suit each quest. The Snacks do a decent job as teammates, despite a tendency to put themselves in mortal danger, and there’s a generous time-to-revive if they’re downed. Online multiplayer is an option too, replacing Snacks with human players, who are (hopefully) more reliable. Multiplayer is sadly limited to ‘side quests’ though, so no campaign co-op, but grinding dungeons for loot with a few mates is decent fun.
Visually, Snack World is a treat. The chunky, colourful world suits the Switch perfectly, and there’s a ton of creativity on show in the hundreds of Snacks to be found. It’s occasionally jarring to experience the game in vastly different framerates depending on location – indoors typically run at something that feels like 60fps while outdoors and dungeons drop it back to a slightly choppy 30 – but I didn’t come up against any glaring issues.
That is until you recall a little meltdown I had earlier about a Penguin Paladin. Every monster, every companion, every character, repeats the same things over and over. Constantly. In the field, while beating up baddies alongside your chosen Snacks, you’ll hear the same corny catch cries repeated rapid-fire from both sides. These kinds of cutesy JRPGs aren’t immune from this kind of thing, but Snack World is on another level. About a quarter of the way into my playthrough, I looked for an option to turn off voices, didn’t find one, and just muted the game altogether.
THE NINTENDO SWITCH VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
There's a lot that I wanted to like about Snack World. Lite-dungeon crawling, a deep loot system, colourful visuals, quirky 'meta' humour – all the right ingredients are here for a staple dish in my personal video game cuisine. While it all looked great on the menu, though, what has eventually been plated and served is more like fast food than fine dining. It's still enjoyable, but it hasn't been made with the same love and care and can make you feel a bit uneasy.
Addictive dungeon-crawling and gameplay loop
Accessible RPG mechanics with plenty of hidden depth
Vibrant, cartoon visuals with plenty of personality