You can’t move for retro looking Roguelikes these days. It often feels like almost every other game carries with it the mechanics of earning abilities as you progress but losing equipment and progress, having to start your playthrough essentially from scratch, but with the idea that each time you start over the game is a little easier than the last attempt. Most tie this to a Metroidvania style game, getting you to explore a large 2D environment. This is where Curious Expedition differs.
Curious Expedition isn’t a side scrolling platform action game, no, its developers Maschinen-Mensch, style it as an “expedition” game wherein the player is tasked with becoming a notable person from the 19th Century who embarks on an expedition to find hidden pyramids, return home with treasures and become the worlds most famous explorer, this is all played out with a Civilization Revolution style map that you move your crew across, clearing fog of war, finding villagers, causing volcanic eruptions and running out of Sanity as you “progress”. Games take maybe an hour to ninety minutes to get from your first expedition to your last, provided you get that far, meaning its quite fun to just switch on and not have to really focus on what you’re doing, its fairly light as far as Roguelikes go.
The presentation its quite quirky, every discovery, trade and decision is played out using diary entries that provide the game with its character, sommetimes they really portray the seriousness of any particular predicament (I had someone break a leg and I had to decide whether to leave them or try to heal it, I had to go with the former as I didn’t have the equipment to do the latter, thus making my inventory space smaller so I had to also leave some other items behind) or adding humour at times. It’s a lovely way to portray what looks like quite a static game and each entry is really well written, which gives it the feel of those Choose Your Own Adventure books that were popular in the Eighties and Nineties.
There are a few things that confused me though, I can’t say the game doesn’t try to teach you its mechanics, maybe I just didn’t grasp things well enough. As you explore the map your Sanity meter depletes, this can be replenished by eating consumable items such as chocolate or by sleeping at any villages you find, but both of these can be hard to come by. When the meter reaches 0 you’re crew begin to make mistakes (such as the aforementioned broken leg or they drop items from your inventory, making the rest of the journey even harder) and you’re encouraged to try and make your time walking as long as possible, fewer longer trips results in less Sanity being lost than more frequent but shorter trips.
I couldn’t really grasp the battle system either, its turn based and relies upon dice rolls, but beyond that I didn’t really get on with what the games tutorial was telling me to do, these battles take place against things like wild animals that are patrolling area’s you are walking through or villagers that happened to take offence at your presence (as not everyone is always pleased to see you). It was these moments that led me to getting my Game Over’s as I just didnt have the correct members in my expedition to have the correct dice in order to fight anything off.
The games biggest disapointment however is that, currently at least, its missing a multiplayer mode. From what I can tell the developer has been working on one, at least they have been for the PC version thats been out since 2016, but when playing it, there was no sense of competition or urgency to beat the other Explorers and I couldn’t escape the feeling that a turn based game, with players starting at different points on the same map, racing to find the pyramid first, finding ways to make progress harder for the other competitors, would have made this game an essential couch co-op title rather than a fun little distraction.
Formats: PC (Steam), XBox One (version tested), PS4 and Switch
Release Date: 2016 (PC), April 2 2020 (Consoles)
Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
Code provided by Thundeful Publishing for review purposes.