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[Review] The Touryst

Posted on November 30, 2019 by (@CampbellSGill) in Reviews, Switch eShop

System: Switch (eShop)
Release date: November 21, 2019
Developer: Shin’en
Publisher: Shin’en

The Touryst is the most refreshing vacation anyone could ask for, complete with surf, sun, and decaying monuments left by a mysterious long-lost civilization. Shin’en has made a name for itself by offering high speed and impeccable visuals and performance on Switch through titles like the Fast Racing series, but with The Touryst, the company is taking a distinctly more laid-back approach. Gone are the high-speed antics that defined the studio’s other works – instead, The Touryst is all about taking it slow, playing some sports on the beach, and then kicking back and soaking up the sun. It’s relaxation pure and simple, packed with a bountiful variety of gameplay ideas and wrapped up in a stunningly gorgeous presentation.

The best vacations are the ones that happen spontaneously – no agenda, no plan, just pure relaxation. That’s exactly what The Touryst is all about. True to its name, it puts players in the role of a nameless tourist as they explore a wide chain of tropical islands. These islands are packed with an assortment of easygoing activities to enjoy – they run a wide range, from coastal kayaking to beachside sports, from piloting drones to going to the movies, and from performing traditional tribal percussion to exploring abandoned mine shafts. You can even waste your time and money playing retro versions of previous Shin’en games in the local arcade. There’s never a lack of things to do on any of the islands, and they are all open and available for you to experience at your leisure. They encourage full exploration of the many islands, to see all that they have to offer. There’s rarely any consequences for failure in any of these activities – there is no way to lose health, and money is always in plentiful supply, so every little aspect of the game is low pressure and high fun.

But although this chill gameplay loop is the primary attraction of this tropical vacation, it’s not all there is to experience. There is, in fact, a story. Not long after being dropped off at the first island, the tourist stumbles upon an ancient monument that contains the secrets of a long-lost civilization. To unlock these mysteries, the tourist must explore the monuments on the rest of the islands and recover their cores to finally discover the truth. These monument dungeons are effectively brief gauntlets of simple puzzles, capped off with boss “battles.” Again, there is effectively no way to die in the game, so these battles have very little real tension – they are essentially just more active puzzles, with only the final encounter feeling like a true confrontation. Some of the puzzles in the monuments can be excessively simple, and the brief 3D platforming portions in between them can feel awkward due to the limited isometric camera angle. These monuments are inherently more constrictive and methodical than the free-flowing vacationing of the rest of the game, but they still function as a welcome change of pace that keeps the experience constantly feeling fresh, while also pushing forward what little story there is.

The Touryst features hands-off storytelling for a very hands-off experience: there’s not much dialogue or serious characterization, but for the kind of experience that The Touryst is trying to be, it’s more than sufficient. The writing is extremely simple, yet that makes it feel reminiscent of classic NES titles, giving it an old school charm that pairs well with the relaxed attitude. Its seven-hour main campaign serves to give some sense of purpose to the larger experience, while being just understated enough to let its beautifully chill gameplay loop shine through. Yes, there is a mystery to unravel; yes, you should probably investigate the otherworldly creatures that live in the dungeons of each monument; but why waste time doing that when you could blow all your cash at the arcade or go to a beachside rave? The Touryst is a uniquely peaceful experience, and both the story and gameplay focus on emphasizing that. Beyond the story, there are a handful of more extensive side quests that could easily add a few more hours to the game’s run time and plenty of high scores to chase in the many mini-games, so the vacation can last as long as you need it to.

Of course, this is a Shin’en game, and that means that an exquisite technical and visual presentation is in order. At first blush, its voxel-based graphics may not look particularly breathtaking – it’s easy to see its visuals as little more than a more polished version of Minecraft and little else. However, it doesn’t take long to see how beautiful the game really is. Some of the lighting and water effects are nothing short of stunning due to how realistic and detailed they are. Light reflects off of the glossy angular environments, while the waters shimmer vibrantly along the coasts. Likewise, plentiful personality is packed into every one of the blocky little character models, whether they be surfers, tribesmen, DJs, or washed-up 1950’s rock fans. It all runs flawlessly at a silky smooth 60 frames per second and at a crisp max resolution 1080/720p in both docked and handheld modes. The only thing missing in the otherwise exemplary presentation is a memorable soundtrack, since music is almost completely absent for the majority of the game. Ambient sound effects form the primary background music for most environments. This does emphasize the already excellent ambiance in most of the beautiful locations, but the lack of music does feel like a missed opportunity to make the game as all-around charming as it could be.

The Verdict

While so many games lately can feel like serious, sprawling time commitments more than mere pastimes, The Touryst is the perfect gaming vacation. Its activities are extremely chill and laid-back, while its subtly spectacular visuals never fail to bring all of the islands’ tropical beauty to life. From its sunny low stress mini-games on the beach to the shadowy puzzles of its mysterious monuments, every aspect of The Touryst oozes with peaceful charm. It’s simultaneously one of the most beautiful, relaxing, and simply enjoyable games on Switch this year.

The Touryst review copy provided by Shin’en for the purposes of this review.

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