Zarvot is a game about small cubes that shoot lasers. Hard to put in a box – get it? – Zarvot toes the line between a wave-based shooter, narrative-driven adventure and platformer in equal amounts, with varying degrees of success.
I honestly went into Zarvot expecting very little – the promise of hectic combat and multiplayer was enough to draw me in – but the real bulk of the game comes in the surprisingly sombre of two friends seeking to cheer up the third member of their group. Charcoal and Mustard go on an adventure to search for the ultimate birthday present to cheer up their best friend, Red–who is feeling quite blue. They’ll take the subway to nine unique worlds where you’ll battle rogue bananas, evil milk cartons, and crayon box spiders – whatever it takes to make Red happy again!
Players take control of Charcoal, the light-blue cube, and fight hordes of enemies across arena-like levels. Combat primarily revolves around the use of projectiles; a short button press shoots a laser bolt, while a longer hold sends a beam of light out that is capable of toppling multiple enemies. A short-range attack, triggered by using a shoulder button, causes Charcoal to spin on the spot while producing spikes. There are also a number of additional abilities that players must utilise in order to defeat some Zarvot’s harder enemies.
Each level is filled with a number of small arenas in which players must defeat single or multiple waves of enemies. The number of enemies and the complexity of their attacks intensifies as the game progresses, reaching almost bullet-hell levels of visual noise towards the later stages of the game. I did find myself growing frustrated with one particular enemy type that required a very specific attack and frustratingly accurate timing in order to kill it.
There’s a lot of be found from reading between the lines of Charcoal, Mustard and Red’s relationship here. While the dialogue never really outright states it, it is implied that Red is dealing with some form of mental health illness. His friends take it upon themselves to deliver Red a gift, but end up in an accident on the way and lose the assortment of presents, forcing to journey to all corners of the game world to recover them.
The moment-to-moment writing can be a little cheesy at times, and Mustard can be slightly annoying due to his infantile nature, but the overall story was entertaining and kept me engaged right up until the end. The game’s more mellow moments were a particular highlight, as the mixture of melancholic music and introspective characters combine perfectly to create a unique experience.
Outside of the story, there are a number of arcade levels to play through. These can be found throughout the story levels and offer players additional content to tackle once the story is complete. There are also a number of competitive and party-based modes for those who wish to play Zarvot with a group of friends. As a Switch exclusive, there’s a little wordplay with ‘Joy-Vot’ mode, in which one player takes control of a levitating banana, as other players try and take them down. The amount of content on offer outside of the story mode is commendable and the developers, Snowhydra llc, have clearly made an effort to give players plenty to do.
There are some performance issues throughout Zarvot, which is a shame when the game aims to run at an “ultra-responsive 60fps”. While this is true in the quieter areas of the game, the more intense sections can cause frame stuttering and dips. It’s never enough to mar the experience as a whole, but it is a blemish on what is overall, a pleasing visual experience.
I did find myself occasionally frustrated by the level design, as there were a few occasions where gameplay slowed to a halt as I accidentally pushed something in the wrong direction and wasn’t able to rectify my mistake.
Zarvot is a unique experience that’s right at home on the Nintendo Switch. It’s commitment to manic, arcade shooting is one of its biggest strengths, but this unfortunately highlights the game’s weaker elements, namely the platforming. The narrative is ultimately the stand out feature here, as the nuanced character writing highlights the surprisingly profound overarching narrative in a way that keeps players engaged.