You can’t accuse Super Toaster X’s Kickstarter of not being thorough. At times it reads more like an instruction manual rather than a Kickstarter pitch. It goes through every aspect on the game from offensive and defensive attacks, the energy meter, and the obligatory crafting mechanics. Points for thoroughness, if nothing else.
So what kind of game is Super Toaster X? It’s an RPG in which you play as a toaster, of course. You might not be able to tell from the name or the visuals, but it’s a game designed to teach you Japanese. That’s the claim, at least. There is a demo provided on the Kickstarter page, which I fired up. Unfortunately, the demo doesn’t live up to it’s own promise.
The game is obviously well made from a technical standpoint. For once the pixel art doesn’t feel like a crutch, but an actual artistic decision. Because of this, the art is clean and crisp and looks great. It’s not Hyper Light Drifter jaw-droppingly awesome, but charming and cute nonetheless. The music has a bouncy, upbeat rhythm which fits the theme of the game, which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Everything is lovingly animated, right down to the developer’s logo featuring two pieces of toast exploding out of a toaster to form two A’s. It’s clear a lot of love went into making this.
Butter Side Down
Once you get into the gameplay itself though, it all quickly falls apart. At first glance, Super Toaster X looks like a 2D platformer. But the combat plays out in RPG fashion. You have to decide to pick either offensive or defensive attacks in order to kill the enemy and not die.
Combat isn’t turned based, so you’ll walk up to an enemy have to immediately decide whether or not to go on the offensive or use defense, then just as quickly do the opposite. Then you have to worry about which of the four options for both attacking and defending to choose. Luckily the game finally pauses for you to choose which ability to use, but by the time the game unpauses, the enemy has already changed tactics and you’re screwed. To make matters worse, some attacks are ranged, and if you’re simply too far away from an enemy, your attack harmlessly falls to the ground.
All of this is made worse by the absurdly small health bar. I died in only two attacks from the first enemy, and I felt like I had no chance against it. Combat is just too fast, and even though you can see the enemies before you fight them, you always feel like you’ve been ambushed.
The Japanese language aspect doesn’t work. If you know Japanese, you can jump right into the game. If not, you’re encouraged to visit the sensei who will “teach” you some of the basics. Rather than actually teaching you Japanese, the game instead has you memorizing symbols.
This boils down to him showing you some flash cards with Japanese writing on them and the word they represent. He then shows you cards without the English text, and asks you to choose which cards represent the words he tells you. As anyone who’s ever used the flash card technique in school can tell you, this isn’t learning, it’s simply memorization. Even if you were to learn how to read from this, it doesn’t do anything to tell you how to speak the language. It gives you only half the skills you’d need to effectively communicate.
Learning another language is difficult, and while memorizing certain symbols can help, the only way to learn it for it to be a usable skill is by talking to people who know the language. If the sensei actually spoke and told you how to pronounce words, that’d be one thing. But this just feels like a half-measure.
Developer Team Toaster is asking for just over $9,000 to complete the game. The demo shows that a lot of progress and promise. From a technical standpoint, it’s coming along nicely. But the combat is simply broken. It’s too fast, and the language teaching aspect of it doesn’t actually teach you a language.
There’s Still Hope
Luckily there’s still plenty of time for Team Toaster to fix these issues. An easy fix would be making the combat turn-based. If not, the method of selecting to attack or defend and which ability to use can use some streamlining. Fixing the language teaching mechanic will be more difficult though, as the system currently in place is fundamentally flawed.
Which begs the question of why the mechanic in the game to begin with. Unlike other Japanese language teaching games like Learn Japanese to Survive or Go! Go! Nipon, Super Toaster X is not overtly Japanese. It’s not set in Japan, it doesn’t star Japanese characters (or Japanese toasters at least) and there’s no Japanese iconography. It’s a silly RPG platformer that stars a toaster that for some reason has Japanese language memorization thrown in, and it does not blend together well.
Super Toaster X is a game that looks good on paper, and even in screenshots. It’s a fun 2D platformer with great music and pixel art that doesn’t make your eyes roll out of your head. The Kickstarter page is great too, listing all the information you’d ever want to know about the game and development. The developer has even been posting extensive developer diaries on the Greenlight page, and they’re all the way up to #93 now, so you know they’ll keep backers in the loop.
But as a game it just doesn’t work yet. The combat is too fast and the language learning tools serve as an annoyance more than anything else. It’s still relatively early in development, so hopefully Team Toaster can iron out the kinks. Or should I say, toast out the kinks? No.