A road trip endless runner with charming atmosphere, music, and characters that only misses out on a higher score due to some repetitive gameplay and lack of replayability.
I’m a big proponent of video games that are worth your investment; not just your time or money, but your earnest attention. When you can invest yourself in a game, it’s more valuable to you than it would be otherwise. With that in mind, I also want to make a point of highlighting games that deserve your earnest attention. Case in point – Summer Catchers.
Summer Catchers is a pixel-graphics side-scrolling adventure game developed by FaceIT and published by Noodlecake Studios. It also happens to be the debut title for FaceIT and their first real jaunt into video games development. Spoiler alert: They have a lot to be proud of as this game is charming as hell and quite fun.
You play as Chu, a young girl living in the frozen, dark forest of the north who has never seen summer, the ocean or anything in-between. Unsurprisingly, she wants to see summer, and so with the help of her friend, “smart bear” (who happens to be a wolf that is really into carpentry), she builds a wooden car and starts her journey south to see her dream. Simple and elegant at the outset, nothing complicated. As you progress through the game, and collect images in your journal, you begin to notice that story beats begin to reveal themselves, and it contextualizes the game in an organic and highly engaging manner. I won’t spoil anything for you, but I’m certain you’ll be pleasantly surprised (just as I was) if you invest yourself in the events as they proceed.
Throughout the game, you’ll travel through eight areas on your way to see the ocean and summer, each a different environment to travel through and see. These range from snowy forests with aurora borealis peeking through the treeline to living mountains and sand dunes, all of which are gorgeous and never overstay their welcome. The characters, including Chu, all have this charm to them that is infectious despite how fleeting some of the interactions are. When I stepped back from the game for brief moments, I would catch NPCs just being adorable on the side or even making comments that you wouldn’t see if you just kept jumping into your next ride. It’s small details like this that breathe an extra ounce of life into this game. Additionally, the music is even more memorable, with over 30 tracks thematically composed by Geek Pilot Soundworks for each and every occasion and region in the game.
As for the gameplay, there’s a persistent loop you’ll experience throughout the game: Start in the hub, gear up for a ride, select your tasks, then ride out to complete your tasks. You’ll always have a hub that you set out from that has a shop, notable NPCs and a task board, and the ever-present GO button to side scroll your way through the current region you’re traveling in. You choose one task from the board before entering any ride in a region that you can complete as you travel. In order to ride for longer than 30 yards without crashing into some obstacle and returning to the hub, you’re going to need consumable tools. You can buy these in the shop with the mushroom currency you pick up on your expeditions. Tools like the Bumper and the Jump Tire cost less but are quickly expendable, while others like the rocket boosters and the propeller are a bit more costly and specific in use. These items are always available randomly via three slots on the side of your HUD as you ride and you normally can only change them by expending them. This can lead to some frustration early on as you’ll sometimes crash because you, for some reason, had three rocket boosters and kept riding into totem poles. As you play and improve, you’ll know when to toss certain tools aside to hopefully get the ones you need for progress.
Once you complete all the tasks in a given region, your next ride will be an attempt to leave the region and move on to the next, culminating with a boss encounter. The slot machine-esque nature of the tools system rears it’s ugly head when it comes to boss fights, however, which are ride variants where you need to make it a certain distance during a ride using your tools to avoid the hazards the boss enemy creates. Visually, these rides are amazing and have their own awesome musical tracks, but after you suffer from bad RNG on a boss a few times with the tools system, it becomes difficult to recoup the currency needed to get tools, thus necessitating a revisit to previous missions to scrounge up a few extra mushrooms. It’s a bit aggravating, but ultimately, I could look past it as crashing and restarting in the name of progress is the name of the game. You’ll run out of tools in normal rides, and boss fights are no different in that regard, so it’s ultimately fine but something I ought to mention.
Lastly on a gameplay note, I’ll mention the regional mini-games. Periodically in a region you’ll come across something when you crash that turns into a cute mini-game that will leave you with a reminder of the region you found it in. One instance involves playing the xylophone in a simple rhythm mini-game to charm fireflies into a jar you can carry on the road with you. The others are really out there at times, so I won’t go into too much detail on those. I can safely say that they break up the monotony of the endless rides and tasks you’re gunning to complete.
As a quick aside, the game controls are simple and nothing really feels off, no matter the control scheme or peripheral in use. I’ve played the game using a gamepad, as well as a keyboard and mouse, and it played just fine both ways without even having to double-check how my controls were mapped. Cycling through actions and choosing them simply requires directional inputs (analog-stick on gamepad, arrow keys on keyboard) and activating your highlighted choices (A/B on my gamepad, Enter/Spacebar on keyboard). It’s incredibly simple to handle despite having no options to change your controls in the options menu.
All of this being said, it isn’t perfect (as I’ve mentioned), and the game doesn’t have enough behind it to warrant multiple playthroughs. However, I keep finding myself wondering when I’ll want to go see the ocean again. When I think of that, I’m going to think of Summer Catchers now and I’ll certainly consider another jaunt from that snowbank I started the game in. I cannot give this game a higher score by the standards in place, but I implore that you give this game a chance. It may not blow your mind with its spectacle, but it is, in my mind, worth your time, money and your earnest attention.
Summer Catchers is currently available on PC via Steam.