No matter what the flavour, I do like an RPG – whether it be tactical, real-time, 3D, 2D, cell shaded or retro styled; I love them all. But above all else there is a soft spot for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, what with it being the game that sold the Super Nintendo to me. It’s fitting then that Book Quest, the latest offering from Eastasiasoft has a strong vibe that reminds very much of that hallowed title. The question though? Is it fit to polish Link’s boots, or are we better off digging the SNES out of the attic? Strap on your sword, we are going in.
You should know by now that the story of any game is very important, especially in an RPG, helping it to avoid just being a chain of repetitive fetch quests. Luckily Book Quest is almost up to snuff in this regard. There is a bit of a trick ending, which I won’t reveal here, but basically the narrative relates to a book, and the quest to retrieve it when it is stolen. I wonder how they came up with the title? Anyway, you had a book, and you’d quite like it back, so off you pop in hot pursuit. And that is the whole of the story right there.
Now, retro presentation should be taken as read when we’re looking at an Eastasiasoft game, and this is no exception. As I referenced at the top of this review, it does look like this is trying to be a Pound Shop A Link to the Past, and while the graphics do work pretty well, there’s nothing here that will make a Xbox Series X sweat. And weirdly, one of the issues with the game is that it really stutters and struggles in some places, such as in the first boss fight – more on this later.
It all sounds lovely though, with some stirring music and swishy sword effects. The tunes for some of the fights are a little too short, and the music either runs out or restarts again from the beginning while you are still fighting the same boss, which is a little jarring, but other than that there can be few complaints.
Book Quest is divided into different segments, with the majority being viewed from a top-down perspective as you rush around, trying to dodge enemy attacks and take out the foes. The other sections of the game are sort of side-scrolling platforming levels, and a stage where you have to keep jumping to stop falling off the bottom of the screen. We’ll have a look at these other levels first, shall we?
The first one you see requires you to run from right to left (a bit strange, but okay), leaping over gaps and jumping on the heads of any enemy in order to kill them. Issues? Well, the controls are nowhere near precise enough to allow you to jump on an enemy’s head with any realistic hope of killing them, as they take three hits to vanquish. Take a Mario game as an example (which this is a clear copy of, even down to the wooden superstructure to the stages) and as you bounce off an enemy, you get to adjust your aim midair to land on it again. Here, you need to be either incredibly skilled, or just lucky. Once you have killed an enemy, they are dead for future attempts, but again, you’ll see this level twice, so it’s barely worth the effort.
The second such interlude is the one where you have to jump from platform to platform vertically – the controls here are a mess. If all the platforms are on the left of the screen, for instance, you have to keep pressing left to jump upwards, while if the platform is on the right, you’ll be constantly pressing right to go up through the platforms. Basically, whichever side of the screen the next platform is on is the direction you have to press, not using any of the face buttons. It’s hard to explain just how wrong this feels, but you do get used to it, just in time for the mechanic to never appear in Book Quest ever again.
The third interlude is a minecart level, where you have to jump over some gaps and ride over others. This does move at a fair old lick to be fair, but again we have problems; this time twofold. One, the cart doesn’t jump when you think you have pressed the button, and two, the difference in the gaps you have to jump and the gaps that the cart will ride over is about two pixels. When the whole screen is streaming past, it is very hard to judge. So hard to judge in fact that I had to get my eleven-year old son to give this bit a go, after which he asked why Book Quest was like a greatest hits of Nintendo’s back catalogue. I didn’t have a good answer but guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?
That leaves the top-down, action-RPG sections of Book Quest to be the saviours of the game. Well… the first thing you realise quite early is that fighting the smaller foes has absolutely no benefit, as there is no levelling up of any description. You may well spend most of the game just running away from foes. The second thing you realise is that the first boss, a Dragon, is by far the most difficult enemy in the entire game, at least when Book Quest is running at normal speed. When it goes into slow motion, dropping in framerates – something which from my limited testing appears to be linked to the Xbox Quick Resume function – it is literally impossible.
Thankfully the rest of Book Quest is very easy, and it does give up its achievements without fuss. Nicely, you do need to finish the game to get the full haul too.
All in all, Book Quest is a promising game that is ruined by some odd design choices. The action RPG side is pretty good, with things to find by exploring, and while the lack of required fighting makes a playthrough easy (literally, you need to kill only eight enemies in the entire game) it is pretty good fun. The other sections though are much more shoddy and add little. Of course, without them, Book Quest would be over quite quickly, as there are only three bosses in the whole game.
Whilst I hesitate to use the phrase “Shovelware”, it’s not far from the tip of my tongue as I write this.
Book Quest is available from the Xbox Store