Handheld gaming is perfect for a quick blast of pretty much any game. It suits everything from a big adventure like Breath of the Wild, to a smaller experience like Gris. As long as you can jump in and get stuck in, it’s all good. So, hypothetically speaking, a strategy game on the Switch sounds like a great idea. You can hop in, take a few turns, then hop out. You could even “accidentally” take the Switch to bed with you and just forego sleep entirely, opting instead to run on making strategic decisions and caffeine.
Thea: The Awakening is a strategy game. Well, it’s a 4X game, which stands for explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate apparently. So, it’s a colonisation simulator, which seems a bit dark when you think about it. Anyway, this isn’t just a 4X, oh no, this is a roguelike, card battling 4X game. If you had to mix all of these things together, you probably wouldn’t cook up what Thea is, but that’s okay, because Thea is already what it is. That’s more or less how this stuff works. A game is a certain way, I write a meandering intro to figure out how to actually explain that to you, my dear readers, and then we all go on our merry way.
This introduction is particularly lengthy, but I’m making a point. This is some form of performance art if you will, because much like the two paragraphs you’ve read so far, Thea has a problem with being a little too complex and a little long in the tooth. See? I was making a good point, or at least I feel like I was. It makes me feel clever, so let me have it.
Onwards to the issue at hand: Thea: The Awakening is a weird game, a strange mix-up of things that maybe don’t go together. It has one too many fingers in one too many pies, and as a result, feels a little bit lost. Which is funny, because that’s how you’ll feel when you boot it up. You see, while a sprawling strategy game should work on the Switch, it needs to make sense within a certain amount of time, otherwise you’re going to have to dedicate a few hours just to understand how to play. Thea requires a few hours, plus a sacrifice of some other indie game, in order to make sense.
Once you do know what you’re doing the game can truly begin. The only problem is that it isn’t all that fun. Having spent a few hours grappling with the slew of mechanics thrown at you as you play through the tutorial, you may well find yourself a little disappointed. It isn’t bad by any means, but it just doesn’t really fit together properly.
While the exploration and roguelike elements work well enough, the card battling is a bit lacklustre. Maybe it’s just because I’m coming in hot from Slay the Spire, but the combat here feels incredibly forced. More often than not, having thought that you had the hang of things, you’ll find out that you can’t perform an attack you thought you could, and only because of nebulous “reasons”. It’s frustrating.
You interact with much of the game in the form of a choose your own adventure book. So if you’re exploring a dungeon, you choose whether to go north, south, or Dennis – this is a Strong Bad email reference and I’m expecting at least one person to get it – then you go that direction and find loot, death, or a handkerchief. It takes away from that strategic feeling that exists when commanding your units otherwise. It just feels like you’re playing four or five different games that don’t speak to each other, but happen to be neighbours.