Review: Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition

Sometimes, it feels almost wrong to really criticize a game for what it’s trying to be, even though there’s absolutely stuff to be critical about with regards to its design.

For example, take the time-honored tradition of the mobile gacha game. It’s clear that there are some major issues with these games in terms of business model and design, but it’s also not entirely fair to criticize one of these games simply on the premise of it being a mobile gacha game. That’s exactly what it’s trying to be in the first place. The fact that it may not have a goal you particularly like doesn’t change the fact that the game has a goal and manages to hit it quiet effectively, right?

This kind of comes up with regards to Deiland as well. The game is, from top to bottom, trying to be one very specific thing. It’s coming out for Nintendo Switch on April 15th after being out PC and PlayStation 4 beforehand. And playing the game definitely brings in some thoughts that one has to interrogate. Is it fair to critique a game for being a light little wisp of a thing when that’s all it wants to be?

Small Planet

The eponymous Deiland is a tiny planet occupied by a boy named Arco. And when I say small, I do mean small. We’re talking The Little Prince-style scale here (or, if you’d prefer, the pocket worlds you roam around in Super Mario Galaxy). Arco is stuck here by himself, but soon after starting the game he begins being visited by other people, and that forms the bulk of the plot.

You may note that this setup immediately raises some question. Why is Arco here? How did he get here? Where is his family? What’s the deal with this tiny planet? All of these are good questions, and the answer seems to be that for most of the people who visit him this is a tangential question at best. The first few visitors you have basically don’t seem interested in even having the discussion at all, instead giving you tutorial quests to explore the world.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a plot or a clear sense that the developers wanted to answer these questions. Rather, by placing the focus off of these things right away, it creates a sense that these things aren’t really what you’re supposed to be worrying about. As the plot starts to take shape through various quests and explorations, it does somewhat change the character of the story… but at the end of the day, this is clearly a game in which plot is secondary compared to a game that’s primarily about the experience of playing it.

And you know, that’s fine. It’s practically a law of nature that a game can focus more on the experience of play than on the bigger plot questions if it wants to. So how does Deiland stack up in that department?

Small Mechanics

Unfortunately, the answer is that Deiland is a bit of an odd beast there. Partly because there’s just not a lot of the game actually there in the first place, by design.

In mechanical terms, Deiland is something of a survival action RPG, but its primary focus is more about building and upgrading your little world than anything else. My brain kept going to a version of Animal Crossing with hunger and enemies to contend with. You plant crops, harvest resources, and upgrade structures while planting seeds and building new things. Every so often, something will happen like an incoming meteor storm or a few enemies spawning across the planet that you have to deal with. These moments break up the otherwise straightforward loop of planting, harvesting, and resting.

Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your perspective – none of these systems are particularly bulky. The combat, for example, mostly comes down to walking up to enemies and whacking them until they stop moving. Food is a consideration, but it’s not a terribly difficult one to fulfill. It’s the basic gameplay loop broken down into what is its most basic structure, a system of grinding and improving within a very narrow set of constraints.

By itself, this is fine. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it is certainly functional, and it’s a good fit for a system like the Switch wherein you can just pick up and put things down as you wish. But it’s also important to note that there’s just not a lot of actual game there. The game itself is mostly about grinding and finishing out the quests you get, and once you’re done with that… well, that’s pretty much it. There’s no longer-term goals to work for and not much to keep you coming back once you’ve managed to clear the quests and get on through what the game has to offer.

Is this a problem? That’s the question I kept coming back to as I was playing. Surely it doesn’t make the game bad, that’s exactly what it wants to be. But it also means that the game lacks any long-term hooks to keep you playing, which feels less interesting. You grind it out and then you’re done. If you can only play in small bursts, perhaps that works out better?

And, again, that’s clearly what the game wants to be. It’s not fair to say it lacks for substance; rather, the title wants players to experience the game in a shorter timeframe, like a… well, pocket edition of games along this type.

Small Scale

Visually, the game has a cartoony and clear style that gives you a clear sense of what’s going on as you play without being too visually cluttered. I did find that some of the icons and fonts were a little hard to read while playing with the Switch undocked, but that’s hardly the game’s fault and the information is presented in the clearest possible format. It’s also colorful and suited to the graphical weight of the Switch in a nice way, with more emphasis on style than visual fidelity.

The music that’s in there is pretty dull and somewhat intermittent. Definitely one of the low points for the game, which is also a low point when one of the big focuses of this genre and the game itself is all about just leaning back and supposedly luxuriating in the world. Maybe I was just cranky about it, but I didn’t care for the tunes.

Sound effects are another matter; I particularly find the rock-breaking sound to have a nicely crumbly feel to it that gives gathering rocks a nicely tactile sense.

Small Time

What we have with Deiland is, ultimately, a small wisp of a game that is intentionally going for being a small wisp of a game. In some ways, this makes it almost impossible to review accurately – the game wants to do something specific, it does that something specific. Thank you for your time.

Unfortunately, this is also unfair to the game and a bit anticlimactic. I can’t say that I particularly cared for it, but this also isn’t a genre I tend to play very often, so I am arguably not the target audience. Still, I feel like there was more that could have been done with the game which simply was not, and that’s kind of a disappointment from where I’m sitting.

At the end of the day, if you’re a genre fan, Deiland will provide you with enough bang for your buck that you won’t feel your time was wasted. But it’s kind of a lightweight thing, and between the short duration and the lack of long-term hooks it’s more a case of genre fans wanting more than it is of a new game to really sink your teeth into. That doesn’t make it bad or disappointing, just perhaps a bit more slight than you’d hope.

~ Final Score: 6/10 ~

Review copy provided by Chibig for Switch. All screenshots courtesy by Chibig.