Noodlecake Studios’ android release Summer Catchers is a gorgeous side-scrolling endless runner adventure that isn’t satisfied merely captivating you with stunning visuals. On top of beautiful pixel art tableaus, Summer Catchers mystifies you with a compelling story and rich world-building. It’s a world of intricate layers of secrets and mythological wonders. It’s these glimpses of awe-inspiring creatures that steal the player’s resolve in the face of stress-inducing reaction-based gameplay.
You take control of a kind yet precocious young girl named Chu. Chu wants nothing more than to escape the oppressive winter landscape all around her; to experience the warm majesty of summer. So, with the help of a put-upon wolf-man carpenter, she braves the unknown wilderness on a wooden scooter. But alas, it’s not all fun and games. Chu has to hone her reflexes and navigate all the harsh obstacles in her path.
Precision Phone Pressing
The gameplay is elegant in its simplicity, yet formidable in execution. As Chu sleds across the screen, you have to deploy certain tools that correspond to specific obstacles with split-second timing. Three screw-ups, and you wipe out. Thus, forcing you back to the beginning of the level. With the added challenge of only having three tool slots, resource management becomes a crucial factor. At the start, there are only three tools to juggle: a jump, a shield, and a speed boost. Even though the player has three tool slots, each slot is filled at random.
This creates a challenging balancing act of using up tools until you get the right one without using up your supply. Which becomes especially strenuous after you’ve completed every mini-quest each level has to offer. Because doing so results in a boss fight where Chu must race to avoid obstructions while being chased by various angered woodland creatures!
Rewarding the Rage
This resource resourcefulness twinned with a split-second reaction to obstacles can be quite a frustrating challenge. But, just when you begin to boil over into rage-quit territory, everything stands still. Chu is cruising in her wagon, but the tool prompts are gone. It’s quiet. Serene. Then you see it. What was that movement in the background? My god, what is that? Before you know what’s going on, right there before you is a giant incomprehensible mythological marvel of nature. Always different. Always breath-taking. Be it a larger than life ethereal glowing deer, with branching horns piercing the heavens. Or the night sky itself opening blinking eyelids at you, watching. The sight of these magnificent beasts washes over you. Absolving you of all the tension built up over crash after crash. It’s replaced entirely with awe.
Luckily, Chu gets a lot of help along the way from some interesting characters. Some of them can even help you out during a race—these take the form of collectibles called pets, and they may take some convincing before they agree to help you out. There are also a number of collectibles to find and secrets to uncover—including minigames, and mythical creatures.
The soundtrack is notably great—it captures the essence of a road trip adventure exactly. Every time I would start a new run, the music instantly made me feel like I was riding carefree, with my hair whipping in the breeze.
I love absolutely every aspect of Summer Catchers—except for the actual gameplay. Still, despite the shortcomings of the gameplay, Chu’s adorable tenacity and childlike wonderment made me want to keep going—though your mileage may vary.
That is the magic of Summer Catchers. Sure, the seemingly endless screw-ups and crashes can weigh on you. But it’s that sense of wonder, coupled with enchanting music and a cast of weird friendly little creatures, that keep you persistent to keep going. You need to know what it’s all leading to. You need to know what Summer brings.