Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl should, on paper, be a clear winner. Take a hack-and-slash RPG with randomised dungeons, throw in a dash of monster collecting, and set it all in an offbeat, humorous world where the towns and dungeons are based on snacks. That should be a recipe for a boatload of fun, especially with the esteemed developer Level-5 behind it
Sadly, Snack World falls short of this potential. It has its moments of fun, but they’re overshadowed by a tedium that runs through much of the game. The quirky sense of humour, while initially somewhat entertaining, runs out of charm long before the credits roll. What’s left is a competent game, but not an especially memorable one.
Like many an RPG, Snack World begins with your character rocking up to a city with no memory of who they are or how they got there, before being put to work by the local monarch. In this case, the king is a senile old man and his tasks mostly involve fetching stuff on the whim of his extremely flaky daughter—who will, almost without fail, have given up on wanting the thing you’ve retrieved for her long before you return with it. It’s a very brazen parody of the whole JRPG genre, complete with a frequently broken fourth wall.
For a seasoned RPG player—who will, no doubt, be the bulk of Snack World‘s audience—this sense of humour is good for the odd chuckle, at least to begin with. But it soon runs out of steam; there’s only so many times a character can question some oddity inherent in RPG mechanics, before someone starts saying “Well, RPGs be like that” and gets cut off by someone else, lest they spoil the illusion.
Once that layer of humour has worn off, what’s left is a game that doesn’t really do anything to deviate from or subvert the very thing it’s trying to satirise. A series of fetch quests ramp up into a familiar journey to save the world, but without the depth of character and world that usually give such stories heart.
Snack World‘s oddball sense of humour carries through in the design of the world, with most locations being named after some sort of food: your base of operations is the town of Tutti-Frutti, you’ll visit places like Hotel Habanero, and you’ll explore dungeons like the Gorgonzola Ruins and the Macaroon Mountains. But again, the humour in the naming theme quickly wears thin, especially when you realise that the visual design of each locale does nothing to reflect its name. There isn’t so much as a wheel of cheese in Gorgonzola Ruins, which is instead just generic candle-lit dungeon; likewise for Macaroon Mountains’ icey peaks, and likewise for every other place you visit. The names of each location hint at a sense of personality that just isn’t there.
The monsters—or Snacks, as they’re called—fare a little better, at least. Level-5 have gone all in on the absurd concepts and pun-filled names, which are usually good for a laugh (if only for the sheer absurdity of them, and the Dad-joke quality of some of the names). People say Pokemon got weird with things like Trubbish—in Snack World, a one-eyed, club-wielding die called a Dieclops, a zombie teddy bear (“Deady Bear”), and a giant squid whose excrement is a sought-after beauty product (“Krapen”) are the norm. Just seeing what bizarre creature you’ll run into next is the best thing that Snack World has going for it.
But if you want to fill out your Snack List, be prepared to grind. A lot. Whether it’s collecting materials to craft new gear, meeting arbitrary kill counts before you’re allowed to even attempt to capture a new Snack, or just old-fashioned experience point farming, Snack World demands that you replay levels over and over again as a necessary prerequisite to progressing through the game. Beyond the first couple of missions, level scaling doesn’t nearly keep pace with the recommended levels for subsequent quests, so you’ll almost always need to spend some time grinding out another level or two.
Gear is a big source of character improvement, but again, you need to grind, grind, and grind some more to get the necessary materials to craft new piecest. These materials typically have relatively low drop rates; it’s not unusual to spend 10 minutes replaying a mission that might drop what you need, and walk away with nothing to show for it. There’s little information in-game about where to find the different parts you need, making an already tiresome task even more odious. Snack World is clearly going for a Monster Hunter style of gear progression, but without the finely-tuned incremental gains that make Monster Hunter work.
Snack World tries to take the gear element one further with daily style trends to encourage frequent changing of cosmetic items (which occupy separate equipment slots to you stat-boosting gear). When your fashion’s on trend, you can enjoy bonuses to drop rates and the like, and because they rotate daily, there’s incentive to amass a wide array of items instead of just grabbing the strongest piece and sticking with it. It’s a great idea on paper, but in Snack World, it just means more things to grind for.
The thing is, I like a good grind when it’s well designed and well implemented. I’ll spend hours and hours power-levelling characters or grinding for some self-imposed, arbitrary goal in a game that makes that feel satisfying. Snack World‘s problem is that it makes the grind feel necessary even just for the barest progression through the main story, and also makes the rewards too intermittent and inconsequential to be worth the effort.
The basic game loop is enjoyable enough, at least. It’s a fairly straightforward hack-and-slash action RPG that sees you mixing up basic attacks and more powerful, but cooldown-limited special attacks, while blocking and/or dodging enemy attacks that are usually telegraphed with markers on the ground. You can equip up to six weapons at once and freely switch between them in combat, which is recommended, since using the same weapon too much will cause it temporarily break.
AI support comes in the form of Snacks that you’ve tamed. By the end of the game, you can bring up to three Snacks along with you, as well as a handful of “Pocket Snacks” that you can temporarily summon when once they’re charged up. Party snacks are purely AI controlled, though the AI isn’t great and they have a bad habit of getting themselves killed. Pocket Snacks, meanwhile, you control directly, but only for a short period of time, and you’ll generally only get to summon each one once or twice per mission.
The basic hack-and-slash combat, coupled with the layer of Snack collecting and party composition, make Snack World mildly enjoyable in short bursts. However, the combat isn’t inherently satisfying enough to dull the tedium that comes with the need to constantly grind.
Sadly—though understandably—the Western release of Snack World doesn’t support the NFC toys that were one of the more interesting aspects of the original Japanese game. In game, your weapons are represented by phone charm-like “Jaras” that grow to full size when it’s time to fight; for the Japanese release, you could buy real-life Jaras that connected to the game by way of an NFC chip (as well as NFC-enabled Snack toys). For the English version, this is replaced by a fortune teller NPC who gives you random prizes daily. These sorts of features are much less popular outside Japan, so it’s a reasonable decision on Nintendo’s part, but it does mean that one of the few things that set Snack World apart isn’t present.
What’s left is a game with a lot of potential that it never really lives up to. A dungeon crawler / monster collecting hybrid with a fourth-wall-breaking sense of humour, developed by the esteemed Level-5, should be something special. Instead, Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl – Gold never grows into more than a generic action RPG, full of jokes that quickly grow old and an unsatisfying grind at every turn.
The publisher provided a copy of Snack World: The Dungeon Crawl – Gold to Shindig for reviewing purposes.