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Written by Russell Archey on 5/2/2024 for SWI  
More On: Kudzu

It’s not uncommon for developers to create a game in an 8-bit or 16-bit style. Occasionally they may even put the game onto a physical cartridge for retro consoles. One system that I haven’t seen this very much though is the Game Boy. There have only been a few times that I recall seeing a developer create a new game using the four shades of green of Nintendo’s classic handheld, let alone actually put the game onto a physical cartridge. That’s exactly what we have today as I take a look at Kudzu. For the record I played the Nintendo Switch version and not the physical Game Boy cartridge, so no Super Game Boy screenshots for the review. Sorry.

In Kudzu you play as Max, an apprentice gardener, who one day finds out that his mentor, Zoen, has wandered into the nearby kudzu field which is full of angry creatures and plants as well as other hazards. Max must find some useful tools and put his gardening skills to the test in order to find out what happened to his mentor. Believe it or not, this isn’t actually a gardening game, but more of a Legend of Zelda-ish adventure game. While I initially thought that gardening was a weird plot device for this kind of game, I didn’t know at first that kudzu is actually a real plant. Who said you can’t learn something from playing video games?

Kudzu takes a lot of inspiration from the 2D Zelda games, specifically Link's Awakening. You travel from screen to screen and from room to room, using your knife to take out any enemies you encounter. Along the way you’ll pick up other gardening tools that will usually help remove certain obstacles that either lead to secrets or let you progress to a new area. Now and then you’ll come across the game's “dungeons" that you’ll fight through before taking on a boss. As you’re going through the game you’ll have several puzzles that you will need to solve. The dungeons themselves are basically puzzles that you need to solve to reach the end. It’s a formula we’ve seen plenty of times before but one I’ve always enjoyed. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. The graphics look pretty good for a Game Boy-style game, especially given that there are only four shades of green to work with, and the music also has a Game Boy vibe to it. Overall, the game looks and feels great, but how well does it play?

Kudzu feels pretty good to play, for the most part. The overworld/non-dungeon area does a good job at making sure you head in the right direction to progress, and the “dungeons” themselves are fairly well designed, with puzzles that aren’t overly complicated but not so easy that you can just cruise through them without any thought whatsoever. Defeated enemies can drop mushrooms which acts as the game’s currency, and "Kudzu Jelly", which you can use to refill your health. You start out with a max HP of 100 and enemies will typically hit you for 25HP per hit. On the pause menu, you start out with one slot to store jelly with a full slot refilling 75HP, but over time you can gain more slots as well as raise your max HP. You’ll also eventually find various gardening tools that basically act as ways to solve puzzles or open up new paths to explore such as gloves to push rocks or a rake to…well, rake patches of grass. You’ll come across areas that require these tools before you obtain them meaning if you want to find everything, you’ll need to backtrack a bit.

There were a few things I noticed when playing that seemed a bit off. The first of these is that a few times you’re required to find little kudzu roots to take out to open a door, typically to go further into a dungeon, and when you take out a root you’re told how many remain. An issue I saw was that I’d take out a root and get a message that would said I had two roots left, but then as soon as I took a step I’d get a message saying I had one left, essentially having the game count one root as two. I tested this by only taking out one more root and leaving the last, and not only did I get a message saying I had zero roots left, but the door they were locking did open, meaning I could skip finding a root. This didn’t happen all the time but only with a couple specific roots.

When I got into combat things started to feel a bit clunky for lack of a better term. The first time I got hit by an enemy I was expecting to be knocked back a bit similar to a lot of games, even those outside of Zelda. However, it seemed like I got knocked back and kind of at an angle instead of straight back, which even after a while still threw me off. There were also times in which it seemed that the hit boxes were inconsistent as Max’s sprite would overlap with an enemy’s sprite and I wouldn’t take damage nor would my attacks register and damage the enemy. In other words, the enemies couldn’t hit me unless they were actively attacking me, and I couldn’t hurt them unless the end of my weapon hit them.

The final thing to mention with combat can be a bit of a game breaker in the player’s favor. At one point I was down to 25HP, so I went to the pause menu to use some Kudzu Jelly to restore my health. When I unpaused, I noticed that the enemies were back in their starting locations as if I had just entered the room and any projectiles were gone. This makes taking out some difficult enemies a lot easier, but I then decided to try this out on a boss and sure enough, it worked. One particular boss will start at the top of the screen but then teleport to a particular spot. I just stood next to that spot, paused, unpaused, hit the boss, and repeated until I had to do something else that didn’t involve hitting the boss. Once I had to deal damage to him again I just did the same thing, making what was likely a challenging boss fight kind of trivial.

Even with the combat being a bit clunky at times, I still enjoyed Kudzu. It can take some time to get used to the nuances of the combat, namely the weird knockback when you get hit and the fact you don’t have many invulnerability frames meaning you can take a few hits in rapid fashion. If you can get beyond that, you’ll find a nice charming game that’s a great throwback to games like Link’s Awakening. The fact that it looks and sounds like a classic Game Boy game is definitely a plus for me and if you’re a fan of retro-style games, you’ll likely want to plunk down the five dollars to pick this up on the Nintendo eShop.

Kudzu is a fun outing inspired by The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening but it’s not perfect.  While the adventuring and puzzle solving are well done, the combat can be a bit clunky between the weird knockback when you get hit, the hitboxes themselves being a bit inconsistent when sprites overlap, and the enemies resetting to their spawn points when you pause, including some bosses.  Still, Kudzu is definitely worth checking out on the Switch if you’re a fan of these kinds of games.

Rating: 8 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

Kudzu Kudzu

About Author

I began my lifelong love of gaming at an early age with my parent's Atari 2600.  Living in the small town that I did, arcades were pretty much non-existent so I had to settle for the less than stellar ports on the Atari 2600.  For a young kid my age it was the perfect past time and gave me something to do before Boy Scout meetings, after school, whenever I had the time and my parents weren't watching anything on TV.  I recall seeing Super Mario Bros. played on the NES at that young age and it was something I really wanted.  Come Christmas of 1988 (if I recall) Santa brought the family an NES with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt and I've been hooked ever since.

Over 35 years from the first time I picked up an Atari joystick and I'm more hooked on gaming than I ever have been.  If you name a system, classics to moderns, there's a good chance I've not only played it, but own it.  My collection of systems spans multiple decades, from the Odyssey 2, Atari 2600, and Colecovision, to the NES, Sega Genesis, and Panasonic 3DO, to more modern systems such as the Xbox One and PS4, and multiple systems in between as well as multiple handhelds.  As much as I consider myself a gamer I'm also a game collector.  I love collecting the older systems not only to collect but to play (I even own and still play a Virtual Boy from time to time).  I hope to bring those multiple decades of gaming experience to my time here at Gaming Nexus in some fashion.
These days when I'm not working my day job in the fun filled world of retail, I'm typically working on my backlog of games collecting dust on my bookshelf or trying to teach myself C# programming, as well as working on some projects over on YouTube and streaming on Twitch.  I've been playing games from multiple generations for over 35 years and I don't see that slowing down any time soon.
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