REVIEW: Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition (Switch)

May
03

REVIEW: Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition (Switch)

A “relaxing experience” that winds up frustrating.

Released: Switch
Type: Single-player
Genre: Casual, Sandbox, Survival
Developer: Chibig
Publisher: Chibig
Release date: 15 April, 2021

Intro

With cutesy graphics and a laid-back style, Deiland at first blush wants to sell itself as a game like Stardew Valley or maybe Animal Crossing, but with a gimmick – it features a tiny world (a “pocket planet”, one might say) not unlike those in Mario Galaxy where the sphereoid shape can easily be traversed in about 30 seconds.

From my casual glance at screenshots before going into this one, and the showcasing of characters that fly onto your planet in spacecraft, pictures of different terrains (it turns out it’s just exaggerated seasons that turn the grass white in Winter), and images of other small worlds, I had the impression that this would be the sort of game where you island-hop small worlds, but that was a mistaken impression. You are basically trapped on a single sphere it takes about a minute to explore in its entirety, and the guys with spaceships just come by to ask why you haven’t completed their chores for them, yet.

Little Small Planet

The intro suggests main character Arco isn’t from this planet, but he doesn’t have a ship…

The game starts you off as a boy living in a tent. (I thought from the screenshots that you might have a choice between either of the cover art characters, but nope, you’re always the boy, and the pink-haired girl is the tutorial character.) He starts you off by assigning himself the chore of finding wild berries from the bushes. One would expect introspection from the boy on how he got to a planet like this, and the way he talks makes it seem like he’s used to living like this, but he can’t have been here more than a day, since berry plants don’t give food in the Winter, and it’s the 2nd of Spring at the start. However, it becomes pretty clear pretty fast that main character Arco isn’t capable of that kind of depth of thought, because he tends to react like a puppy whose owner just came home any time a space alien drops by and tosses out some more chores for him to do with no stated rewards given.

Fortunately, not long after this lifestyle of foraging for wild berries begins, you find a “responsible adult” who flies down to save this kid who clearly wouldn’t survive the Winter at this rate.

Sadly, the closest thing to a responsible adult that comes to help Arco is Mun, a “space ranger”.

Taking pity on the homeless child who has nothing to do but search for wild mushrooms and berries, Mun does the responsible thing, and tells him to make some basic tools while giving him some sticks and rocks to make his first hoe, hammer, and axe with so he can make do and survive. She then notices there are child-eating monsters about, so she bravely whips out her friggin’ RAY GUN with a range that shoots beyond the horizon and hides behind the child while telling him to go do the fighting for her.

“Good job, punching bag – I’m not hurt at all! Hey, don’t look at me like that, I gave you some rocks to sharpen and a stick, didn’t I?”

She then tries to give him some false hope that there’s more to this game than just sitting on this same planet all the time, waiting for someone important to swing by…

“Haha, sucker, that’ll keep him hanging on my every chore for a while!” – In case this isn’t clear, you do not get to go to other planets like in other games that feature tiny worlds.

Eventually, as Arco gains the ability to take care of himself, other space-farers come by to take advantage of Arcos boredom and gullibility and get him to do their chores, as well.

Eventually, the game remembers to have a plot, and “mysterious messages” start to appear when you go to bed.

RPG Survival

The game runs almost entirely on cooldown timers, which are displayed as circles that fill up with the icon of whatever you might get from the cooldown timer being filled being in the middle of the circle.

There are exactly three farm plots in your world, arranged near the tent, which becomes a house later after you upgrade it. These are your “big ticket” resource gathering items, since they’re more limited than other types.

I know this game tries to be kid-friendly, but when they feel they need to explain that farms produce food, you have to wonder how much they’re looking down on their audience’s worldly knowledge.

These obviously fill up over time, but the color of the wheel shows the speed at which they are growing. Many plants grow faster when more watered, and rain is a hypothetical occurance in the game, although I believe it only rained a total of four times during my whole playtime, and rain is extremely finnicky and will not actually rain on things the rain clouds are standing directly over. To help water things, you can make wells, which only refill during rain, but start off full, so I recommend making new wells and destroying them when they run out of water, because that’s the only way your crops are getting watered.

Other types of plants, like berry bushes and different kinds of trees don’t need a farm plot, and just grow anywhere you plant them within a certain radius of the pond or a well (even a dry well). Seeds have a timer to grow into a useful plant. Berry bushes drop berries, while trees drop seeds for more trees. (Incidentally, there are no berry seeds or even crop seeds for things like watermelons. You have to bury a whole watermelon into your farm, because you can’t just eat the fruit and save the seeds.) The tree seeds can also be used for cooking, (pine seeds are used to make croissants for some reason) so there’s a value in stockpiling those, as well.

What’s more, berry bushes and trees will drop their seeds and have them expire in a poof of smoke if you don’t pick them up fast enough. This is a major incentive for the “hurry up and wait” gameplay, where you have to constantly check all your trees and bushes for new spawns, while chopping down trees that are fully grown and have produced seeds so you can replant them for more wood.

There is also a very light survival element to this all, in that there is a hunger meter that fills up/depletes (depending on which menu you are looking at) and deals minor damage over time if you let it overflow/empty. Berries give you 10% hungriness back (yes, they restore ‘hungriness’), which is less than the damage you take from being hungry restores, and I can in fact take damage from hunger even immediately after eating berries for some reason. Other foods, like the much more ingredient-heavy croissants (which take 3 wheat, 1 oil made from 2 sunflowers that take much longer to grow, and 5 pine seeds, for a total of 10 items you need to collect, as opposed to 4 berries that just fall off a bush…) refill 40% of your hunger at once. That said, the hunger damage is so low, you might get by just making campfires (which restore HP) and sitting by them for 2 wood for several days rather than eating. I honestly got by mostly with berries and carrots and just sold most of what I farmed for the most money I could get.

Beyond checking trees, there are rocks, which unsurprisingly do not grow, but are instead infinite, and just require mashing the A button until you run out of stamina and have to go to bed to refill. These are the worst part of the game, because they’re the most boring part of the game, and the part of the game that the game forces you to do the most.

For the last non-combat element, the only gameplay that is in any way different from waiting on a cooldown timer besides combat is fishing. Fishing requires larva as bait, and larva can only be either bought off the guy who first gives you the fishing chore (which is a nasty surprise if you let him leave first), or through one of the uncommon drops of an enemy that doesn’t appear until several hours into the game, and is in no way remotely sufficient for your fishing needs.

Fishing is a QTE with a surprisingly strict time limit that will probably frustrate most actual children.

I also think it’s worth noting that at the start of the game, if you look at the lake, Arco says he “I love fishing! But I don’t have a fishing rod.” Arco’s never gone fishing before (and he’s supposed to have amnesia, so he can’t remember going fishing before we started playing), so how’s he know he loves fishing?

Oh, but don’t worry, even in fishing, you can’t escape cooldown timers, because even if you stockpile a bunch of larva, fishing more than about 4 times in a row results in Arco saying that all the fish are gone, but if you wait, they’ll come back. (From where?!)

Finally, that brings us to the extremely tacked-on combat in this game. Deiland has a stat page and RPG-like stats you can grow that deal with combat, but combat is as absolutely perfunctory as can be. You can use any of your tools as a weapon by just pressing “A”, and the only difference seems to be that the hoe and your bare fist swing faster, so you might as well use those. The “strategy” in this game is to just run up and mash the “A” button until the enemy dies or gets knocked back so far that you leave their detection radius and they forget you are there, so you have to move forwards to hit them again. There’s literally nothing else… that you can interact with, anyway. You can also, in spite of this extremely rudimentary system, miss the enemy when you swing right through them, in a move that is reminiscent of Morrowind’s loathed hit chance mechanic. This means you’ll swing and miss at a bat (which seems to have a very high evasion rate) twice before it hits you and knocks you back, and the game tries to tell you that you sure suck at this combat stuff, you want us to go easier on you? Fortunately, after even a couple levels, Arco is stupidly tanky even if you never put points into stamina.

Combat is extremely imprecise and I found I could hit enemies twice as far away as my animation would suggest, while monsters could hit me from just as far, as well, even while being knocked back.

Fortunately, levels are not based solely upon grinding combat. (Especially because you can’t even determine how much combat you get – enemies appear when the game wants them to appear, and you cannot do anything but pick up drops until you kill them.) Nearly any activity you do from watering crops to smashing rocks gives you a small amount of experience in the form of a star and number. Eventually, you cap out your yellow bar, and the game tells you to go to bed so you can get a level up perk.

Levelups let you pick one of two of your four attributes to raise. Strength is only useful for combat, while the others are useful in combat and elsewhere, with Intelligence letting you make more profit, while Agility lets you run faster in a game all about running around.

One of the last non-quest related mechanics is that when visitors appear, you have to find a place to let them land, and then you can talk to them (they only talk about their latest chore), or buy or sell from them.

The wizard’s store. Note he sells thread for 12 cp, and buys the fabric made from 5 threads for 120 cp… and he has a small amount of metal available for a monstrously expensive price.

In the Steam tags for this game, it’s listed as an “exploration” game… but there’s nothing to explore past the first minute of the game. I’m a big fan of games where you explore looking for ingredients for crafting, and this game promised that, but there’s nothing to explore past the roughly 400 square feet of this one planet, and all you’ll find are the plants you planted yourself, with a waiting timer on them. It’s just running the same laps over and over waiting on the next random whatever to drop.

The Big Gimmick

Deiland’s big gimmick is that when you hit the “X” button, the camera zooms out and gives a top-down view of the world somewhere “south” of Arco. (I don’t know why it doesn’t show the area around Arco, and instead shows the area below him, but you can rotate it from here.) This is both the only map you have, and also a way to move the planet around relative to things off the planet. This is used for a few gimmick events, like meteors falling, where you can make them fall in open areas to avoid losing crops or trees, or when it hypothetically rains, so you can move the planet around and direct the hypothetical rain clouds to hypothetically refill your wells, although this never worked for me.

Occasionally, the game forces you into the map/world-rotating mode, and meteors will fall in an area to the top right of the screen. Why not the intuitive place, and have them fall in the center? Who knows?! The game is absolutely awful about telegraphing where anything actually is going to fall in this mode.

Outside of a couple events like this, it’s really just an over-glorified map mode. You could honestly have done something similar with a square world that loops at the edges and use something like the DS tilt sensor to make things fall in different locations, and it would have been more interesting. Especially since most other games with tiny worlds tend to let you jump from world to world, I found myself let down by the reality of this game’s gimmick.

Chores

Yeah, it sounds bad and like I’m making a snide remark, but, hey, I’m not the one calling the quests in this game “chores”, the game does, all the time.

She flew all the way to my planet, and interrupted my night just to tell me she hasn’t thought of any other grunt work for me to do… how thoughtful of her. All of the characters refer to them as chores, as well.

There’s a pretty clear routine where every five minutes after the last event happened, a new event will happen. This cycles between a visitor, enemies, and meteors, and the visitors cycle one after the other (going space ranger lady, then wizard, then a chef character that seems like a green palette swap knock-off of Futurama’s Elzar that was a knock-off of Emeril Lagasse) with each cycle.

This means that if you don’t get a ques– I mean CHORE item to a visitor when they visit, you’ll have to wait another three cycles (two more visitors, three more monster attacks, and three more meteor strikes) which tends to take about an hour for your next chance to turn your chore in.

Many chores require you complete some invisible requirement before you can take up the chore. Until you complete this requirement, you are stuck with visitors coming by to tell you they don’t have any chores and are just wasting their time and yours by coming here. The requirements for these chores are never told to you, and can be completely random events you have no control over, meaning you’re literally just wasting time until the game allows you to continue.

My progress was stalled for half a game year because of one of the two quests that are given to me – one of which the game doesn’t let me complete.

The other big set of chores I had to complete was building house upgrades or altar upgrades. This was by far a worse chore than the other chores, because they all required metal. Metal is only found about 1 in every 20 rocks you break, and you need to collect 5, 30, or 50 metal for every single upgrade. (And that’s just what I completed of the game, which seemed not to be very far in.) As soon as you spend 30 metal, you get rewarded by telling you that you need 50 more metal for the next stage.

Metal is stupidly rare. In fact, I found more silver than metal, and I was drowning in thousands of rocks it was too much of a pain to even sell while constantly out of metal. (Apparently, silver and gold don’t count as “metal” according to this game.) Metal is also stupidly boring to acquire, as it essentially just amounts to mashing the A button at rocks until RNGesus randomly concedes that you’ve paid enough penance and you’re allowed to get on with the game, already. Breaking rocks also takes up lots of stamina, which means you need to go to bed to recover it, so especially during early-game Winter (when nothing grows to be collected, not even supposedly evergreen trees), literally the entire game consists of waking up, maybe harvesting some carrots, then breaking rocks until you’re out of stamina and going to bed, just so you can do it all over again. For hours on end. Fun. This was a chore I technically never had a bug stopping me from completing, but I couldn’t stand to break more rocks, so I left the labratory and altar hanging.

Controls, Interface, and Options

The controls are one of the first things that annoyed me in the game.

To start with, it has one of those control schemes where you have to move your character to change his facing, while at the same time, the character doesn’t move in the direction you point right away. He has to run forwards from his current facing while slowly turning to face the direction you’re pointing. This means that if Arco’s facing down and you press up, he’ll run down-left, then left, then up-left, then finally get around to up. Again, placement is important in this game, and you can only aim where Arco is facing, so this wildly sloppy control scheme leads to frustration in everything you do, building up to a simmering rage with the game before even dealing with any of its other crap.

Speaking of placement, the game prevents placement too near other objects, but even when you space things far enough apart, the game uses an actual physics engine to make things like tree seeds fall, and Arco can’t pick up anything that isn’t on the ground, even if the object the tree seed collided with on the way to the ground is Arco’s own fat head. This means having another sloppy swing about to try to get Arco away from the seed so you can then do another wide turn to try to face towards the seed in question to pick it up. I spent most of the game fighting with controls, trying to get past objects, or trying to point at the right object when another object was in my way, or having something I was looking for get caught on another thing…

It’s also frustratingly common to run into objects, yourself. Tiny pebbles (which spawn randomly, even in the middle of your fields) I can’t even see half the time count as obstacles that block all forward progress, and they can conspire with bushes or trees to wall off whole areas of the map. Objects are always much larger than they appear when it comes to navigation, so you want to clump trees and bushes together in out-of-the-way places to keep from tripping over them, but that just leads to the previous problem of drops spawning inside other objects. Planting objects like trees also bars you from placing trees on top of each other, but depending on how they randomly grow, they will overlap anyway, and trying to manage a happy medium between overlapping and blocking all Arco’s movement is frustrated by the way that it’s so hard to steer Arco to place the seeds where you want them. Playing Deiland is a constant fight against the unresponsive controls.

There are also no camera controls. The only way to change the camera to face in another direction for a given area is to run down or up for a quarter of the planet, run left or right for a quarter of the planet, then run up or down another quarter of the planet to change the camera 90 degrees.

There are no camera controls, which can be a serious problem when you have any trees in the area.

I should point out that the controller is almost entirely unused. The – and + buttons (or select and start if you remember what they used to be), do nothing but bring up a prompt that asks whether you want to quit the game. The L and R buttons do nothing (and would be a great place for camera controls), and the X button is both the “rotate the world” button and the only thing serving as a map.

One other thing I really dislike is how zoomed-in the camera is on the horizon. Half the screen at any given time is just skybox, while meanwhile, your main focus as a player is looking for things on the ground which you can’t see because the camera is horizontal. You can see about 10 feet left or right of you, 5 feet “down”, and 2 feet “up” from your current position. Even when you hit X to look at the world, it tends to look at the part of the world “down” from Arco, so he’s up at the very top of the map, and you have to press down to look up for a couple seconds to see the area directly in front of Arco.

That reminds me of another thing – controls reverse when you go into the map mode/rotate the world mode. I guess that’s supposed to be “moving the world” rather than moving your viewpoint, but it’s still massively annoying, and completely reverse of the controls for the rest of the game.

Speaking of bad interface design, while not crippling, there is no indicator of how much you have of any given object in the crafting menus, just what will be consumed, at least unless you don’t have enough of that item. (It will say 9/10 of item if you don’t have enough.) This left me often confused as to how much I had of an item, especially since the game punishes your stopping to check your inventory by never slowing down.

One other major frustration is that the game has no ability to pause, even though it can trigger time-sensitive events like meteors that will burn down your precious crops if you don’t swing the planet around in time. I hated this in Craftlands Workshoppe, but at least there, they let you hit escape. There’s no way to pause the game at all (even while reading something or looking at stats) in this game but to use the home button to suspend the game. Games that are supposed to be “relaxing” shouldn’t be putting time limits on everything and not letting players pause! That’s how you stress people out!

Speaking of never stopping, the game also doesn’t stop even when you go to bed or there’s a scene transition. The buttons still work, and I frequently found myself having navigated a menu when the lights were out during the dark screen after a cutscene or after sleeping, just one more A press away from crafting something I didn’t want!

So far as game options go, they basically do not exist. This is a console game, so I won’t harangue this one for the lack of controls options outside of not allowing there to be a reversal of controls in the x-map screen (only Y-invert for some unfathomable reason), but I still wish there were more controls.

The options menu is particularly barren, giving only sound and reversing the Y axis for some reason.

Bugs

One of SoQ’s other reviewers had already played the Steam version (although they not reviewed it for SoQ itself), and had given it a negative review specifically because of the bugs. Many of the Steam reviews, especially negative reviews, mentioned that they had their progress stopped by bugs that ranged from frustrating to game-killing.

My game was halted in its tracks when I got a chore to raise “giant pumpkins”, that “only a wizard can grow”, because they have to be planted at night with the moon shining down on them. (Since we’re in space, I guess any moon will do. I suspect entrepreneurial wizards deliberately set up a micro-moon to be in geosynchronous orbit to ensure their pumpkin fields always provide them with giant pumpkins.) This is supposed to work using the globe-tilting mechanic of the game, so you have to move the field to the moon so it has the moon shine down on the field as you plant the seeds. Only, much like the rain, this didn’t work out for reasons I can’t figure out.

This chore was given to me near the end of Winter, and pumpkins can only grow in Autumn and Winter, so after not getting giant pumpkins in my first four tries, I had to wait for Autumn to roll around again, all while getting NO new gameplay features to unlock and all the visitors just saying they had no new chores, meaning it was a total waste of my time.

Once I finally got to Autumn again, I waited for night to fall so I could plant these stupid pumpkins and get on with the game… only night didn’t fall. I ran around and did other things while waiting long enough that I gained a level, so I tried going to bed… only I couldn’t go to bed. Things like monsters and visitors stopped coming, so it was just me and this barren world forever with nothing happening on it (and I couldn’t even do work like break rocks because I ran out of stamina and needed to sleep).

I figured that if the game didn’t want me to play it this badly, who was I to argue? I’d gladly go off and play games I actually enjoy instead, rather than try to plod through this game any further for pure reviewer obligation.

I would once again like to point out, however, this isn’t just me, there are plenty of bug reports on Steam talking about game-killing bugs, and they apparently weren’t all fixed before being sent to the Switch.

Graphics and Sound

The 2d art is great, and a part of why I was initially interested in this game. The 3d art is cartoony for the trees and rocks, and is fine, but the humanoid characters look pretty ugly any time you see them up close, such as when watering. The game start screen features Arco’s back for a reason, I suspect.

The faces in 3d leave a lot to be desired.

Music-wise, the game is low-key and mostly atmospheric. This serves the game well, but also means I couldn’t tell you what any of the tunes are without replaying one of the video clips.

Sound effects are not bad but not particularly stand-out either. Get ready to hear the same hammer-on-stone clang for half an hour on end when you’re mining for metals.

Verdict

I can see a hypothetical person who would enjoy this game, but the problem is, I’d also see them enjoying Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley or the really quite excellent Rune Factory 4 a lot more. This is a budget version of those games, but this is definitely a case where you’re better off just shelling out two or three times as much for a game that’s vastly more enjoyable.

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