Review: Kudzu (Switch) A Delightful, Leafy Ode To Link's Awakening And The Game Boy


It'll grow on you

Kudzu came to this reviewer during a significant birthday celebration. The day was filled with echoes of our past. There was the music on the radio – uncanny remixes of early-to-mid-90s techno songs that used to hype up pre-teen candyfloss-fuelled visits to funfairs. And there was Kudzu and its unsubtle similarity to all-time classic Zelda: Link’s Awakening in its 1993 original Game Boy iteration. It’s crazy to think that we played Link's Awakening to death now 30 years ago.

Time flies fast like an arrow from Link’s bow indeed. We started Pie for Breakfast Studios' Kudzu wondering if a new "non-linear adventure game" for the Game Boy — because it's available both on Switch as a digital download and as a physical Game Boy cart from Mega Cat Studios — was going to hold the attention of our ageing minds.

Truly retro experiences have their appeal, but we have been spoilt by neo-retro games iterating on the past in order to become more than their inspiration—the likes of The Eternal Castle and Celeste, which repackaged tropes of pixel-based games with modern tricks and an elevated level of storytelling ambition. In contrast, and likely because it was built to work on actual Game Boy hardware, Kudzu takes on Link's Awakening in a way that’s about as sincere and respectful and direct as possible. Almost nothing has been enhanced.

But this means that there’s no whiz-bang modern distraction either. Kudzu lives and dies on the same critical scale as a Nintendo-made mini behemoth. That’s a tough task.

Very quickly though, Kudzu starts feeling like a delightful, smaller, inspiration-worn-proudly-yet-still-full-of-its-own-personality little cousin to Link's Awakening. It’s a personality mainly defined by Pie for Breakfast’s genuinely original storyline, strong writing, and great music. Lesser games have tried similar things yet fallen short through shoddy design, but here, as we’ll try to explain, the quality of so much of the production hits just right. Lead developer Christopher Totten has organised Kudzu so well that the game flows in a sophisticated manner. Very little feels distracting or off. The game works. Mostly.

You play as Max, a bearded apprentice gardener in a wide-brimmed hat. This more contemporary-set story sets off with Max already awake (definitely a Zelda-themed in-joke) quickly finding out that his mentor has disappeared – apparently having set off to battle Kudzu, a (surprisingly real) invasive plant species threatening to grow out of control. Over four hours we adventured through fields, gardens, mansions, swamps, and more, on a compelling journey laced with its own brand of Zelda-style quirkiness.

The game feels a little creepy. The setup of the titular plant and the scientists drawn to investigating it has an enjoyable off-beat feel. Seeing cars and roads in a game that feels so similar to a Game Boy Zelda is novel. The music evolves perfectly. The tunes are varied and catchy, and sell the reality of being isolated in slightly dangerous fields, of being swept up in strange goings on. The graphics, whether in the scene-setting (and show-stealing) title cards for each of the game’s areas or picking out little world-expanding moments, like when Max enters his mentor’s house and notices the vista out back overlooking the endless kudzu fields, look great – complete, polished.

Our initial question, What’s the appeal of playing such a purely retro game? — that subtle, general worry that the game wouldn't be able to hold our entertainment-overloaded modern attention spans — stopped mattering as we explored. Those fine-tuned design choices compelled us – the satisfaction at the health drops, the need to get to the next part of the game, unlock the next gate, beat the next boss. To play a little bit more.

It's a shame then that there are some real negatives too – possibly not enough to put you off because Kudzu is a good game – but at release, Kudzu felt a little buggy and suffered from some emulation-style slowdown. Nothing was game-breaking (and after playing other NES and Game Boy games on the Switch the slowdown felt somehow appropriate) but on just a couple of occasions bosses nigh-on disappeared. If their sprites were made up of four pieces, three of them vanished. More affecting, however, is the lack of any consistent sound effects when we attacked enemies and when the enemies hit us back. In a game so polished in other ways, this was a bit of a surprise, so much so that we turned our Switch on and off more than once to see if something had gone wrong. Occasionally, this led to us dying unfairly, and once or twice even led us to rage quitting in our own quiet, old man way.

This lack of feedback took us out of the game a couple of times. Throughout the game you pick up new gardening tools, and during a certain boss fight we were happily experimenting with our new rake. We were still working out what to do – how to cause damage – when the fight suddenly ended. We’d done something right, but without the sonic or visual feedback that our actions were working we were left a little deflated when the game moved on.

We can't be sure if these issues are also part of the Game Boy version, but generally speaking, we feel very positive about Kudzu. It’s a mostly polished, four-hour, new-retro, Zelda-style game built to run directly on 8-bit hardware (if you play on the Switch you get to choose between four different border options as you go – but really, who would choose anything other than black?).

If Kudzu isn't for you, then you likely already knew that before reading this review. We enjoyed our time with the game, coming to us as it did in a time of big change. Kudzu has found its own unique place on our varied Switch library: because it reminded us of a time all those years ago when the Game Boy’s green, low-contrast display meant everything.


Kudzu is a good adventure, and we’re sure we would have loved it back in the day. We can even imagine kids at primary school asserting that, in some ways, Kudzu is better than Link's Awakening. This is in part because young kids are often deliberately contrarian, but also because Kudzu’s character and game world are genuinely noteworthy. This comes through in some tight writing and an enjoyable gameplay experience. Its slight lack of polish might knock a point off, but the Switch pricing is reasonable. We’re confident that fans of retro games will find a lot to love, and playing Kudzu on an actual Game Boy would be a genuine treat.


TAGS: Reviews Switch EShop Game Boy Retro