Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars (3DS)
I am a huge fan of the Silver Falls series. It's the flagship series of Sungrand Studios, a one-man indie developer based on Australia, and over the past year, I've become pretty good friends with Jerrel, the man behind the games. Last year, I reviewed Silver Falls: Ghoul Busters for 3DS shortly after it launched on the eShop, but I recently went back and played the first game in the series to be released, 2021's Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars, now that it has its v1.69 update that fixed a ton of performance issues and dramatically improved the game's visual fidelity. Some of my feelings on the game are a bit mixed, but overall, I had a fantastic time with this game. All screenshots are courtesy of Sungrand Studios, and the screenshots are from before the v1.69 update, so the game looks better now than these screenshots suggest. If Sungrand provides updated screenshots (since I have no ability to capture screenshots from my 3DS), I'll update the review.
The game focuses around three playable characters - Holt, a college student returning to his hometown for a fishing trip; Analise, a young Silver Falls resident taking care of her ailing father; and Moss, the sheriff of the town. I've played other games in the series, so Moss was already my favorite character of the three going into this, and the game didn't change that, but I really did come to love Holt as a character. That's the game's biggest strength in my opinion - the characters. The story is cool and has a Resident Evil meets Silent Hill meets Twilight Zone vibe, but it's the characters that really drive the game, and a lot of that is with non-playable characters you meet along the way and slowly get to know as story scenes unfold.
The game is your standard third person horror suspense game, so it plays a lot like Resident Evil 4. You can equip a projectile weapon as your primary weapon, a melee weapon as your sub weapon, and another melee weapon as your emergency weapon. The difference is that sub weapons are used at-will and as much as you want whereas emergency weapons are only used by button prompt if you're pinned by an enemy and do enormous damage but break upon use. You'll want to keep one of each equipped with your stronger weapon as your sub weapon. The combat feels very reminiscent of Resident Evil 2 except that the New 3DS's C nub completely undermines it. That nub is utterly useless and the single worst design choice Nintendo ever made (and that includes the unreliable Joycons in the early days of the Switch). It makes gunplay a chore instead of fun. Fortunately, there are tutorials on melee combat in the Extras menu that can teach you be proficient enough with melee that guns are really only needed for the bosses, but still, it's a shame that the 3DS's design ruined part of an otherwise fantastic game.
What most other reviews really hammer this game for have largely been fixed by various patches, but I do need to address those complaints because they're not totally gone. The visuals are criticized a lot in reviews I've read, and I can't speak for the game at launch, but as it is now, I don't think that's a particularly valid criticism. The game was made by one guy and is, especially for an indie game, a pretty big 3D world. For what it is and the hardware it's on, I think the game looks pretty good. The characters have a distinct style that is immediately recognizable as Silver Falls and that not everyone may like, but the game's visual fidelity is fine for a 3DS game. The performance, however, does hurt the game. Performance and stability have been dramatically improved with updates, but depending on where you are, the game will run between roughly 20 and 30 frames per second. This can be jarring and was, admittedly, something that took some time for me to get used to. The game also crashes a lot. The auto saves VERY frequently and keeps your most recent manual save and your most recent auto save separately selectable, so it's only an inconvenience rather than a game breaker, but it is worth noting that it's pretty frequent. It took me just under 20 hours to finish the story, and I probably had between 10 and 15 crashes. Unfortunately, that's just not really something that can be totally fixed; despite the New 3DS technically supporting Unity, it is apparently really unstable on 3DS and just will not ever produce a totally stable build in a game as big and complex as 3 Down Stars. Still, though, even with all the crashes, I never once had my fun broken.
If you finish the main story and want more, there's a Frontier Fighters mode that has a total of 100 combat missions of varying difficulty for you to complete. Jerrel has put a lot of effort into maximizing play value in this mode, and it offers an enormous amount of options to power up weapons and characters so that you can customize your playstyle however you like. I haven't messed around a whole lot with this since I didn't really care for the combat thanks to the camera control, but there's definitely a lot of content here if that's your thing.
Silver Falls: 3 Down Stars was the first game in the Silver Falls series, and you can definitely tell playing it and then playing the series's newer entries that Jerrel has learned a lot since he made 3 Down Stars. Still, though, the world and characters that he creates in 3 Down Stars is really great, and I loved every minute of the game. The puzzles that you have to solve to progress feel very Resident Evil, the game's overall vibe feels very Silent Hill, and the story feels very Twilight Zone. If that doesn't convince you to at least give the game a shot, then I don't know what will. It's a little pricier than most 3DS eShop games at $25, but with a thoroughly enjoyable 15-20 hour story mode and all the content in Frontier Fighters, it's definitely a fair asking price in my opinion. I've bought countless games made by a hell of a lot more than one person with way less content that cost me way more than this game. A full Switch remaster is in the works, but that's probably a year or so away, and while it will likely look, perform, and control better on Switch, it won't have that 3DS charm. I strongly recommend picking this one up on the eShop before it closes in March.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.