Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC
A Sunday Drive
One of the things I love most about indie games is the sheer variety of the gameplay, graphics, and stories. One day I'll be playing a Metroidvania clone, and the next day it'll be a shmup or – ugh – a roguelike. The beauty of the indie game is that it allows for so many different experiences, and it keeps video games from being too monotonous and filled with tropes. I bring this up because Road to Guangdong was not like anything I had expected. It's a clever blend of three different genres, and while it isn't perfect, it's so much of a different game that I found myself enjoying it.
In Road to Guangdong, you play as Sunny, a university student in China during the 1990s. Tragedy strikes during her studies, as both her parents pass away. This causes her to put her plans on hold and return to the city of Guangdong to take over the family restaurant. She meets up with her grandmother, Guu Ma, and the game is spent driving to different cities to visit other family members, help them solve their problems, and obtain recipes in order to modernize the inherited restaurant.
That's where the real variety in the gameplay comes in. Road to Guangdong is equal parts driving game, visual novel, and mechanic simulator. I know, right? I thought it was odd too. But aside from a few annoyances, these elements come together quite nicely.
A majority of the game is spent in the visual novel realm. Sunny has conversations with her family members, and your decisions help drive the story. You'll start things off getting to know Guu Ma, as well as the background of her family and the restaurant. The writing in these sections is very down-to-earth: it didn't feel forced or awkward, and really got me invested in this family. The good thing is that you're still likely to end up with the same results. This isn't a stress-inducing affair like Until Dawn or even The Shapeshifting Detective where one wrong decision ruins everything. This is a very laid-back approach to the story, and you are figuratively (and literally) going along for the ride.
Speaking of the ride, the second aspect of the game is driving to each destination to meet with other family members and continue the story. You'll be driving Sandy, the family's clunker of a car. Sandy has been part of the clan just as long as Sunny, and holds some strong sentimental value. I only wish Sandy was easy to handle. Driving from point A to point B can get quite boring. You'll be driving through low poly environments,with not much to look at. Driving is done from a first-person perspective, and as such, you will miss seeing points of interest such as gas stations and your destinations. Turning is tough, stopping is a slog, and there's no real physics. Just to test things out, I drove into oncoming traffic at 80 MPH only to come to a complete stop when I hit another car head-on. To my knowledge there was no penalty for it, and neither vehicle suffered any damage.
That's not to say it's all bad. I found it very relaxing, and the music playing on the radio was very engaging. There was even a point where I shifted my focus to the radio and changed the channel, only to have Guu Ma get upset about my taste in music and change it back. I got a good chuckle out of that one. But you shouldn't focus on the radio while driving; because there's a lot more to keep an eye on instead of just the road.
The third aspect of Road to Guandong is about maintaining your vehicle. Throughout your journey, the car will need gas, oil, tires, and even perhaps a new engine.While driving, you'll have to be cognizant of your dashboard to ensure the engine isn't overheading or the gas is running low. Sandy isn't in the best shape, and you'll have to treat her with extra-special care. Otherwise you'll have to pay to tow it to a mechanic. Once at the mechanic, you can purchase new or aftermarket parts to keep the family car road-worthy.
Final Grade: B-
Road to Guangdong does have some issues, and it definitely isn't for everyone. Some may be turned off by the graphics, different and, at times, difficult gameplay mechanics, and lack of any real action. But for those of you who have been doing the same thing over and over, and are looking for something fresh, relaxing, and heartwarming, then this may be work the take-out.