2020 was hard, and 2021 has been only marginally better. To cope with the dumpster fire back when this all began, I often turned to Animal Crossing: New Horizons. My island was the perfect getaway, and managing its various aspects provided me the feeling of control over something without the crushing responsibility or panic that real life could sometimes induce. It was an island paradise where the most I had to worry about was weeding and watering flowers and occasionally getting in debt with Nook so I had a little more interior decorating space. In other words: a chill place to be with a little bit of upkeep that’d make me feel invested and like it was truly my space.
Given that we’re past the 12 month mark on a pandemic, I can still use those chill vibes sometimes, so I jumped at the opportunity to take Deiland: Pocket Planet for a spin, especially once learning its dev team was the same that worked on Summer in Mara, a delightful little island game that was also a perfect pandemic escape. Deiland: Pocket Planet looked to have the same vibe as both Animal Crossing and Summer in Mara–set in the same universe, with interesting characters, a chill vibe, farming, crafting and some light questing and combat. It is all those things, but unfortunately, none of it comes together properly into a good balance, and ultimately, it leans towards frustrating instead of chill more often than not.
Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition is a special edition of Deiland handcrafted for the Switch that was recently released and includes all of the original 2018 game’s content and its subsequent content updates in one package. In Deiland: Pocket Planet, you play as Arco, a boy who gets dropped off on his very own tiny planet with the task of finding his own way and surviving on his tiny new home. The whole “you don’t really know much about why you’re here and who you are” thing plays out in a lot of games, with varying degrees of success, but seems to exacerbates the problems I had with Deiland: Pocket Planet from the getgo.
Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition certainly nails the “stranded on a desert island” (or in this case, planet) feel, but that’s not necessarily a boon to its gameplay. There’s not a whole lot of handholding, and though some things are intuitive–you’ll need shelter, food, etc–it’s not really clear how much or where any of it is going to come from. There’s a variety of foods, for example, but Deiland’s systems feel sort of arbitrary. You can eat a carrot, for example, but you might not be able to cook with it–or you might have mushrooms which you can’t eat, but you can sell, only to find out later they’re useful in potions or other recipes. It’s a crap shoot, and that wouldn’t be as bad if the recipes you do get drip fed weren’t as hard to get and didn’t require so many resources.
See, recipes don’t drop from the sky, nor do they come into your head as you discover items. Instead, you will rely on quests and base expansions to give you more to construct and farm. And quests can be hard to come by too, since they rely on visitors. Remember how I said they nailed that desert island thing? While that’s true, it’s more like you’re on a desert island that’s halfway between here and some big destination everyone’s heading towards. No one lives on your planet, and oftentimes you’ll spend days and nights breaking rocks and collecting mushrooms without much payoff, but every so often, you’ll get visitors. At first, it’s just the girl who dropped you off there. She’s important to the story, though it was never particularly clear exactly how, and she gives you much of what you initially need to survive. But visitors need parking, and if you can’t accommodate the parking within their 60 to 80 second window, they’ll just leave. Even if you have a completed quest, even if you need to buy things, and even if they haven’t been there for days.
Even this wouldn’t be so bad, if every recipe didn’t seem to require so much of every resource. “Have you SEEN the size of this place?” I’d often find myself shouting at the screen. Especially near the beginning, the resources required just to complete simple projects can easily take days, weeks, or even seasons–all of which fly by at breakneck speed. This can mean by the time you have the resources to build a well to plant more cotton, it’s not the season to plant cotton anymore. Pacing is terrible in just about every aspect. Waiting for visitors takes too long, but days go by at breakneck speed. Gathering resources is quick but limited by stamina, and even when I “had” to sleep, sometimes the game was bugged out enough that I couldn’t. Foodwise, all I’d have the recipe for was bread to keep myself alive, but sunflowers only grow in summer, so I’d be out of luck if summer’d come and gone too quickly, relying on the possibility of a visitor who’s selling some instead.
Things in Deiland: Pocket Planet either feel too fast or not fast enough, putting you in a state of either tedium or frustration, as you might finally be having some luck fishing and have to drop it all to crank some arbitrary scientific equipment or accommodate a visitor, only to find they literally just landed to tell you they don’t have anything to tell you. Sometimes dialogues pop up and flicker away before you can read them, and the seasonal system makes everything even worse, since you’re constantly scrambling to stock up on one season’s goods before that season ends. It’s easy to exhaust all your natural resources and hard to make money selling things at the outset, which can leave you cash poor and selling rocks, with a UI that only lets you sell them one at a time and often gets stuck if you repeat the process too quickly.
Sometimes it’s unclear if you’re experiencing a bug or just a frustrating mechanic, and a lot of what you do seems completely random or uninteresting. Add to this that at least for me, the tiny rotating planet’s motion occasionally nauseates me and my experience was less than pleasant. Motion sickness aside though, I found getting started frustrating and the end result not very worth it. The game bills itself as something with a rich narrative, it’s revealed so infrequently and in such vague ways that honestly, it’s just another brick in the wall, and another element that adds tedium.
I wanted to like Deiland: Pocket Planet and thought I’d be heading back to it long after my review was published, but ended up feeling like it was a slog just to play it enough to really get a feel for it, and to me, it’s a shame. It’s pretty, with a colorful landscape and bubbly music, but in the end, too poorly paced to make it seem worthwhile.
Deiland: Pocket Planet Edition is out now on Nintendo Switch.
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