Somewhere around two hours. That was my breaking point. There are few games that I can’t bring myself to play for longer, but Road to Guangdong managed it.
Road to Guangdong is a narrative adventure game of sorts where your parents died in an accident, leaving you their restaurant, and you and your aunt take a road trip to see all of your relatives, simply to ask if they are okay with you taking over the restaurant. For some reason, you are taking this road trip in Sandy, your father’s car that he and your aunt used to take road trips in. The car is extremely old and requires a lot of upkeep, which provides context for the game’s core game loop.
As a game, Road to Guangdong is exceedingly dull. You choose destinations and then follow mostly straight paths to them. There’s barely any traffic. You pass the same few environments day in and day out, fences and guardrails always forcing you to stay on the road. You stop at the same garages and scrapyards that are mere feet from the road and placed in random locations along the way. There’s simply nothing of interest anywhere in the environment and driving becomes tiresome quickly.
Things don’t improve much when you reach your destination. Every destination is the same: you get there, you ask if they are okay with you running the restaurant, they basically say “whatever, just listen to your Guu Ma [your aunt],” and you get dragged into some inane personal conflict that lasts for all of five minutes and isn’t always resolved, they give you money, you ask them to come to some family reunion dinner at the restaurant, they accept, and you leave. It never changes and, worse still, the personal conflicts aren’t particularly interesting. They all feel isolated, far away from the shockingly shallow core narrative, and many of them feel like you shouldn’t be involved in the first place.
An attempt was made to make the game interesting by way of constantly needing refueled and repaired, but the concept doesn’t entirely make sense in the first place. At garages, you can repair or replace car parts, which range from tires to air filters the engine itself. Given that, why does Sandy still need repairs all the time? Surely repairing or replacing literally everything in the car would negate the need to constantly repair it.
There was a further attempt to impart some additional depth, but it was mostly for naught. You can sort of tell how much fuel Sandy is using at any given time based on the pitch of its engine, but, if you just go 60 miles per hour or less the entire time, then you never really have a problem. Garages aren’t always at ideal locations, so you can buy fuel canisters that allow you to refill the tank on the road, but the in-game economy isn’t exactly deep, so, if you just buy said fuel canisters, refuel, and perform any necessary repairs every chance you get, you will never run out of money. You can pick up spare parts from scrapyards and, if you stop at every one, you can save a ton of money. There is a “go for help” option that costs 75 “money,” but it is only necessary if you absolutely cannot continue, which shouldn’t be an issue if you are stopping at every garage and scrapyard. Basically, if you just stop every chance you get and never go above 60 miles per hour, you will never have any significant problems, which means that road trips are painfully long—upwards of 20 minutes—drives down boring, mostly straight highways.
Part of the reason for this is that the game has these roguelike elements, but doesn’t punish you for anything. If you hit a car, fence, or guardrail, you just back away from it and keep driving. If you drive on the wrong side of the road, no one cares. When you need to “pull over” to put more gas in the car, you simply stop in the middle of the road because there is no shoulder. There are headlights, but you never need them because it’s always light enough to see and there’s nothing to see anyways. You just keep driving ever forward to your next destination.
Hilariously, even losing a tire doesn’t end your journey. In fact, the one time that I lost a tire, I was able to keep driving as I had been. The only visible effect was that my car was now slanted slightly. If that’s all that happens when you lose a tire, what is the point in repairing the tires?
Even if it did affect anything, it would be hard to make the driving experience much worse than it is. For starters, the Switch Joy-Cons’ triggers are not analog, so hitting the gas is an on/off experience when using Joy-Cons—I did not get to test the game on a controller with analog triggers, so I don’t even know if that would change things. Fortunately, Sandy doesn’t decelerate quickly, but being unable to simply hold the trigger at a particular spot still makes the overall experience quite uncomfortable. Similarly, the position of the steering wheel has a one-to-one correlation with the position of the left analog stick, which makes steering uncomfortable, especially on a Joy-Con analog stick. The game does allow you to set the steering sensitivity down, but I couldn’t find a midpoint between hard to control and feeling insanely delayed.
The most baffling decision, however, is that of how you go in reverse. For quite a long time, I did not know how to make the car go in reverse. The game never explains it to you and I simply assumed that the feature didn’t exist. For quite a lot of my playthrough, when I hit another car or was hit by another car, spinning my car out and causing it to hit a fence, or simply went past a destination by mistake and hit a dead end, I simply went back to the main menu and reloaded my save. I eventually found out by accident that this is not necessary. You can, in fact, reverse by holding down the left trigger to brake until Sandy stops, then continuing to hold the left trigger and beginning to simultaneously hold down the right trigger, which is the gas. I do not understand why someone would make it so that is the way that you go in reverse, much less not explain those controls to you.
This is even more baffling because they had other options for making the car go in reverse. As you drive, you can look around the front seat of the car. Several actions can only be performed this way, including starting and stopping the car, turning the headlights on and off, changing the radio, and getting out of the car when you need to perform maintenance on the car while on the road. They could have simply made it so that you manually clicked the gear shift to change into reverse, which would have been much more intuitive.
Instead, I’m left wondering why they decided to make any of the controls work in this manner. It’s really frustrating to glide into a parking spot, which then automatically parks you, go through a really sparse menu, and come back to a car that you have to manually start by looking down at the keys and clicking on them. There are so few functions that are accessed by looking around the car that they easily could have been put on the controller. If the answer is “immersion,” the above criticism stands in direct opposition to that, as do many other aspects of the game, such as not being able to manually park the car and get out at destinations.
But even those few functions are severely limited in nature. The radio stands as the most obvious example. If it’s not on, Guu Ma pesters you about how the radio still works. If you turn it on, it immediately plays music that is so bad that it could make anyone’s head hurt. After a few seconds, Guu Ma forcefully changes it to another station that constantly plays one of two classical Chinese songs. This means that you are constantly forced to either listen to one of two songs or listen to Guu Ma complain that the radio isn’t on.
In fact, none of Guu Ma’s dialogue adds to the experience. While it generally captures the—extremely generic—feel of taking a road trip with an overbearing relative, the reality is that her dialogue gets repetitive fast. She has a select few anecdotes that she repeats over and over and over at random. This ultimately takes an already extremely dull car trip and makes it aggravating.
I genuinely do not understand why the driving portion of the game exists. The rest of the game plays out as a visual novel and the only manual movement the game allows is moving between dialogue zones. Surely, it would have been better if travel were more similar to FTL or Oregon Trail, with resources depleting automatically as you move automatically from destination to destination. Instead, you have to manually drive through dull environments as repetitive, non-issue setbacks occur at random intervals, always paying attention to what’s going on, even though it isn’t the slightest bit stimulating. Everything about the driving portion of the game feels like it was implemented in the most basic way possible and it severely affects enjoyment of the game.
I’m almost certain there was a goal in mind to make this the ultimate road trip simulator, but that’s not what the game is. Your interactions with Guu Ma, the person you’re taking the road trip with, are extremely limited, especially in terms of your relatives’ personal problems; oddly, the most interaction you have with her is at the beginning of the game, where you solve a personal problem of hers before setting off. You actually spend more time driving than you do with your relatives, which makes the driving feel that much more monotonous. It’s a poorly balanced experience in a lot of respects.
This might have been okay if the narrative were any good, but, as mentioned above, it’s not. The trip just happened to coincide with everyone’s life hitting a major turning point in some way. There’s never a stop where the relatives are just like “it’s nice to see you. Let’s spend some time reminiscing!” There’s always some sort of issue and the issues are never related in any way. They also don’t seem to actually affect Sunny, the player character, or Guu Ma in any way. No part of the main story feels as if it hinges on any of these subplots, in large part due to the fact that everyone is simply fine with you running the restaurant as long as you listen to Guu Ma.
This might be, in part, due to the fact that the main character doesn’t really seem to have a personality of her own. For example, at the very beginning, she protests taking over the family restaurant because she has her own life as an art student elsewhere, only to turn around and mysteriously be excited about taking over a mere two to three lines later. Furthermore, despite the random reminiscing of Guu Ma and other characters, Sunny never talks about herself in any significant way—at most, she says that driving Sandy makes her feel as if her father is still with her. No one asks her how she’s doing, either, despite the major life transition she’s about to make. It feels as if she’s simply there to be the driving force in solving everyone else’s problems, which is disappointing.
Even just navigating through dialogue presents problems. The fact that you can move between dialogue zones within a destination presents odd continuity errors, such as being able to leave mid-conversation and come back to find the conversation in the exact same place. There was a system that seemed promising, what I’m going to refer to as “dialogue hints,” but even it turned out to be underwhelming. As you talk to different people, you unlock different hints that can be used to open new dialogue options. However, they don’t appear to be used in any meaningful way. In fact, they really just turn dialogue into a lengthy checklist, as their existence makes you feel obligated to explore every bit of dialogue, looking for new hints, even if certain paths don’t seem to be very important. There seemed to be a select few times that these hints offered branching dialogue that locked you into a specific choice, but, even then, with problems completely unresolved, the relatives in question gave you money and agreed to come to the reunion dinner, so I’m not sure that it matters at all.
But it’s more than that. Controlling dialogue is far more awkward than it needs to be. For some inexplicable reason, you select a dialogue option with A and click through dialogue with Y. Furthermore, every dialogue hint needs to be activated every single time that it can be used to unlock a new dialogue option, which gets tiresome fast.
The most concerning issue, however, is that the game runs absolutely terribly on the Nintendo Switch. The entire time I played, I played in handheld mode. When driving, it is not uncommon for it to drop below 20 frames per second—in towns, it often felt as if it had dropped below 15 frames per second. I have absolutely no idea how the developers managed this. Everything is rendered in a low-poly art style. The textures aren’t that complex. The draw distance is horrendously low. Everything in the distance is covered in an oppressive fog. There is no reason that it should run this poorly, but it does. Even in dialogue scenes, it felt as if the game was barely holding 30 frames per second.
There’s one more issue that I’d like to touch on, though. As the game is centered around a restaurant in China, I expected there to be a decent amount of talk about cooking. When it was revealed that one goal of the game was to obtain the signature recipe of every relative you were to visit, my interest was piqued. I was eager to learn more about traditional Chinese cuisine. But alas, there is little mention of cooking beyond what is needed for the narrative about Sunny taking over the restaurant. Instead, you simply obtain recipes in the form of items that have extremely simple descriptions of what they’re for.
I cannot keep playing Road to Guangdong. I cannot keep driving down dull roads at less than 30 frames per second, only stopping to refill my gas tank and perform necessary repairs. I cannot keep stopping at relatives’ houses to solve problems that feel isolated from the main plot while my character sees no character development. At this point, nothing could convince me that it is worth playing any further. It is a mess of baffling design decisions and seemingly half-implemented ideas, strung together by a broken narrative and repetitive road trip dialogue. Worse still, it is one of the worst-performing games I have had the displeasure of playing on Switch, despite the fact that it does not appear to be that demanding. You absolutely should not buy this game, especially if you intend to buy it on Switch.