Staxel Review (Switch)

Staxel Review: Block Party

 

Staxel

What do you get if you add Stardew Valley, Minecraft, and Animal Crossing into a blender, but forget to add the charm and accessibility that made those games so successful? Well, unfortunately, the answer is the rather bland Staxel.

 

First Impressions Can Be Deceiving

 

Staxel

I should add, that Staxel is far from a terrible game. It’s just that it lacks any sense of originality or personality that might aid in masking how derivative it all is. You know the set-up; your avatar is presented with a disheveled and dilapidated farm, and it’s your job to bring this crusty patch of land back to something altogether more homely, and most importantly, profitable.

To be fair to Staxel, it makes a decent first impression. I was initially swept away by how adorable it all looks, with its Minecraft-inspired visuals and delightful little town packed with villagers and shops. Those initial couple of hours spent wandering around the world and introducing myself to the villagers actually filled me with the hope that I had stumbled across my next time sink. You also pick up quests at a decent pace, taking you through the game’s core mechanics from farming, to building and forming relationships with the town’s residents.

Unfortunately, that sense of adventure soon waned, however, and likely will with you also once you realize that pretty much every facet of this game has been perfected by other entries in the life sim/crafting/farming space.

 

Pale Imitation

 

Staxel

Take exploration, for example. There is no denying that the thrill of being dropped into an unfamiliar land is there at first, however you will soon realize that the world you inhabit is microscopic and suffering from a lack of diversity in terms of biomes. It’s less going on a grand adventure to explore an expansive uncharted world, and more stepping out to take a look around the back garden of a new house you have just moved into. With something like Minecraft, one of my favorite things to do is to just pick a direction and set off, unsure of what delights or horrors await. Staxel lacks any of that unpredictability, or sense of scale, so small in scope is the environment you find yourself in.

You’re perhaps reading this and thinking, “okay, so the game isn’t Minecraft, not everything has to offer that same sense of scale and scope.” I absolutely agree, but unfortunately, exploration and world diversity isn’t the only area Staxel finds itself either lacking or needlessly convoluted.

 

Convoluted Crafting

 

Staxel

Nowhere is this convolution more evident than the crafting system; for an experience that presents itself as a relaxing life sim, crafting in Staxel is frequently nothing less than an exercise in frustration. Between the stations that are required for crafting building materials and those that are required for crafting cooking ingredients, I counted no less than a dozen different crafting stations. The sheer volume of stations isn’t an issue in itself, the issue is that crafting even the simplest of objects and structures often requires you to make use of many stations, with little to no explanation as to how these interact.

Take, for example, an early-game quest that tasks you with making a fishing spot. You’re given a set of blueprints needed to make the objects required for the fishing post to be deemed complete. One of the objects, a bait box, requires some bugs, and a simple box. To make this “simple” box, you have to carry out actions at no less than three different stations, with the game providing no real indication as to what stations you need to use. It wasn’t until I finally gave in and looked at a wiki that I finally realized that the reason I couldn’t complete the box at the assembly station, was because it required me to instead use a combining station.

More confusion followed when the stations that were introduced to me in the tutorial did not appear to include a combining station, which led to more aimless wandering until I realized the station was sold by the building supply shop in the town center. Unfortunately, the issue only becomes more pronounced later on in the game as more blueprints and complex materials (which can be extremely difficult to find) are required.

I’m all for complexity in crafting/life-sim games; the likes of Minecraft, Stardew Valley, and the Rune Factory series have all eaten up ridiculous amounts of my life. But those titles do a great job at explaining the rules of their worlds in the early stages so that the player is equipped with the knowledge they need to go out and make sense of the more complex mechanics that start to creep in. Staxel, on the other hand, throws an overwhelming crafting sandbox at you with little guidance on how it all fits together.

 

Glimmers Of Hope

 

Staxel

It’s not all doom and gloom, though, and other facets of the experience fare somewhat better. Farming can be enjoyable and is slightly more intuitive than the building system, and there is a certain degree of satisfaction to be had in seeing your dilapidated farm grow into a profitable money-making machine containing a plethora of crops and livestock. As well as serving as a great source of income, you can also use your product to engage with Staxel’s cooking system. There is a huge range of recipes to be cooked up, all bestowing various buffs and passive benefits, though admittedly, I largely ignored cooking as it again requires you to engage with the opaque crafting systems.

The relationship system is also functional if somewhat underwhelming. As with other life-sim experiences, bestowing gifts and having conversations with your fellow townsfolk will see your relationship meters with their increase, and you will periodically be handed out quests upon reaching certain relationship milestones. Whilst there is fun to be had in seeing your bonds grow, and the characters you encounter are all lovingly designed from a visual standpoint, the system never really gives the sense that you are getting to know these individuals any better. Nowhere to be found are the intriguing backstories similar to the cast of Stardew Valley, and beyond a few quirky lines here and there, you’ll likely soon grow tired of engaging with the bland roster on show.

And the previous two paragraphs really sum up my feelings on Staxel in a nutshell; even when succeeding on some front, that success doesn’t come without a caveat. Even the bug-catching and fishing, which were easily my favorite activities, soon feel lifeless and unengaging as soon as you realize that the seasons don’t impact the variety of creatures and critters on offer as you would expect. Animal Crossing’s rotating selection of bugs and fish, which change by the month, lends a sense of adventure as you try to check off those final few entries before the seasons change again. Staxel, on the other hand, soon loses that sense of wonder as soon as you realize that seasons have no impact.

To close on a more positive note, I will say that I’m sure there is an audience out there who will probably love Staxel. Its charming aesthetic and low-stakes gameplay are bound to appeal to those who can look past the needlessly frustrating and opaque crafting systems. There is admittedly a lot to do, and with no real overarching goal or time constraints looming over the player’s head, it’s a title that can be played and soaked in entirely at your leisure. It’s just unfortunate that as I was playing, the main thought circulating in my head was how I would much rather be playing any number of other titles that have already perfected the various systems which Staxel relies upon, and unfortunately, fumbles.

 

Conclusion

 

 

Staxel exemplifies the old saying, “jack of all trades, master of none.” With the stellar competition on offer, a game really needs to excel these days to make an impact in what is becoming a very crowded genre. Unfortunately, Staxel, with its frustrating systems and the uninteresting cast, makes it hard to want to stick around and enjoy the variety of gameplay loops on offer here, and it’s difficult to see anybody but the most dedicated fans of the genre feeling any different.


Final Verdict: 2.5/5

Wandering Trails

Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PC; Publisher: Humble Games; Developer: Plukit; Players: 1-unlimited (suggested player count of 10 maximum); Released: September 23, 2021 (for Nintendo Switch); MSRP: $24.99; ESRB: E for Everyone

 

Shane Boyle
Shane's passion for gaming began many moons ago upon receiving his first console, Sega's Master System. These days, he games across a variety of systems, though he primarily sticks to his PlayStation 5 and Series X. Despite enjoying a wide variety of genres, he has a huge soft spot for RPGs, both Western and Japanese, whilst also being a self-professed Destiny 2 addict. Outside of gaming, Shane enjoys live music (as long as it's rock or metal!) and going to stand-up comedy shows, and is also Father to a little boy who he hopes will one day be raiding alongside him in Destiny!

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