Dread Nautical is an mysterious survival/strategy adventure on a cruise ship overrun by monsters. The game takes the survival aspect to the next level with everything you could need in dangerously short supply. Can Dread Nautical make the jump from iOS to console intact or is it dead in the water?
Initially, Dread Nautical appears to have potential: the combat and exploration are charming on their face and the variety of weapons is exceptional, yet sadly after the first level, it’s consistently less fun to play. In any strategy game, players expect some sort of handicap to keep things interesting and push the player to think critically. Dread Nautical takes that to the extreme and goes from critical thinking to headache. Weapons are incredibly fragile, supporting characters are exceptionally needy and a cruel hunger mechanic takes an annoying gaming trope and makes it worse.
I often found myself either running out of usable weapons, action points and/or food in really inconvenient ways. For example, you can fight your way through a stage to the goal and barely scrape by with a little ammo left but because you went straight to the goal, you didn’t find enough food to feed your fellow survivors. The alternative is to scour each level for all the food you can find and more often than not, run exhausting your munitions before you can make it to the goal. Your melee attacks are next to useless, so encountering any significant enemy presence in this weakened state is certain death. Since you can only replenish your weapons from your home base, there really is no way to find the sweet spot that would make this experience fun.
The combat is another Catch-22: each character has a limited number of Action Points that are used for both movement and combat. What this means is characters have a field of movement that is limited by their Action Points and can leave you unable to attack even when you’re directly adjacent to an enemy. If you use more melee weapons, this puts you at an even greater disadvantage. I feel like this combat style is trying to imitate the likes of Fire Emblem and Mario+Rabbids but failing to live up to either due to these arbitrary limits. Limits are important in strategy games, but these overlapping handicaps are more oppressive than anything.
Throughout the game, you try to expand your “crew” by recruiting other survivors. This too feels like a chore. There are a variety of characters to meet on the ship, but getting them to like you feels like more of a challenge than necessary. Most times when attempting to gain favor with NPCs, there is one obviously rude option and three that seem equally innocent. This leads to survivors getting angry with you and less likely to join your community.
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Movement in this game is clunky, but not in a surprising way. Instead of the characters moving in response to your movement of the joystick, you move a cursor and select a path for your characters to follow. In combat, it makes sense, but when you’re just exploring, it’s just another in a long list of annoyances.
Levels for Dread Nautical are seemingly randomly generated labyrinths primarily consisting of hallways and cramped cabins. Over the 20 levels, they tend to blend together. The level designs of Dread Nautical are a double-edged sword: the fact that stages are rearranged after every death keeps things relatively fresh, but it makes grinding and learning nearly impossible. If you find yourself getting stuck on a level in any game, nothing is more satisfying than practicing that level until it finally clicks and you emerge victorious. This isn’t something I experienced in this game, since everything gets rearranged for better or worse. I would rather have had less varied stages I could grind out instead of infuriating inconsistency.
The story that surrounds Dread Nautical is really nothing special and sparse throughout. The opening lets the player know that you serve some sinister purpose on the cruise ship and the Bermuda Triangle is alluded to in a dollop of cliche. Most of the dialogue takes place entirely separate from the overarching story and has little relevance. You’re better off not paying the story too much attention and focusing on the gameplay itself. The forced story is a wet blanket thrown on the already-dim campfire that is Dread Nautical.
Graphics / Art Direction
The graphics are one of the better aspects about Dread Nautical. Despite its iOS origins, the characters are rendered crisply yet simply. It has a nice cel-shaded look that allows for every color to pop and the rare cutscenes are highly detailed and beautiful. Sadly as you progress, all these popping colors are drowned in a sea of lag.
Music / Sound Design
The minimal music serves this game well: it sets up the haunted ambiance the developers were apparently aiming for. The music is probably the only aspect of this game that functions to its potential. It’s very subtle and in the heat of battle is lost in the chaos. While exploring, it adds a nice sense of creepiness that the enemies can’t seem to match.
Final Score: 42%
The title screen of Dread Nautical gave me high hopes, but the game itself dashed them quickly enough. The whole experience was pretty frustrating: in addition to the woeful gameplay mechanics, the Switch version is also poorly optimized. The game crashed more in the week I spent playing it than any other game I’ve played in the whole 3 years I’ve owned a Switch. The frequent crashes and lag mixed with the pedantic gameplay made for an experience I couldn’t recommend to anyone in good conscience. This game plays like it was made to steal your quarters at the arcade or bombard you with ads on your smart device, which doesn’t make for an appealing console game.
Thank you for checking out our Dread Nautical Switch review, thank you to Zen Studios (via Terminals) and thank you to our $5 and up Patreon Backers for their ongoing support:
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