Deceptively simple and to the point, Curious Expedition is a 2016 game only now making its way to consoles via Thunderful Publishing. In it, you lead an expedition of an uncharted land in search of whatever the goal your explorer has going for them. At the outset of every journey in this pixelated indie title from Polish studio Maschinenmensch you get to pick from a number of historical figures, each with their own set of abilities, like Marie Curie, Charles Darwin, and even Rasputin.
Curious Expedition is a quirky title that at first doesn’t seem like much, but quickly starts showing lots of promise, even if its looks don’t instantly grab you. They certainly didn’t do it for me as I first started playing the game’s tutorial where Charles Darwin found himself lost in an unknown land without a ship. His sanity bar at the top of the screen was quickly running out, and with each step into the dense ‘fog of war’ from the map, things looked pretty bad for the famed naturalist.
Luckily, that was only the initial bit of the game designed to ease players in, so my one man expedition quickly found rations to raise up his morale and even a village where he was able to recruit a local after some friendly trading in order to improve his popularity. A few more steps into his exploration of this strange land and bam, we found his ship and crew, settling with some extra team members and some equipment. Then things turned sour. A little too sour for a tutorial. We stepped into a temple where the game suggested we steal the relic within.
Surely enough, the local gods were none too happy about our actions, and the volcanoes surrounding the temple instantly erupted, its lava surrounding my party quickly, so quickly that the local tribesperson who I recruited and even had leveled up along the way to the temple was killed by the flames! Luckily, we managed to reach a zone away from the flames with whoever was left of our group, and thus the tutorial ended.
That was a rough start for sure, but it didn’t turn me away from playing the game, and for that I’m very glad, because Curious Expedition has been proving to be quite a nifty little indie game to play on my Switch. The basic scene to scene gameplay feels like a tabletop RPG of sorts to me, and having the chance to completely mess up a run at the drop of a hat is positively exciting considering that every adventure is pretty much a go at a roguelike, that is, there’s no coming back from regretful decisions!
Those decisions come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from simply negotiations with random characters you run into to whether or not to stick around during a combat encounter you might not live through. Fighting is especially tricky since it’s tied to dice rolls that aren’t exactly what you might have in mind right away. You don’t roll numbers, but symbols, and those combine in certain ways in order to provide specific effects in a fight, like a defensive boost, or even triggering a tactical insight that will put you on top. It also determines if you can attack or not, so you can see how I landed on deciding if it’s smarter to just run and not take my chances trying to take down a particularly tough foe.
Then again, not all is tied to killing. You can get in trouble simply by not meeting the expectations of whoever you’re interacting with, too. Like in that spot where the tutorial pushed me to do the dumb thing, there are a lot of moments where you simply get to a pitfall without knowing and simply fail to realize until it’s too late. But since runs in this game are so quick to get going, it’s really a matter of giving it another go and hoping for better luck, which makes it much less of a frustrating experience than your usual roguelike game.
Curious Expedition’s old school looks eventually grew on me the more I’ve been playing the game. Nothing about its presentation is exactly mind-bending or anything, but I’ve come to settle into what it’s going for with its stick figure characters. They’re surprisingly lively for a bunch of folks who only have a handful of pixels to work with.
While I’ve yet to start an adventure with every one of the possible leaders, Curious Expedition is an exceedingly charming indie roguelike game that is very hard to put down once it gets going. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what other kinds of trouble I can get in, but most importantly, if I can indeed get to the end of this thing!