The Beast Quest series of books have been a publishing phenomenon since the first was published back in 2007. Adam Blade, the author who appears to be some sort of gestalt entity made up of various ghost writers, has since released approximately eleven million books, and has branched out into Sea Quest, which my son adores. Now though there is a game based around four of the first six books in the series and so I sallied forth to try and bring peace to the land of Avantia.
The plot mirrors the books closely, with an evil wizard called Malvel capturing and enchanting four of the legendary beasts that protect Avantia. Luckily there is a good wizard called Aduro, who meets a young boy, Tom, who just might be the legendary hero that will free the Beasts. After setting Tom up with weapons and armour, Aduro sends this young lad off after the first Beast on the list, Ferno the Fire Dragon. From there, you have to free Nanook the Snow Monster, Arcta the Mountain Giant and Epos the Flame Bird. If I’d have been Tom I’d have wanted to hone my skills on, say, Huggles the Fluffy Bunny, but no, it’s a giant flame breathing dragon we have to go after!
Now, before we get too deep, I think it’s important to say that this game is aimed at the younger audience, much the same as the Beast Quest books that the game is based on. With this in mind, I levered my 7 year old son away from Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and asked him to play Beast Quest along with me. I will use his impressions along with my own in an attempt to give a fair and balanced review.
Starting with first impressions, and the visuals are functional. I think that’s a fair description. There’s nothing here that couldn’t be recreated on an Xbox 360, with muddy looking graphics, and a reduced draw distance – granted, this is due to most of the “levels” being surrounded by high snow, mud banks, rocks or trees. There’s never a point where you stand on a rocky promontory and admire the view.
I say “levels” as there aren’t levels as such, just four areas of the world with different colour palettes and a series of corridor like runs. Nanook’s level is all snowy, while Arcta’s is set in the rocky mountains. “It’s not as good as Zelda” was the often repeated refrain from my young co-reviewer, both in graphics and gameplay, two things which we will cover soon enough. While we are on the presentation though, the sound effects are pretty good, with crunching sword impacts and roaring monsters all being present and correct. There’s not very much conversation to be had from the NPCs, with only Tom, the two wizards and a companion that you can meet actually talking. The rest of the communication is dealt with by way of text boxes, but this isn’t a major issue.
Gameplay wise and Beast Quest is a third person, over the shoulder, action adventure title. As Tom runs around the world, he can interact with townsfolk in the various villages that he comes across, accepting side missions such as collecting tufts of fur from defeating wolves, to peacefully picking a selection of flowers. The missions themselves are easy enough to complete, but there is an issue with handing them in, which I will touch on later.
When not picking flowers, Tom can explore the world, getting into fights and unlocking campsites that act as save points. The fights are avoidable sometimes, with the creatures being plainly visible in the world, but more often than not Beast Quest is a game that funnels you into these fights, forcing you to take them down. Thankfully the combat is well realised, with Tom having a light attack, a hard attack and a block button mapped to the face of the controller.
As he accrues experience, he can also unlock magic spells, allowing him to hit with a flaming sword or reduce all enemies defence. These are accessed by pulling the RT button, then using the corresponding face button to unleash the attack. As another line of defence, Tom can dodge left or right, and a key part of the strategy for these fights is learning which way to dodge when the time comes. He can also flank left and right, with a press of the bumpers seeing him sliding out of harm’s way, ready to land a counter attack. Holding either of the attack buttons lets Tom charge an attack that can be very damaging, but getting the time to unleash it can be tricky, as if you are hit while charging you lose the attack. My son didn’t have any issues with the combat, and was soon dodging and smacking with the best of them, which is a testament to the ease with which this game leads you in.
The boss fights are a lot tougher, as you’d imagine, but they still stick to the same basic pattern. To help out, the last offensive ability Tom gains is when he meets a companion, who can then be treated as a summon attack. As you attack and take damage, the ally meter fills and it’ll be up to you to action a quick press of the triggers together to see your companion appear and fill the enemies full of arrows. Used at the right time, this can turn the tide of battle in your favour, and in an interesting move, when you free the Beasts, they become available to summon. Having a giant fire breathing dragon appear and lay waste to your foes is an undeniably cool moment, and these impressed my young co-reviewer no end.
So far, so good; Beast Quest is fun to play and not too difficult. However, there are some niggles, so brace yourselves.
The first of these is the fast travel map. Whilst it seems like a good idea, everytime you unlock a campsite you can use it as a fast travel site, allowing you to travel the length and breadth of Avantia in the blink of an eye. But it’s not quite the blink of an eye as the level loading times are quite long, even on an Xbox One X. This however is not the issue. See, imagine if you will that you have just finished collecting gold rings for Fred in Errinel. You go to the map, look at all the campsites you’ve unlocked, and wonder out loud “Which one is Errinel?”. None of the campsites or towns are labelled. What happens in practice is you fast travel to where you think the mission giver is, find out it’s the wrong town, sigh a bit, then travel to the next until by a process of elimination you can turn the mission in. Is a label on a map too much to ask?
There are other problems with Beast Quest too, and these involve Tom’s jumping prowess. As you work your way through the levels, Tom is required to jump, and you’d best hope he has found some lucky heather on his journey as the jumping is annoyingly imprecise and floaty. It’s like Tom has his own gravity field, as he seems to float through the air, and never quite seems to leap when you ask him to. There are some fairly technical jumpy bits included in Tom’s adventure, and even I was having trouble getting across ravines, never mind my son.
Add to this another couple of little foibles Tom has – jumping up a sheer rock wall and magically floating to the top, and falling in a river but unable to get out – and the game begins to feel a bit rough around the edges.
All in all though, Beast Quest does just enough to make you want to keep playing. The story will keep pulling you forward, and the desire to free the beasts and have them on your side is quite strong. However, it isn’t perfect, even bearing in mind its target demographic, and the glitches and overall shoddiness of the jumping controls did put my son off; he often just handed me the controller until any jumping section was done.
There’s fun to be had here, but an extra coat of polish could have made this game a contender. However, in the words of my son, “It’s not as good as Zelda. I’m going to go and play that!”.