[Disclosure: A review code was provided for the contents of this article]
SONKA’s Astro Bears came out for the Nintendo Switch back in July. The game is a budget-priced party title for up to four-players. It’s only 254MB and is priced at $6.99 over on the Nintendo eShop. The big question is if it’s worth the price of entry? Well, I would say it’s worth getting if it goes on sale.
The general gist is that you have eight different bears to choose from, each with their own abilities and stats that change the way the game plays, and there are four different planets, four different planet sizes, and the option to have ribbons run finitely or infinitely on the map.
The game is pretty much like the Tron lightcycle arena where each player has a color-designated ribbon and the object of the game is to force your opponents to crash into the other ribbons to win the round.
You can play with up to three other players in the Party Mode; or you can play a series of 1-on-1 matches in the Competitive Mode by composing a team of three bears; or you can team up with a second player and play co-op in the Jetfish Hunting mode, where two players work together to avoid running into the ribbons while collecting the face moving jetfish that fly around on the planet. After collecting all the jetfish the mode introduces more fish to collect on more challenging levels.
There’s also an online leaderboard so you can compare your performance to other gamers from around the world.
Beyond that there isn’t much else to the game except for the actual gameplay and presentation.
Matches are played with the analog and just two buttons; one to jump and one to turbo-run. Your objective is to stay alive while weaving your ribbon around the tiny planets as a way to trap your opponents.
If you’re successful then it results in a win. If you crash and burn? You lose.
The simple concept of the game makes it easy to pick up and play by just about anyone.
It can get quite intense when you have four players all running around on these tiny globes trying to out-ribbon each other.
The accompanying synthwave soundtrack is definitely welcome, featuring some catchy tunes that isn’t entirely out of sync with the game’s chibi-style 3D bears.
There’s a modicum of replayability that accompanies Astro Bears, and the fact that you can modify some of the settings – such as making the ribbons (in)finite – gives it an extra layer of skill-based gameplay. This is simply given to the fact that finite ribbons means that the tiny globes don’t fill up quite as fast as when infinite ribbons are used, which makes matches a lot shorter and a lot harder to win.
When matches get frantic and there are four-players running around, Astro Bears can feel like the traditional party game affair that Nintendo is known for hosting on their consoles; lots of laughter, fun times, and good spirits.
Unfortunately, the fun comes in limited quantities.
Unfortunately there just isn’t much else to Astro Bears.
While the Jetfish mode can be challenging, it’s not the sort of mode you might find yourself returning to often, even for the co-op factor.
The Competitive Mode would be a lot more engaging if you could play it online, but as it stands it can get boring pretty quickly between just two players.
The real meat of the game is the Party Mode, where up to four players can duke it out. Once again, though, the mode is crippled by the fact that you can’t play it online.
That’s right, it’s basically a multiplayer only title but you can’t play online.
This means that you will have to rely on playing the game locally with friends or family.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with split-screen play, but what happens if you don’t have anyone to play with? Well, you’re kind of out of luck. You can play the JetFish Hunting in single-player mode, but the novelty wears thin rather quickly.
Again, it’s a game you can play for a couple dozen minutes but then you’re kind of looking at the game like “What else is there?”
The big difference between Astro Bears and say Armagetron is that the latter may only have one mode but it’s highly customizable with different sized arenas and a heck of a lot of replayability thanks to the online mode, the split-screen features, and the fact that there was enough room in the play arenas to exercise some intense bouts where skill and reflexes were the order of the day.
While Astro Bears has a solid gameplay loop, the lack of precision ribbon running really dampens the potential skill ceiling for the game. Squeezing through tight corners isn’t really possible for most bears, and the ribbons are so chunky it means that you won’t be doing any wall-riding like in Tron.
I think more than anything Astro Bears’ biggest fault is in its unrealized potential rather than the fact that there’s anything inherently wrong with the game. Unlockable bear skins could have been a huge incentive to keep playing through certain modes, or having both flat and spherical surfaces to run around on would have extended the replayability in the Party Mode at least fivefold.
As it stands, there’s a stark lack of depth when it comes to the mechanics, so once you play through the different planets, hear all the songs, and play across the different sized planets, there isn’t much else to the game. Then again, it is only $6.99 so they aren’t asking for much for how little it has to offer.
I think that with a few more options and maybe the ability to play against an AI opponent would have surely made Astro Bears feel as if it were worth the venal indulgence.
As it stands, I just don’t think there’s enough there to justify the current asking price. Maybe if Astro Bears drops down to $2.99 or so during a Nintendo eShop sale it might be worth picking up, and at that point I might say it’s worth a try.