Indie Game of the Week 129: Treasure Adventure World

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You may be happy to know that the recent Summer Steam Sale gave me plenty of ammunition for this feature for the foreseeable future. What you might be less stoked to hear is that I mostly bought more spacewhippers, which will not only produce many more reviews where I talk about how so-and-so ameliorates its backtracking or the adequacy of the in-game cartography but also many, many more instances of the word "spacewhipper" to such a degree that I expect the Oxford English Dictionary will be on the horn any day now.

Treasure Adventure World is this week's rudderless exploration platformer of note: one of several games that pixel art moguls Chucklefish (of Starbound and Wargroove fame) helped bring to the world via their busy publishing branch. It's easy to look at a title like that and wonder which Buzzfeed game title randomizer the developers happened upon five minutes before they hit the deadline and realized they'd forgotten perhaps the most crucial step when making a game, but I think the intent of a title like that is less to draw you in with a mysterious pronoun or two or some clever wordplay but instead unpretentiously insinuate the type of experience you can expect to find. I might not care for a title as generic as "Treasure Adventure World," but I do like treasures, adventures, and worlds, so I figured it that was cause enough to put up the low cost of admission.

Like Oceanhorn, Treasure Adventure World imagines itself as a sort of abbreviated Indie The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: the protagonist leaves their elderly white-haired guardian behind to jump on a magical ship and explore an ocean world full of archipelagos teeming with monsters, dungeons, sapient fauna, mysteries to solve, and treasures to dig up. As a 2D game, these island locales are all situated in a straight line, making backtracking less than ideal without a quick travel system (I'm about 50% on the progress tracker and no dice yet, but there are hints that one exists) but it doesn't skimp on stuff to find along the way. In addition to a massive inventory page of accessories and tools to expand your exploratory repertoire, and an entire second inventory screen dedicated solely to collectibles, the game has you hunting for twelve powerful artifacts once used by an ancient hero - however, these artifacts are so well-hidden that I have visited every island in the game at least twice and still only found three of them. The game's structure is such that each island is packed with items to find, even the smaller ones, but it's unlikely you have all the correct tools on your first visit. As I said about the backtracking, navigating to specific islands - there are a lot of them - can be a little nightmarish at first, but there are benefits to going around the horn. The first is that a new progress-enabling tool can be used in all sorts of places you've previously been, netting cash and possible upgrades to your health or weaponry. The second is that the game has a very helpful "NavPearl" system that points out where you need to go next, whether that's the next "legendary treasure" or simply a useful new tool, so you're rarely left adrift - you just have to find these NavPearls wherever they might be hiding.

The boat spends most of its time as an inventory item. It only pops out when you hit a body of water. It also doesn't talk back to you because you spent all day playing mini-games instead of saving the world, so it's really a win all round.
The boat spends most of its time as an inventory item. It only pops out when you hit a body of water. It also doesn't talk back to you because you spent all day playing mini-games instead of saving the world, so it's really a win all round.

In pure platforming terms, the game suffers a little. The protagonist is a young child of indeterminate gender with a talkative parrot companion and a prosthetic hook for a hand - every bit the model pirate - and they use that hook to latch onto platform edges, suspended rings, and other hookable fixtures to make reliable forward momentum. If you've played Flinthook, you're probably familiar with the sort of vertical-friendly traversal on offer here. This hook is also the chief means of dealing damage to enemies. However, both the platforming and the combat are perfunctory at best: the jumping and running have too much inertia which results in a non-ideal swimmy feeling, and the hook is a very short-range weapon which makes the already ambiguous hitboxes of certain enemies difficult to address (worth noting that one of the earliest upgrades to the hook is the ability to toss it like a boomerang, mitigating this short-range issue somewhat). The game also has some serious - and annoyingly intermittent - slowdown issues, which I'd normally contribute to this ageing jalopy of a laptop were it not for the fact that this is a sprite-based 2D game that if optimized properly should have zero problems running on a microwave or graphing calculator, let alone a dual-core. It's also not immune to the occasional boneheaded design decision, like the choice of having you resurrect at the last auto-save (usually the last time you made an area transition) with whatever health you had at the time. If you enter a dangerous zone with one HP left, you better be ready to attempt that zone multiple times because that one HP is all you're getting unless you luck upon some healing items or a save point.

All that said, there's something admirable about Treasure Adventure World. Its shaky mechanics should be enough to send me paddling off away into the wild blue yonder, but there's a certain degree of inventiveness (beyond the name, of course) behind its world design and game progression. It's not simply a case of having every objective signposted for you: a lot of times you'll land on a new island and have no idea what to expect, as your designated destination is still several islands away. It could be that you're meant to run right across the island and leap into the ocean on the other side to continue your journey, as it is more than likely that you presently lack whatever tools you need to conquer this particular isle, but there's also no harm in exploring while you're there and you may end up finding something worth the effort, or at least learning a little more about the game world and what you might need for a return visit. The Wind Waker allusions are as transparent as the game's clear blue seas, as you'll encounter entire kingdoms of humans and talking animals alike with their own problems they want you to fix, fight enormous and improbable bosses for their critically valuable loot, and will even end up buying your own house/island at one point and fixing it up with cosmetic purchases. TAW is absolutely filled with secrets, and one of my happiest finds so far has been a special NavPearl that starts making noise whenever I get close to one of the game's sundry invisible walls and concealed treasure chests. Just after I finished my current session to start writing up my thoughts, I'd found a diver's helmet that will allow me to explore beneath the sea - I've passed so many points where I've seen bubbles underneath the waves, and now I'll get to find out what's down there, so that's something I'm hoping to get back to soon. I also think the game's writing is fairly sharp, the chiptune music is catchy enough, and its worldbuilding is sufficiently curious - it's set on a separate planet with its own distinct orbital cycle, where time is measured in 100 minute hours and 20 hour days, and the great calamity that flooded the earth was in part due to how science and magic struggled to coexist - and while it can be a bit graphically plain in spots it is at least nailing the atmosphere.

The game can be a little visually busy and more so when there are weather effects, neither of which really help the slowdown and lag issues much.
The game can be a little visually busy and more so when there are weather effects, neither of which really help the slowdown and lag issues much.

I think this game will ultimately appeal to a relatively small subset of spacewhipper fanatics, between its generic name and visuals and the irksome technical issues, but if you're the type that really wants to earn every ounce of progress from careful exploration and note-keeping and thought La-Mulana was more your speed (though TAW isn't quite that hostile or obfuscated), this might be worth looking into. It's certainly not a short game nor one bereft of ideas for content with which to fill that uncommonly lengthy runtime either. Crucially, despite its myriad problems, it's giving me that old familiar spacewhipper itch that draws me to these games, and I'm inclined to see TAW through come any number of tropical storms or 10fps rough patches.

Rating: 2 out of 5. (After the GloboCorp dungeon, I've decided to knock this down to a 2/5.)

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