Summer Catchers by developer FaceIT bills itself as an epic road trip with elements from all sorts of other genres. There is a bit of deck building and some rhythm game-like gameplay all supporting what is at its heart, an endless runner with A LOT of charm throughout. In fact, cutesy charm is absolutely oozing out of every gorgeous pixel art character and setting Summer Catchers has to offer.
In Summer Catchers you play as Chu, a young girl who lives in the frozen north and just wants to get away from it all. With the help of a wolf (that Chu insists on calling a “strange bear”) Chu is off on her adventure to find summer using her wooden cart. It won’t be a leisurely drive though, as multiple hazards are in Chu’s way—and her cart doesn’t slow down or stop, so you’ll have to deal with them as they come. That means getting the right tool for the job, but this can be tricky, because each run is unique.
The main gameplay of Summer Catchers is an endless runner where you have to use the tools you have to get through, or over, various obstacles that are randomly placed throughout each run, or “race” as the game refers to it.
Each new location that Chu finds herself in has a place to repair her cart, do errands, and shop to buy tools, as well as new outfits and carts to purchase. The hubs and tracks are all extremely beautiful works of pixel art, and range from wintry forests to desert landscapes. There are lots of new friends and creatures to discover as you cart around these areas, with some of these discoveries being more secretive than others.
Making friends in Summer Catchers is great, and it’s in these type of interactions that the game gives off heavy Animal Crossing vibes. Chu is adorable in everything she does, and her childlike wonder does a lot to sell the whole experience. Chu isn’t just cute, though. She has a fierce determination and tenacity—despite her constant failure. Each failure is punctuated by a terse little “erm!” when she is thrown from her cart—but it’s also accompanied by a motivational message or apology that takes the bite off crashing.
Unfortunately, failure is inevitable. Chu must complete a number of errands for the locals before moving on to the next area—tasks like feeding fawns, painting hares or wrecking snowmen. Most of these errands require a specific tool that will be mixed into the “deck” with the rest of your tools. These tools are not chosen by you, but pulled from the backpack at random. This requires some care when building a set of tools, because you want to make sure you have the correct combination to deal with the types of obstacles you’ll face, but you’ll also need to make sure you don’t buy too many of any one type so your “hand” isn’t full of the same tool, or a combination of tools you can’t use. This not only makes completing some of the errands annoying, but also tedious with the excessive grind it can sometimes require, hoping that the RNG system works with you.
You purchase your tools with mushrooms you pick up along the way. This mushroom currency is accumulated eventually, win or lose—so if you run out of currency you can just start a round, crash, and repeat until you have the desired amount. Again, not super fun, but something you might have to resort to if you run out of money trying to piece together the right combo of tools, or facing off against a boss for the ninth time.
Luckily, Chu gets a lot of help along the way from some interesting characters. Some of them can even help you out during a race—these take the form of collectibles called pets, and they may take some convincing before they agree to help you out. There are also a number of collectibles to find and secrets to uncover—including minigames, and mythical creatures.
The soundtrack is notably great—it captures the essence of a road trip adventure exactly. Every time I would start a new run, the music instantly made me feel like I was riding carefree, with my hair whipping in the breeze.
I love absolutely every aspect of Summer Catchers—except for the actual gameplay. Still, despite the shortcomings of the gameplay, Chu’s adorable tenacity and childlike wonderment made me want to keep going—though your mileage may vary.
Summer Catchers is available now on Steam, and coming soon to Nintendo Switch and mobile platforms.
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