The limitations of early hardware meant gaming’s embryonic era was rendered in big, chunky blocks. From the square-shaped protagonist of Adventure for the Atari 2600 to the rudimentary alien creatures that assaulted earth in Space Invaders, play was rendered in pixelated form. Of course, this changed across subsequent years. Over time, resolutions increased, and the basic building blocks of interactive entertainment shrunk down to near imperceptible size. The blocks, it seemed, were gone.
Although the recent release of Zarvot for the Nintendo Switch might flaunt a fancy isometric perspective and showcase high definition backdrops, its trio of characters pay homage to Eighties-era gaming. The game’s single-player story mode centers around two stout cubes, Charcoal and Mustard. The pair are on a quest to find a present to raise the spirits of their listless friend Red, which requires traversing through both innocuous and hostile environments.
The benign ones are free of foes but offer interchanges between Zarvot’s two faceless cubes. Bizarrely, their conversations veer toward the mundane, with Charcoal and Mustard droning on about the myriad of actions needed to pursue their goal. Occasionally, they’ll speak of larger issues, like their hopes or aspirations, but all too often Zarvot’s dialog feels like eavesdropping on a pair of random strangers. While it can be a liberating departure from the world-saving hero-talk of most games, getting through the prattle can occasionally be a chore.
Fortunately, these sections are only a small part of Zarvot’s campaign. Most of the time, you’ll be fighting a cavalcade of spawning foes. Sporadically, the game puts up a border on the edges, generating taut arenas that establish a tense of tension. While the ability to move and shoot in different directions could have been executed in twin-stick shooter fashion, the game opts for a single-stick control. As such, Zarvot feels as if the boxy tanks of Combat have been retrofitted for a modern context- much like David Gordon Green’s take on Halloween, which also re-invigorated a Seventies-era property.
Tapping the fire button lets loose with a quick barrage of shot that can eliminate enemies with a few shots. Alternatively, you can opt for to charge your attack, potentially releasing a wide beam that will instantly destroy multiple foes. But since you’re usually corralled in closed spaces with a multitude of adversaries, the second it takes to intensify your offensive output can leave you prone, creating an appealing risk/reward mechanic. Coupled with the jumping, dodging, and a melee-style attack that can make armored enemies susceptible, you’re one tough cube.
Backgrounds change, incorporating a multitude of real-world objects while foes grow in strength, generating a measured difficulty curve. Variety comes into play as your abilities grow, allowing your cube to bite enemies, returning a bit of health in the process. With a gauge which shows the number of enemies in the reserves and destructible environmental objects, Zarvot’s action is engaging, especially when you can lure adversaries into obstructions. With the automatic restoration of health, it also avoids frustration.
Progress unlocks different levels that can be played in Zarvot’s Arcade mode, which omits exposition for doses of concentrated action. Alternatively, you can grab up to three other players to compete in the game’s Multiplayer offerings. This mode extends six different modes across a dozen different maps. Here, mastery of the same move set used in the single-player campaign will help you prevail against peers. While the multiplayer battles aren’t quite robust enough to be a standalone product, it complements Zarvot’s other components quite nicely.
Despite the decision to use blocky protagonists, the title looks great on the Switch. With the use of depth-of-field effects, a hint of chromatic aberration, and a consistently fluid framerate, the game’s delivery is adept. The campaign extends serval hours’ worth of enjoyment and is elevated by a decision against recycling assets. As such, Zarvot’s journey, while a bit surreal, conveys a feeling of progress. Musically, the game has a fairly broad range of influences, using the soundtrack to mirror the on-screen action.
While Zarvot isn’t quite compelling enough to recommend a full-priced purchase, fans of well-tuned arcade-style action might find enough enjoyment to warrant a reduced-price purchase. As developer Snowhydra’s inaugural effort, there’s a lot of potential. Hopefully, the team is able to build on their solid foundations.
Zarvot was played on Switch with review code provided by the publisher.