The development process for a video game is usually a long one. With levels to design, gameplay to refine, music to compose, and graphics to implement, even a small project has a mountain of work to be done before the game is complete. Game Jams turn the slow process of designing a game on its head, challenging participants to create a full working game in only a couple of days. While getting a project finished within such a small time frame is difficult to imagine (let alone one that is enjoyable to play) some developers thrive in this pressure cooker of a setting, coming up with ideas that might not occur in a more traditional environment. The prototype for Goat Simulator was created in a Game Jam and went on to be the most successful title Coffee Stain Studios has developed. Baba is You and Celeste were also originally game jam projects, both of which went on to offer unique experiences as fully fleshed out games. RECREW! was created by developer BeetBomb for the GlobalGameJam 2020, an event with a 48-hour time limit and a focus on the concept of repairing something. With bright cheery visuals and an easy to grasp concept, RECREW! is a charming little puzzler that I would love to see further developed.
The game begins with a pirate ship running into a rock and shattering, flinging the crew far across the sea. As a lonely pirate sitting on the only plank remaining of the damaged vessel, you must slowly piece the ship back together with the debris found floating in the water. Along the way, the pirate will add his missing crew members to the cobbled together ship—but beware, if the raft is not designed sturdily enough, the weight of the pirate’s recovered friends can quickly send them sinking to the bottom of the sea.
Building the raft is all a matter of balance. The pirate starts out sitting on a small plank, slowly drifting from left to right. Flotsam is added to the structure with a click, with items placed above the waterline weighing the raft down, and pieces added underneath pushing the boat upward. The debris floating in the water is completely randomised, with one run providing lots of wooden planks and oil drums, the next treasure chests, and mossy anchors. This randomness affects the difficulty, especially when you start to pick up the missing crew members. Along with adding weight to the boat, each pirate has certain requirements to stay aboard. The first one encountered is a nearly perfect sphere, and will need either a perfectly level boat or a hastily crafted cage to stop him from falling off. The second mate is in a crow’s nest, and needs a high point like a mast to sit on. Third is the ship’s strong man, who is so large and wide he needs a long section to fit comfortably on the rat. Last but not least is the captain, who is not fussy about placement but will take a long time to reach.
With the wide array of ship building materials and accommodating the crew’s differing needs, RECREW! has a lovely ebb and flow of difficulty. The rolly-polly pirate is initially a huge obstacle, and will sometimes just be too tricky to keep on board with his tendency to roll at the slightest hint of a tilt. On a lucky run, a vertical plank will keep him in place, but on other occasions jamming him between two treasure chests would do the trick. I would like to see the option to rotate the pieces of debris, as that added flexibility would balance out the bad luck of objects poorly suited to the current raft design. The pirates also drown at a very fast rate, sometimes before the player has a chance to grab an item to level out the boat. If the game were to be developed into a larger piece, perhaps aspects like a longer air metre and easier item spawns would work well as difficulty settings, with the harder settings rewarded with extra pirates to find and more complicated debris shapes.
The atmosphere of RECREW! is bright and bubbly all round, with charming pixel graphics and a hearty sea shanty as background music. The screen is highly readable, even with the clutter of the late stage raft, and the addition of a new instrument to the track with each pirate collected adds to the sense of growing adventure. The mouse cursor can get a bit lost in all the details, and would benefit from having a chunky graphic rather than the windows default appearance. The opening cutscene, while nice, should only play at the start of the game, rather than being shown every time the player dies. I took a little over an hour to finally rescue the captain, which resulted in many repetitions of the scene.
The issues I had with RECREW!were only minor quibbles for what was a really polished, charming game. I am amazed at what BeetBomb achieved in only 48 hours, and would love to see what the developer works on next. Other games by the developer can be found on its itch.io page.
Next week, we will be playing Respite, an exploration game about the importance of taking a moment for yourself. The game can be downloaded from itch.io here. Discussions are happening in the Discord server, or you can email me here.