May 22, 2022

Road to Guangdong – Nintendo Switch Review

If “On The Road Again” were a game, and far less western

Straight to the point: do you like road trips? Join us as we take a drive through the Chinese province of Guangdong in a rather unreliable ride. Released for the Nintendo Switch on August 28, 2020 by Just Add Oil Games, through Excalibur Publishing; Road to Guangdong is a story-oriented conversation-based uh.. driving simulator? Let’s Review.

How one derives fun from a product tends to be highly subjective. Therefore ALL forms of review are opinionated and should be taken with a grain of salt (this included). So let’s review Road to Guangdong through the lens of more objective metrics such as; graphical fidelity, characters & story, content & length, controls & gameplay, then finally, sound design & cinematics. This product was evaluated on a launch model Nintendo Switch using a provided copy.

Graphical Fidelity

Visually speaking Road to Guangdong isn’t overly impressive but its graphic style is reasonably cute at times. Character models look a little odd but sure, that’s the style – I can dig it. What get’s me, however, is the awkward and chop-twitchy animations that occur with character gestures, even their walk is just… off. Now this game can be broken into two sections, the driving segments, and the conversations/activities. The driving segments look far more dynamic and the geometric 3D rendering is in full swing here. That being said, models don’t look outstanding but are adequate and consistent with other stylistic choices. Everything is quite minimalist. There’s some decent shading directionally speaking though the images themselves look, let’s just say, outdated. An interesting detail players may notice is that: the title screen appears (I may be incorrect) to have a 3D effect, but I lost my Spy-Kids 3D shades a stint back in 2003. Generally speaking, unless you’re going to supply the glasses don’t do that weird layered 3D.

I can cut a game slack for creative stylistic decisions that may be delivered without perfect execution, however the lack of polish here just feels incomplete when considering the asking price. In regards to performance, the dialogue sections run quite smoothly with little to no hitching, frame drops but I did notice random artifacting. This may have just been bad shading/render, either way, a minor issue. Alternatively, the driving segments are quite unoptimized. Our Nintendo Switch shit the bed, with framerates dipping far below 30FPS. The trip through Guandong may not be unplayable, but I know for a fact that the hardware is capable of better – especially if it can run neutered DOOM and Witcher 3. I straight up saw vehicles disappear out of thin air, this is quite jarring and makes it difficult for the player to immerse themselves. User interface is passable, but much of the text is too small on the small screen. Lastly in regards to text, even the spacing is awkward in some sections. I think this was done to space out larger bits of text over blank spaces, but it looks odd nonetheless. These are exacerbated especially when players pull up the folding (albeit) creatively designed menus. HUD (heads up display) is organically designed into the car, such as gas gauges/indicators, coolant levels, thermostat etc. While these all work effectively, it would have been nice to have a visual representation of players’ RPM. Especially in a driving game, not just relying on sound – more on that later.

Characters & Story

So here’s the gist, you will play Sunny Tong; A young lady who’s “Ba Ba and Ma Maa” (parents) recently passed in a tragic accident and has inherited the family restaurant. She embarks on a trip to invite her family to a reunion, with the company of her aunt, or Guu Ma. Sunny is then gifted a car, lovingly donned ‘Sandy’ as if a personality in itself. Although its exterior rusty spots, loose wirings, and old-timely feel don’t grant Sandy more character than “yeah, she’s old alright”. Sandy is a vehicle with stories ingrained into it’s frane, yet we barely hear more than two of these tales. Road To Guangdong contains quite a myriad of characters for players to meet and interact with. Unfortunately, while appearances are frequent, their depth is shallow. While I greatly appreciate the deeply rooted cultural experience, I wish they’d made who everyone is more accessible, unless the family tree is intended to feel like a puzzle to be solved? I’m just saying, unless otherwise directed people may not necessarily know that Gung Gung is one’s grandfather – obvious though it may seem to others.

While Road To Guangdong’s characters aren’t bad they never have enough time to flourish or let the player develop bonds, before rushedly herding them off to the next location and fresh batch of faces. There are dialogue options, though the majority (if not all) options funnel down to essential choices required for story progression. Certain choices will unlock objective dialogue options that allow player progression. Initially I thought this system had potential to offer depth and variety. However, due to its underutilization it feels more like just going through the motions. As far as I can tell, there is no real choice here: only selection of conversational order. One can be forgiven for falling for the illusion of choice. I never understood why developers need to try to spice up dialogue. Not everything needs player choice.

With respect, the deep cultural roots of this title are as intriguing as they are off-putting due to the often unexplained culture gap. There are so many characters that they’re hard to keep track of, compound by the fact that half of them use titles as opposed to their actual names. Maybe I’m just a basic ignoramus, but I often found myself wondering: “who is that? Their cousin? Their Uncle?” While uncovering these details may be an intended part of the adventure, it didn’t quite land for me. Maybe an accompanied “fill-in” family tree could have helped keep players invested, and informed.

Content & Length

As far as length goes, Road to Guangdong should net players approximately 5-8 hours of gameplay depending on how leisurely they drive. Difficulty is always a factor, as players who come to grips with the games mechanics sooner will complete games quicker. I plowed through Road to Guangdong because money was a non-issue, due to ‘engines’ selling for usually $100+. This needs a bit of a fix for balancing reasons, as I was able to break the game’s economy with this and drive like a maniac, essentially risk-free. Unfortunately, unless players thoroughly enjoy the experience enough to repeat it, there is not much to be offered here in terms of replayability. Road to Guangdong’s writing is fine, I suppose, though nothing outstanding like the unexpected dialogue of Wolfenstein reboots.

Controls & Gameplay

Right off the bat with this section, I need to rant about the complete lack of use with regards to the Switch’s touch screen. What a waste. The ability to swipe and tap for this title could have been a game-changer. There seem to be a lot of odd design choices that are quite non-conformist with practices and standards we’ve come to expect in modern games. Something as simple as changing the confirm key from the usual A to Y key just feels like a futile effort to be unique, from what I’ve seen it looks normal on Xbox. It’s not all the time, which almost makes it worse because it’s inconsistent. Controller layout isn’t anything wild; left trigger stops and breaks with the right applying gas to accelerate while driving. Although my first time driving the control felt so sluggish and nonreactive, I almost thought the game was unplayable. In all honestly, players who don’t come to terms with how Road to Guangdong handles its driving segments will be writing this game off in 15 minutes. I adapted to Sandy’s rickety driving antics and got used to it, however, these driving mechanics will not be to everyone’s tastes. These segments are occasionally broken up with bits of dialogue from Guu Ma, however, because there is no voice acting (more on that later), it’s more of a distraction from the road than anything. What could have been a God of War Mimir-esque companion, instead feels like a shackled and bored puppet. Seeing as how it’d be bad to obstruct more from driving, I understand why it’s not dumped in dialogue, but some more liveliness from your in-game companions would be satisfying. Gameplay and pause menus are split between the -/+ keys respectively.

At its core, though, Road to Guandong appears to be a money/resource management simulator as well. Players are not only tasked with driving their not-so-trusty car Sandy, but also maintaining many of its parts: from wheels, gas and oil levels, to air filters and the engine entirely. This can be done by replacing them entirely with parts taken from scrap piles found along the way, or purchasing/selling them outright at mechanic stops. This creates a miniature in-game economy that as I previously mentioned – I was able to break. Or maybe this was entirely intentional, It just seems unlikely that It was intended for players to bank so hard and undermine the frugal nature of the experience. But I digress, the garage is functional yet has numerous quality of life issues I took note of. For example, menu navigation is a nightmare, there’s no option to do “free” work yourself without leaving the garage entirely, the mechanic will say “free oil” and then charge you for it, AND their trade-in values are on par with Gamestop/EB Games – truly an authentic autoshop experience. At surface level Road to Guangdong may appear to have “route-planning” similar to a game like Neo-Cab, although it’s just that – surface level. Sure, bad planning may add another 100 to your trip, but at this point what’s another 20 minutes of driving straight? Speaking of “100”, 100 what? What are the units of measurement determining distance here? Kilometers, Miles? As far as the players know, this blank unit of measurement is just a meaningless approximated number. Is it 2 feet away or 2 meters?

Finally in regards to gameplay Road to Guangdong does contain a rudimentary inventory system that initially got my hopes up for some quest-like gameplay. This acts as more of a placeholder, however, for things referenced in a codex manner. Cute to include, but it suggests mechanics of further complexity that players may be disappointed not to find. In my first 20 minutes or so, I started to think this game might be a quest based “errand simulator” like, ‘get this person from here, get something and come back’ for example. In hindsight, this may have been a more enjoyable gameplay loop that could potentially make better use of its inventory system.

Sound Design & Cinematics

Moving on to music, it remains fairly limited here as well. From the start Sandy’s radio plays harmonic rhythms for Guu Ma. Players may change it to one other channel which plays some Electronic Synth, however, Guu Ma’s not having that shit and will promptly change it back. So, I guess we’re stuck with one song for every drive. Cool beans. The music isn’t necessarily bad, it’s actually rather peaceful with an eastern-oriental ring to it. I ended up turning the radio sound down in the options so I could properly hear the crucial sound design for the car. Although as much as Guu Ma will harp at you about ignoring sounds, I never noticed them predominantly enough to adequately notify me of anything outside of “well sounds kinda bad”. For how important this aspect is deemed to be, it does an awful job of relaying useful information to the player. You’re better off obsessively and compulsively checking every part and detail of your car every stop for imperfections, or driving it until things start to break (which will be expensive).

Little beeps and boops accent the game’s dialogue and selections, but Road to Guandong contains no voice acting whatsoever. This is somewhat understandable considering the scope and scale of this title, however, it could have greatly enhanced the experience.

Conclusion

Developed by only 4 people and with obviously creative endeavor Road To Guangdong is a journey full of heart but lacking substance in a way that may leave some players unsatisfied for its price. While I did see some outlets smashing Road to Guangdong, it’s by no means my favorite game – but I had an inkling of fun here. If I’m honest (and I try to be) it’s a strange title at times for the uninitiated. There’s some fun to be had here BUT, once the novelty wears off it quickly becomes like a real roadtrip. Are we there yet? For those interested, I’d suggest waiting for a sale as the current price point may disappoint content-wise. Road to Guangdong is also available for Xbox, Playstation 4, and Microsoft Windows. I say this with no disrespect, but this would make a killer mobile game.

Coming full circle and drawing back to our initial question: do you like roadtrips? If you don’t, and patience is not your virtue, maybe take a pass on Road to Guangdong. Otherwise, if you’re looking for a leisurely “zen narrative driving game”, you may find this scratches that itch. While there’s a tonne of potential here in Road To Guangdong, much of it goes unrealized due to its inability to keep audiences captivated for its length. 5.0/10, an ambitious yet hollow feeling attempt to spice up a potentially bland genre.

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Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Extremely Middling - Gets As Much Right as It Does Wrong
  • 5/10
    Score - 5/10
5/10

Overview

+ Culturally Intriguing

+ Interesting Maintenance Mechanics

+/- Unique, yet basic graphics style  

– Not Very Replayable

– Clunky Driving mechanics

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