Game: Curious Expedition
Genre: Roguelike, Strategy
System: Nintendo Switch (Also available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam)
Developer | Publisher: Maschinen-Mensch| Thunderful Publishing
Age Rating: US Teen | PEGI 12+
Price: USD $14.99 | UK £13.49 | EU €14,99
Release Date: April 2nd 2020
Review code used, courtesy of Thunderful Publishing.
Curious Expedition is another gem among roguelike strategies to grace the Switch platform. Tragic, comedic, and most of all addictive, I like to call it A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Game.
Here’s the premise: 19th century explorers. Procedurally generated worlds. Choices with disastrous consequences. Treasures and calamities. Guns, guts, glory!
You’ll be sure to die. Your party members will either turn alcoholic or cannibal, or develop a terror of butterflies. There’s shrine looting, tomb raiding, shady missionaries, erupting volcanoes, living dinosaurs, giant spiders, hidden traps, dreadful curses, and lots of whisky to help you feel better. It’s gonna be a great trip!
The Great Race
The goal of the game is to survive six expeditions and emerge with more Fame points than your rivals.
You play a historically famous explorer, and your rivals are illustrious too—Charles Darwin, Amelia Earhart, Roald Amundsen, and the like. I played mostly as Johan Huizinga, Dutch historian (1872-1945). Huizinga’s starting perk is Anthropology, which enables him to create books of high Fame value whenever he rests at a native village.
Though Curious Expedition is a travel competition, resting is as important as moving. Resting restores Sanity points, which is the measure of your party’s health. Random bad events are more likely to happen when you’re running low on sanity. If the party’s sanity hits zero, as it often did for me, a random disaster will likely hit one of your members, possibly killing them. If your main character dies, it’s game over.
Traveling across the world map, especially over rough terrain, consumes time as well as sanity. So your party must pace itself wisely, especially as maps get successively larger over the six expeditions. With each expedition, it becomes more challenging to find the elusive Golden Pyramid.
Entering a Golden Pyramid ends an expedition, returning you to London and earning you Fame points. Depending on how quickly you reached a Pyramid compared to your rivals, you may receive bonus Fame points. But the only way to get really famous is by donating treasures to the British Museum (cough, cough).
If you survive all six expeditions and win first place in Fame points, congratulations, you’ve beat the game.
It’s a Dangerous World Out There
In Curious Expedition you’re constantly weighing risk and reward.
Want to pilfer that Golden Cup from a shrine? Sure, if you don’t mind triggering a curse. Want to rest at the waterfall yonder? Okay, if you can skirt around that roaming tiger. Exploring a dark cave? Thanks to the torch you’ve been saving to use, you didn’t trip and die. Plus, you found a few bars of sanity-restoring chocolate!
Sanity-restoring foods are in scarce supply. So, careful management of your inventory is key to preventing insanity. What to use, what to discard, what to barter? It will take repeated playthroughs to grow wise in the ways of this roguelike.
In standard roguelike fashion, dying means starting all over again. This might sound discouraging if you aren’t used to the genre, but good roguelikes—including this one—are so addictive that death is simply a welcome chance to try again, this time with more knowledge than you had before.
Still, new players may wish to start with Easy mode. After losing five playthroughs on Medium (twice because of a bug), I tried Easy mode and won on my second attempt. After 15 hours with CE, I’ve finally completed a six-expedition game on Medium, though I placed only second in the Fame contest.
A successful playthrough should take no more than 2 to 3 hours, with most expeditions finishing within 30 minutes. Early expeditions are quick and may take less than 10 minutes.
The Curious Experience
This is an excellent port from PC to the Switch. The controls are great, and it’s the sort of game you can play on the go.
Don’t be put off by your first impression of the visuals, which may seem like a product of a bygone era. At first I was hardly bowled over by CE’s graphics. But soon, I was too engrossed in the gameplay to mind.
The world map isn’t the prettiest thing to look at, but the individual locations you visit—from foreboding shrines to snowy glades—have lovely pixel paintings. If CE‘s pixel art isn’t your cup of tea, consider waiting for Curious Expedition 2 (currently in Steam Early Access)—the sequel’s art has been overhauled into a lighthearted Tin Tin cartoon style.
Moving past first impressions, I found the unfolding narratives both funny and horrifying. They’re horrifying at first and funny afterwards, when you’ve gotten used to being in danger all the time.
Remember when Jacques woke with a bug burrowing in his ear? That’s no biggie. Think of the time he drank something and turned into an abomination, clawed hands and all. But he still followed you around and was a fearsome fighter by your side. The problem was when he turned on Aidan, and you had to choose between them. Aidan may have been a racist and an alcoholic, but you decided to help him. Turns out it was a bad idea to fight Jacques the Abomination because he almost decimated your party . . .
The stories are well-written, though I stopped reading when familiar ones began to repeat themselves. This did not diminish the gameplay experience, however, because the real meat of CE is decision-making and inventory management.
That’s not to say I didn’t care about the actual narrative of my choices. Curious Expedition is full of interesting conflicts, and many involve moral/ethical choices. You could even build an entire playstyle around one moral philosophy. You could play the shameless, gold-grabbing looter who returns to London’s cheering crowds in record time. Or you could play the slower noble game of crafting valuable paintings and writing anthropological treatises. Still, I can’t help feeling that CE favors the gold-grabbing looter—a playstyle that’s risky but offers quick rewards.
Areas for Improvement
For a game with a fair bit of text, I wish the font had been bigger. I’ve gotten used to the tiny font now, but I remember squinting with discomfort while playing through the tutorial.
Speaking of the tutorial, it’s an excellent one. But if only combat mechanics—especially dice combos—had been explained more. Perhaps the tutorial could have shown more examples of valid dice combos. Players wanting to plan for combat possibilities are left to muddle through by trial and error. Of course, one could consult the game’s Wiki page and look up dice combos, but an in-game reference would be appreciated too.
Also, I would have liked the “Attack” prompt (R-button) to be larger or highlighted more distinctly. Call me a blind bat, but initially I missed seeing the prompt and thought attacks would be carried out automatically if I simply hit “End Round” (no, they weren’t!).
Lastly—and this is finally a major issue—I lost two promising playthroughs because of the same bug. The bug occurred after exploring a portal. Instead of being returned to my original location, my party was dropped in the ocean and unable to move. I’ve reported it to the friendly developer, who responded quickly with a promise to fix it ASAP. [Edit: The developers provided a fix in early Sept 2020]
An adventure Indy Jones would be proud of. While Curious Expedition may not dress to impress, this game’s the real deal when it comes to a fun experience with replay value. Tough but entertaining, it will scratch the itch for folks who like decision-making dilemmas. Like with any roguelike, you’ll fail often and there’s lots to learn—but that’s exactly where the fun is. I would have been glad to pay more than $15 for it.
Are you a new player? check our these Top 10 Tips to play Curious Expedition!
Final Verdict: I like it a Lot.