Catch a riiide.
Summer Catchers is cute. Really cute. Its pixel art style manages to be both retro and modern, the music is excellent and there’s so much more to discover than initially meets the eye. The world is a joy to explore. Actually exploring it, however, is perhaps another story entirely.
The core of the game is something akin to an endless runner, as a little girl makes her way from the frozen winter lands to the summer ocean in a homemade car. Along the way she’ll encounter pits full of razor-sharp icicles, collapsing bridges and plenty more hazards that are, frankly, far too dangerous for a child to be handling alone.
You start with three tools to smash through, leap over or outrun obstacles in your path, with more unlocked later. Each area has variations on similar obstacles, including the totem poles that somebody has built absolutely everywhere for some reason. As the game is loosely physics-based, it’s sometimes possible to combine tools to dodge multiple obstacles at once, or to bypass obstacles that they aren’t specifically ‘meant’ for. Other times, you’ll take damage anyway because you weren’t quite quick enough on the draw.
Although Summer Catchers uses many of the trappings of an endless runner, it really isn’t one – there’s no reward for reaching a particular distance or maintaining a run for an extended time. This is probably for the best, however, as the randomly selected tools make your survival time on each run far more luck than skill-based. Most runs end in a mad flail to use every tool at once in the hope that the one you actually need will show up in one of your three item slots.
Progression comes through doing strange quests for a series of deeply untrustworthy animals. One may ask you to plant new trees, while another needs snowmen smashed or frogs defrosted. Only one mission can be taken at a time and most require the use of an additional tool, further clogging up the player’s inventory. These build in complexity as the game goes on, with some tools requiring aiming or combining with others. Some of these are over in moments, whereas others are annoyingly luck-based, but all provide extra characterisation for the cast of oddballs who populate the world. You can even send letters to your friends in previous levels, updating them on your progress in just the most adorable way.
The game’s art is gorgeous, but absolutely huge on a PC monitor, where it often feels like hazards pop up so quickly there’s no time to select the corresponding tool. Clearly, Summer Catchers is built for a mobile device. Nowhere is this more evident than in the control system, which consists of three enormous buttons on the right-hand side of the screen. On a phone or tablet these would be easily tapped, but using a mouse feels like a serious disadvantage. Trying to keep an eye on both sides of the screen at once is far too much for my aging eyes to handle. I even had the misfortune of attempting to use a controller, which I wouldn’t wish on anybody.
All of this makes Summer Catchers genuinely quite annoying to play, at least on PC. That’s a shame as the overall aesthetic is extremely appealing. Every screen, object and character has clearly been crafted with love. The world is strange, giving the constant sense that there’s a lot more going on than this little girl understands. Every so often, a level will transition into something else entirely, be it a little adventure game segment or a rhythm action sequence. It really is compelling stuff, made even more so by the driving soundtrack and – to repeat myself – gorgeous visuals.
Every time I quit because of a control issue, I come right back to see what’s next. Every time I enter a new area, meet a new character or find some hidden secret, I remember just how damn cute this game can be. Every time I do, it gradually wears me down again.
There’s a lot to discover in Summer Catchers, but I feel like the PC version is the worst way to do so. If you’re considering buying this on a tablet or phone, add a point or two to the review score.
Either way, I can’t stay mad for long.
[Reviewed on PC]