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TurtlePop: Journey to Freedom

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: DigiPen Game Studios
Developer: Zengami
Release Date: March 9, 2018


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Switch Review - 'TurtlePop: Journey to Freedom'

by Thomas Wilde on May 7, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

TurtlePop: Journey to Freedom is a cross-genre platform puzzle game that introduces Bebo, Deephi, Slimmie, Smarts, Willis and Sparky the Turtle.

Nowadays, it isn't enough for a game to occupy just one genre. Most games tend to use one genre as a base but use a myriad of traits from other genres to create a distinct experience. Sometimes, the blend is just right and the experience feels richer for it. Other, times you'll get a big mess because the moving parts don't move well with one another. TurtlePop: Journey to Freedom has the unfortunate distinction of being the latter, as it does too many things that conflict with one another, which doesn't serve the game's intended audience.

In TurtlePop, you take control of any number of turtles in a stage as they rescue themselves and their friends in 100 stages spread across seven worlds. The turtles have certain inherent abilities, like gliding, and other powers, like the ability to jump higher, are granted by a genie that can be summoned at will. Once you send the required number of turtles to the exit, you're treated to a bonus game where you have to send other turtles to the exit in 20 seconds. By the end of the stage, you're rated on your performance and given two types of currency as a reward before moving on to the next stage and repeating the process.

The genie is the main source of your special mechanics. He can summon abilities to grant powers to your turtles, he can make special items (e.g., bombs) appear, and he can also control some special-colored blocks. Aside from the genie, the game provides you with your own mechanics. You can switch turtles to gain control of any turtle in the vicinity, so long as they're present on-screen. You can also choose to have one turtle create an aura around them that lets you link to other turtles, so they can all be controlled simultaneously.

While the game gives off a vibe that makes it seem like it is geared toward a younger audience, the actual gameplay counters that notion in several different ways. The controls lack precision and are fairly complicated. There's a hint of floatiness to the turtle you're controlling, and while that makes sense when you're actually floating, it isn't necessary for actual ground movement. Except for jumping, the turtle-linking and genie-summoning happens with your triggers and shoulder buttons, which can be fine for older players but might seem alien to younger ones, who would be more at home with using the face buttons.

The next way it makes things unintentionally harder is through the game's random reward system. Complete any stage, and you're given a treasure chest that contains a random reward, usually in the form of an item or power that needs specific currency to level up. That seems like a fine idea until you realize that there will be times when you'll go after a level only to find out that the power-up you need to tackle isn't in your arsenal. It isn't impossible to beat a stage without the needed power-up, but the difficulty spike is so high in that situation that you may as well replay stages or multiplayer in hopes of finally getting what you need. In that respect, the system ends up being more frustrating than exciting.

Speaking of difficulty, that is TurtlePop's biggest issue for several reasons. Aside from the possible unavailability of items mentioned early on, the game has a bad habit of not letting you know where anyone is until it's too late. A good example of this occurs in the third level, where you'll find a turtle trapped between some wooden blocks off-screen, but you won't know this until you lead your first turtle to the exit and see the camera warp to the next turtle — with no way out. There's quite a bit of trial and error thrown in to the stages, and it feels rather unfair. There's also a mix of different mechanics thrown in, like a set of match-three puzzles that appear almost out of nowhere. Often, the levels feel like a hodgepodge of things thrown together, even though they don't necessarily work well together.

That can describe the game in general, especially when you throw in some platforming standards, like a timer per level and some auto-scrolling. There's some multiplayer in here for the campaign, but unless you've got a partner who knows what they're doing, the mode becomes more of a hindrance than a help. The strictly multiplayer-focused games do at least open early on, but the diversion they provide isn't enough to make people stick with the game. The modes aren't bad, per se, but the Switch system is already full of games that do multiplayer better.

At least the presentation is solid in parts. The graphics are well drawn, and the colors are bright enough to make this cartoon world stand out. Frame rate is solid, and so are the animations. Don't expect much in terms of effects, but what's here works fine enough. The sound, however, is forgettable. The soundtrack isn't anything special, and the same can be said for the effects. The lack of voices is sad, considering how many times you'll see the turtles talk in between stages.

There are parts of TurtlePop: Journey to Freedom that can be delightful. The game looks fine, and the idea of mixing some of these genres together sounds good on paper. The execution, however, is flawed, with some of the genre combinations just not working well with one another. It might be fine for older players, but with a look and premise that seems catered to younger players, the final result ends up being more frustrating than fun. It isn't terrible, but players can do better than this for the time being.

Score: 6.0/10

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